By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia
Food service providers pay close attention to nutrition and food safety in school lunchrooms. But they don't follow the kids home. They can't control the quality or safety of your child's after-school snacks.
That's when parents have to step in, said Judy Harrison, an Extension Service food safety specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Parents should consider nutrition and safety when they plan ahead for their kids' after-school snacks, Harrison said. They need to establish safe food-handling practices and set guidelines on the snacks their children can prepare.
"Moms and dads need to establish some basic kitchen rules and consider putting them in writing," she said. "For instance, many children begin to use the microwave as early as age seven. But you may not want your child operating this appliance unsupervised."
Improper use of a microwave, she said, can result in severe burns.
"Teach your child four simple steps to keeping food safe," she said: "clean, separate, cook and chill."
- Keep counters and tables clean. Choose someplace else to place books, book bags or anything else that might contaminate food. Always wash hands with soap and warm, running water for at least 20 seconds before touching food. And use clean plates and utensils.
- Keep raw foods like meats away from ready-to-eat foods. Wash fruits and vegetables with cool, running water before you eat them.
- If you're warming leftovers, make sure you reheat them to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Parents should teach their children how to use a food thermometer to check the temperature of cooked food.
- Put refrigerated foods back in the fridge after your snack is ready. If you get the milk out, don't leave it out. Put it back.
Harrison said nutrition still counts, even with snacks. "Fresh fruit and vegetables, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers, yogurt, bagels, pretzels, cold cereal and milk are all good choices," she said.
Older children who have permission to use the microwave can prepare microwave popcorn ("but hold the butter, please," she said), baked potatoes or lower-fat hot dogs. Or they can reheat leftovers.
The kids deserve a little refreshment after a hard day at school, Harrison said. Just make sure it's safely prepared and good for them.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)