Off to School (or Work) with a Safe Bag Lunch

By Rita Larsen, RD, CD, Elite Sports Clubs Dietitian and Nutrition Counselor

There is nothing more exciting than purchasing a new school lunch bag for the year!

Whether it’s off to school or work we go, millions of Americans carry “bag” lunches. Food brought from home can be kept safe if it is first handled and cooked safely. (Check out tips for safely cooking at BBQ’s & Tailgates too!) Then, perishable food must be kept cold while commuting via bus, bicycle, on foot, in a car, and on to the lunch table. After arriving at school or work, perishable food must be kept cold until lunchtime.

Labeled Lunches Office   Named Lunches

Why keep food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “danger zone” — the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. So, perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long. Here are safe handling recommendations to prevent food-borne illness from “bag” lunches.

Begin with Safe Food

Perishable food, such as raw or cooked meat and poultry, must be kept cold or frozen at the store and at home. Eggs should be purchased cold at the store and kept cold at home. In between, transport perishable food as fast as possible when no ice source is available. At the destination, it must be kept cold. Food should not be left out at room temperature more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F).

Prepackaged combos, you know the ones, that are popular with your kids that contain luncheon meats along with crackers, cheese, and condiments must also be kept refrigerated. This includes lunch meats and smoked ham which are cured or contain preservatives.

Keep Everything Clean

Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter-tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. A solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water may be used to sanitize surfaces and utensils. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters.

Cross-Contamination (Know what that means!)

Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter-tops. Always use a clean cutting board. When using a cutting board for food that will not be cooked, such as bread, lettuce, and tomatoes, be sure to wash the board after using it to cut raw meat and poultry. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for meat and poultry. That is a must!

Preparing a Bag Lunch

At lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause food-borne illness.

Now for the Packing

Pack just the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunch, that way, there won’t be a problem with storage or safety of leftovers.

It’s fine to prepare the food the night before and store the packed lunch in the refrigerator. Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. However, for best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes. Add these later.

Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags are fine as well. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food. An ice source should be packed with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box.

Keeping Cold Lunches Cold

Prepare cooked food, such as turkey, ham, chicken, and vegetable or pasta salads, ahead of time to allow for thorough chilling in the refrigerator. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Keep cooked food refrigerated until it’s time to leave home.

To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. These work very well! Of course, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival. Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include fruits, vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.

Keeping Hot Lunches Hot

Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot- 140 degrees F or above. Few people use these containers anymore, but they work very well and can be a good addition to a lunch meal.

Microwave Cooking / Reheating

When using the microwave oven to reheat lunches, cover food to hold in moisture and promote safe, even heating. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F. What does that look like? Food should be steaming hot. Cook frozen convenience meals according to package instructions.

Microwaving a Lunch


Lunch at school or work needs to be a pleasant experience for your child and family members. If hot lunch is available, that is a good solution too. The primary goal for preparing lunches is to make sure that good choices are made for foods that children and adults need at that time of day, and that they are of the highest quality to withstand transportation and storage. Sometimes we can get carried away with bright packages and trendy new food products. Taking the time to provide the best foods possible from a variety of food groups and packaged safely should be the primary goal in good, safe school lunches.

What are your go-to meals for bagged lunches? Do you brown bag it, have a fancy insulated soft-sided bag, or rock a retro metal/plastic lunch box? Tell us in the comments!

Looking for more nutrition advice on healthy (and safe) daily lunches for work or school? We offer a great drop-in program called “Ask the Dietitian” plus other programs that allow you to meet with Rita, and learn the best ways to eat healthy! Not sure where to start? Let us help get you on track with a healthy diet plan!

Member Stories: Emily Sydnor “Motivation was the most difficult part.”

We’re extremely proud of our members. Over the years their work out agendas and sporting endeavors serve as healthy examples of how it feels to be Elite, and how exercise not only adds years to your life, but life to your years! Today we’d like to highlight another member’s accomplishments:

About a year ago, I had a bit of a wake up call. For a time prior, I was under a lot of stress and, in turn, gained a bit of weight. I knew I something needed to change.

My family joined Elite many years ago and I had always been around the club. I was a multi-sport athlete in high school, so I was no stranger to training and conditioning. Like most people, motivation was the most difficult part of change. Training for sports is much different, and in my opinion less difficult, than training for “pleasure.” When training for sports, coaches and other players are there to guide and motivate you through the process. When training by yourself, you have to push yourself.

Luckily, my mom has been going to Body Pump class at West Brookfield for years. I began going to Body Pump three mornings a week and developed relationships with the other members in the class. Having someone to workout with made the process so much easier. They were always so positive and complimented me as my weight loss became apparent.

After months of Body Pump class, cardio training, weight training, and watching what I ate, I lost 60 pounds. Everyone, including me, was so proud. My Body Pump family and support from family and friends were instrumental in my weight loss journey. Thank you, Elite, for helping me attain my goal!

Congratulations Emily for meeting your goal! Body Pump is a great class, and we are happy that along with support from others, it could help you lose weight.

For those of you out there still trying to lose the weight, have you considered incorporating regular exercise classes in your routine? Clearly it’s not just about exercise, it’s also very much about support and finding those who will help you push yourself.

What’s your favorite group exercise class? What about it makes the class “awesome”?

Submit your own “elite” story. Or tweet us @MyEliteStory with not just your major accomplishments, but also those little everyday wins too.

Eating Healthy at BBQ’s, Tailgate Parties, and All Your Outdoor Gatherings

Interview with Rita Larsen, Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Counselor

Summer and fall are great times to enjoy eating outdoors with friends and family. Who doesn’t love the smell at a barbecue, or the fun of a tailgate party or picnic? However there are definite ways to make these outdoor feasts healthier for everyone.

Rita Larsen, RD, CD, dietitian for Elite Sports Clubs, who has hosted many outdoor picnics and barbecues, has some tips for these outdoor festivities.

Grilling BBQ Tailgate

Since there have been some questions on how safe barbecuing actually is, Larsen suggested a safe way of barbecuing is to slow cook the meat until it is very well done. Larsen gives this great shortcut, “prepare what you are going to barbecue indoors in an oven, slow cooking it at 250 to 275 degrees and finish on the grill, then there is no burning fat on the meat. If you are going to serve it somewhere else then you can still cook it for several hours at home. In both instances you can then brown it with the sauce on the outdoor grill itself. Keep it cool on the way to the site of the outdoor feast. Always cover with aluminum foil.”

Larsen gave added tips for safety. “Keep meat about to be barbecued in a safe condition. Place it as high as possible on your racks. Use as little fat as possible to grill with and don’t char it, which could be carcinogenic. Research shows that with charring comes HCA, which are carcinogens. Charred meat is no longer chic.” She added, “Cook on grayer briquettes and hold a nice heat.”

For healthier grilling she suggested using fish, rather than beef and poultry. “Lightly oil grill with canola oil, as it lasts longer than olive oil, and keep temperatures low.” A clean grill is also paramount. “Scrape off black residue with a brush after each use.”

Larsen said that just about anything could be grilled. She suggested that vegetables should be moistened and soft. Marinade food just before you cook. However barbecue sauce can be put on afterwards. Put corn on the top shelves of the grill.”

Grilled Pineapple Peaches

A surprisingly wonderful treat, Larsen suggested, was grilling pineapple and peaches. “They taste sweet like candy. They are absolutely delicious.”

So many people today are vegetarians, so it’s a good idea to inquire ahead of time if any of your guests are in that category. If you’ll have vegetarian or vegan guests there are a number of such products you can buy or you can even make your own veggie patties.

Larsen added a couple more safety tips. “Try not to use gasoline as a fire starter, for health reasons. Also always try to keep any perishable food you are transporting cooler than forty degrees.”

Larsen strongly suggested discarding any perishables instead of bringing them home. “If they are out in the heat or in bright sunlight beyond a couple of hours, you’re taking a big chance bringing them home. It would be a heck of a risk, especially with all those spoons in and out. The food starts to break down.”

If you can keep it from melting, Larsen said that “the best desert is ice cream, for health and nutritional value as well as taste.”

Larsen also cautioned people about overeating at outdoor feasts. “Eat what you think your system can handle. A client of mine actually felt ill after overeating at a rich Texas barbecue.”

Serious Barbecue Book Adam Perry Lang

She also explained that though “tailgate food, picnic food, and certainly our favorite BBQ is the highlight of summer cuisine, it does not need to be high in calories, fats, sugars, or salts. Many families today want to cut the calories of outdoor foods, simply by searching cookbooks for the best taste with the least caloric output. In his book, “Serious Barbecue,” author Adam Perry Lang, encourages cooks to use, among other things, wine, seasonings, and herbs to enhance the taste of good pieces of meat. I recently tried a flatiron steak marinated in red wine. It had a wonderful flavor, it was lean but chewable, and the combination of flavors was memorable.”

Adding, “Too often, we resort to quick combinations of flavors, such as bottled BBQ sauces and prepared salads, or store-bought desserts, which really drive up those calories. However, if you are a seasoned cook, you can often taste the preservatives and extra fat that have been added to picnic deli foods that keep them on the grocer’s shelf for weeks. Consider making these substitutions for your next events. Switch to oven baked-off meats with basic seasonings, adding a little BBQ sauce of your own rather than to use a heavy, sweetened sauce bought off the shelf.”

“Make your own coleslaw with fresh lime juice,” Larsen suggested. She felt that it would be much healthier than deli coleslaw and potato salad, both which have added preservatives. “Making your own will have fewer calories, and be fresher in taste. You can even add the light mayo at the outdoor event. Make homemade potato or pasta salad, using light mayonnaise and fresh garden vegetables and herbs; rather than prepared salads from deli counter, which may contain a lot of preservatives. Oven-baked potatoes are also a good substitute; using just a little olive oil and fresh herbs to taste.”

“Also limit the number of chips, and salty snacks that you have available for guests. The best choices would be homemade Chex mix, baked chips, and bagel or tortilla chips that you have prepared yourself. Even make your own salsa. Plan a good time, and a healthy one that is conscious of the overall experience for your guests!”


“Best Ever Tomato-Based BBQ Sauce”

Rita's Best Ever Tomato Based BBQ Sauce 1 large sweet white onion; diced
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green pepper; sliced or diced into small pieces
2 Tbsp. canola oil

Cut up ingredients into 2-3 inch-sided sauce pan. Cook briefly to a softened state; and then add 1 cup tomato sauce and 1 cup water to mixture. Let the mixture blend; then add ¼ cup of white wine vinegar to taste. Add ¼ cup of fresh herbs, perhaps from your garden, such as sage, Italian parsley, fresh parsley, and tarragon.

Next, add the final touches to your self-styled sauce, to your taste:
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Keep in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.


What are your favorite (healthy) BBQ & tailgate foods? TRUTH: Would you rather attend an outdoor party empty handed, than with a store-bought side dish? Tell us in the comments!

If you have more questions about healthy outdoor eating you can contact dietitian Rita Larsen at
Elite Sports Club-Brookfield at 262-786-0880. You can also contact us online for more health & fitness advice.

 

Member Stories: Eric Ensminger “110 Pounds Later-Racing with Friends, Inspiring Others”

We’re extremely proud of our members. Over the years their work out agendas and sporting endeavors serve as healthy examples of how it feels to be Elite, and how exercise not only adds years to your life, but life to your years! Today we’d like to highlight another member’s accomplishments:

No secret way to lose the weight and get fit – Diet and Exercise

I was 36 and not satisfied with a lot of things in my life. I was overweight with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. My family has a history of stroke and heart attack. To compound the issue, I was carrying a lot of stress due to work/life in-balance issues.

Elite Member Eric Ensminger

2006 – Time for a Change
I vowed that summer to lose 10 pounds by eating better and walking when I played golf. By September, I met that goal and set my mind on losing an additional 10 lbs. I continued to play more golf and ate healthy and limited alcohol. By November, I had lost another 10. The golf season was over and holidays were coming soon. I joined a gym and met with a personal trainer once. My workouts included walking and bike riding and by the end of 2006, I was 25 pounds down.

Elite Member Eric Ensminger

2007 – Plateau
My goal was a BMI of 23.5, center of the average range. That Spring I joined a Capoeira (Brazilian Kick Boxing) group. By May, I was frustrated. According to the charts my BMI had reached a plateau. For the second time, I met with my trainer. She accurately measured my body fat at 17.5. I had BLOWN past my goal. She was not surprised; I became an athlete. I was 60 lbs lighter than high school graduation.

Elite Member Eric Ensminger

In October, a friend suggested racing. Convinced I could do it, I registered for my first race and haven’t looked back.

2008 – Inspiration
I raced my first duathlon, 5K, triathlon; eight events in total. Late that season, I was in the top 20%.

Elite Member Eric Ensminger

I encouraged those around me to become healthier and more active. Some had never run before, started racing. Friends who were overweight said, “Eric if you could do it, so can I.”

2009 – Firsts
Half Marathon
Olympic distance triathlon
Teaching a beginning running class linked with weight loss
Biking and discussing slow foods with my daughter to show her the importance of a healthy lifestyle

Elite Member Eric Ensminger

2010 – Getting Ready for Ironman
Full marathon – 3 hours, 52 minutes
Half Ironman Triathlon – 5 hours, 39 minutes
Race the Lake – 90 mile bike race 3 hours, 50 minutes

2011 – The Year of a Lifetime
2012 Olympic Triathlon Course in London as a test event
Ironman Wisconsin
NYC Marathon

2012
Ironman Louiseville 96 degrees

Elite Member Eric Ensminger

2013
Planned Ironman Tahoe

Eric is an amazing example of what one can do with a little help and a lot of determination. Not only has he accomplished great things himself, but he has inspired others to do so as well. Congratulations Eric on your weight loss and racing success!

Submit your own “elite” story. Or tweet us @MyEliteStory with not just your major accomplishments, but also those little everyday wins too.

Member Stories: Maria Pascente, “I am in control!”

We’re extremely proud of our members. Over the years their work out agendas and sporting endeavors serve as healthy examples of how it feels to be Elite, and how exercise not only adds years to your life, but life to your years! Today we’d like to highlight another member’s accomplishments:

Losing weight, ugh! For those of us who struggle with this, those two words are highly offensive curses. I am Maria Pascente and I have struggled with obesity my entire life.

It started in about second grade when I had to get the “girls plus” first communion dress and it has been “plus size” ever since. While I have lost hundreds of pounds in my life I have always managed to find them again. Joining West Brookfield Elite in 2007 was my first step in the right direction. I have had my fits and starts with exercise since joining the club but have always been encouraged by the staff to keep working at it.

After a series of rather stressful events in my life, I got back to the gym with a passion in December of 2010 and that started my road to success. I began with H20 Blast three times a week at Brookfield Elite and added from there as I became more fit. After losing close to 50 lbs with exercise and some food modifications, I found myself at a plateau that I could not seem to overcome. I was becoming discouraged and knew I needed to get some extra help.

I decided to turn to the club and through some inquiry I hooked up with Rita Larsen, RD. After meeting with her one-on-one for a while I started to see some success. Her practice style of what I will call “tough love with a smile” is what I needed. You see, what you put in your body is your choice, every carrot stick or cookie is 100% under my control. When you have struggled to control your weight your whole life, recognizing that you alone actually have the power to control it is a monumental task.

In January of this year I was a charter member in Rita’s “Lose It Now” program. I needed to really challenge myself and shake things up to a level that I had not achieved in many years. I lost 30 lbs in 13 weeks. I feel so much better about myself, I have more energy and I think I am finally learning how to maintain weight loss and keep it off for good. So, overall this program was successful for me and working with Rita works.

Last summer and fall I had another period of stressful events and I am happy to report that I was able to maintain my weight loss through it this time. I kept my 4-5 times a week workout schedule of Body Pump, Cardio and Pilates going as best I could, which is key. My ability to choose wisely and remember that I am in control, helped me succeed when in the past I would have gained it all back by now. My goal is to lose 50 more pounds and I intend to do it with Rita and Elite in 2013.

We are so proud of Maria! She is so positive about her weight loss journey and can truly be an example for us all! Submit your own “Elite” story! Or tweet us your workout wins (and woes) @MyEliteStory!

Do you feel like you are “in control” of your weight? It’s a tough question, but can be telling of your situation and motivation. Tell us about a time you felt in (or out of) control in the comments.