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Posted on Jul 31, 2007 | 31 comments

Tip: Edible ice packs

Tip: Edible ice packs

Packing lunches in such a way that the food stays fresh and safe is important for all of us, but the feeling of responsibility is especially strong when you’re packing for someone else. I’m willing to take minor food safety risks with my own lunches, but don’t ever want my son to get sick because I packed his lunch unwisely. As part of an earlier post on food safety for packed lunches, I recommended keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, using thermal jars and cold packs. Today’s tip is a delicious variation on the standard ice pack.

Frozen fruit and jellies for packed lunches

You’ve probably heard of the standard Mommy trick of freezing a bottle of water or juice, and packing that inside an insulated lunch box. It melts by lunchtime, keeps the lunch cool, provides a drink, and lightens the load on the way home. Similarly, you can freeze canned fruit or fruit cocktail in little lidded containers (details here), or take it a step further by freezing pre-packaged jellies or puddings. I froze all of the puddings/jellies in the photo above and did a taste test, and there were no ill effects on taste or texture. Hey, think of Bill Cosby’s pudding pops — same concept. The tiniest pudding cups (as above) can be packed right inside of a bento lunch, or you can make your own in small lidded condiment cups (like the ones I used for jello fruit cups) that are cheap and widely available at restaurant supply stores. Get creative — make your own frozen treat, and share your brilliance with us in comments!

(Shown in photo: Chinese Lychee pudding, mango pudding, Kiku brand “Petit Pudding”, and canned Thai fruit cocktail.)

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  1. Oh thats SO cool you can freeze the mini pudding cups! I am going to do it! I made your kale last night and packed it today. I LOVE IT! Thanks so much!

  2. I tried that with some instant pudding and it didn’t come back to a good consistency. I wonder if it was because it was instant, sugar-free, or both.

  3. @2 from Jeff:
    Interesting about the texture — I’ll have to make a package of instant pudding (not sugar free) and see if it’s that or the no-sugar aspect that’s causing the problem. Anyone else have any insight?

  4. @1 from Summers Love:
    Glad the kale worked out for you! :-)

  5. My kids like frozen yoghurts in their lunches. It changes the texture but they like it. It goes ‘ice-creamy’ by lunchtime.

  6. Love your blog! Very inspiring.
    What have you done for inedible ice packs? I’m planning for this school year’s bentos (last year was my first year making bentos).
    Have you ever tried putting those plastic shaped ice cubes in with food you want to keep chilled? They are small enough to fit inside a bento, but I am not sure about condensation.

  7. Sorry for posting again.. But I just realized that I should’ve read my post for mistakes. My English skills are decreasing every day :( Sorry for that!

    Oh and I forgot to ask a question: Do you think/know if those puddings are easy perishable? Otherwise I’d consider asking my mother to bring some from Taiwan next time she visits the family..

  8. I’m going to try freezing those mango puddings now :) I’ve been using frozen applesauce cups and tetra pack juice boxes so far.

  9. It is so nice to find your blog.
    This is so interesting.
    I pack lunch to school since I was a baby. I wish my mom will pack my lunch like you.
    Nice to meet you and I will see you often here.

  10. @2 from Jeff:
    Oh man, Jeff, you are so right about the sugar-free instant (5-minute) pudding!!! Seriously nasty when frozen — AVOID. I made some last night, froze it, and packed it in a bento (haven’t posted it yet). I suspect that the texture change is due more to the thickening agents than the non-sugar aspect, but haven’t tested a regular instant sugary pudding yet. I’m not looking forward to that test, either… Also, I can’t say I liked the taste/texture of the sugar-free instant pudding even when it was fresh.

  11. @5 from lalalady7:
    Interesting, thanks!

  12. @6 from Naiiad:
    Do you just freeze the entire little yogurt container as is?

  13. @7 from kirsten:
    I generally don’t put nonedible ice packs inside of my lunches, so I can’t address the condensation issue firsthand. I know some people do use those reusable plastic ice cubes, but others have given feedback that they melt too quickly for satisfactory food safety. You might want to check out a flexible ice blanket with the gel inside (not just water) — there’s a photo and link in my big food safety post (in Top Speed Tips). I paid US$2.50 at Target for a big sheet and cut some off, so I can slip one or two inside tight-fitting insulated lunch bags.

  14. Yes, I just freeze the whole thing.

  15. @8/9 from zyna:
    Don’t worry about your English — you should hear the odd constructions that come out of my mouth sometimes, and I’m a native speaker! Anyway, thanks for reading my blog; I’m happy you’re getting something useful out of it. The prepackaged puddings shown in the photo above are all shelf-stable at room temperature, so there shouldn’t be a problem with your mom bringing some back from Taiwan. There are so many good bite-sized jellies in Taiwan; I’m sure you’ll have a better selection than what’s in my cupboard right now!

  16. @16 from Naiiad:
    Ooh, great tip — thanks!

  17. @11 from Mrs.ThePoint:
    Thank you for the kind comment, and welcome to the site! Please feel free to comment and ask any questions you might have, even on old entries. I try to keep up with those too.

  18. @2 Jeff, 3 & 12, Biggie, regular sugar strengthens the hold of gelatine thus increasing it’s strong quality, whereas fructose and other sugar substitutes will not. Freezing can cause freeze burns to regular foods by causing “decay” of the molecular structure of the food (English is not my first language so if I would be better prepared with the technical lingo I was writing it differently but hopefully you get the gist).
    My guess is that while the pudding lasts in room temp or in the fridge, when it is frozen, the freezing process, the properties of the sugar substitutes combined with the separate properties of the gelatine, creates a problem with the original consistency when it is thawed.

    (written with some help by On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee).

  19. @12 from Biggie:
    I was looking for stuff to put in my hubby’s lunch and since he’s diabetic I thought I’d give that a try as an edible ice-pack. Never again! :-)

    However, I am reminded that I could really use some home-made tapioca right about now.

  20. @21 from Jessica:
    Ah, McGee — of course he would help answer the question! I should have taken out my Shirley O’Corriher before sitting down at the computer… Thank you for the detailed info, Jessica, I appreciate it.

  21. hey, just wondering where you bought that mini cream caramel pudding thing…its adorable! I’m trying to see if i can buy it online but without any luck. btw you have an awesome site!

  22. @25 from debbie:
    I probably got the little pudding cups at one of the Japanese markets in San Francisco’s Japantown (either Mira or Nijiya, I don’t recall which). I haven’t spied them online, but the brand name is Kiku (Kiku “Petit Pudding”). Good luck, and thanks for the kind words on the site!

  23. Hey Biggie, where do you buy Petit Pudding? If it’s at the Asian grocer, I can’t find it in the sweets. I really want some of those because I love pudding, and that just looks yummy and cute. ^__^

  24. @28 from dejikowaffo: I get them at a number of Asian markets near me (New May Wah, Sunset Super, Nijiya, Mira, etc.), but they’re usually over with the little jellies instead of the snack or chocolate aisle. Good luck finding them!

  25. I like to mash a banana & mix with a little OJ. Freeze that. at lunch time is a cold mousse like texture & very yummy!!

  26. @30 from Julie L: The mashed banana & OJ combination is one I’d never come across before — sounds quite intriguing! Thanks for the idea. :-)

  27. @30 – Julie: What mix?? like jello or pudding??

  28. I have been using the goodbyn lunchbox this year, although I wish I had seen all the bento options before I bought.

    I have frozen applesauce cubes that I include in a dish of unfrozen sauce. It seems to work for hummus also. I put frozen berries in the yogurt.
    My daughter likes frozen veggies, but I think the ones I give her are defrosted by the time she eats them 3 hours later.
    I have included frozen edamame mixed with cold pasta. I’m hoping this is enough to keep the food from spoiling before she eats it. Thoughts?

  29. @33 from Anneke: If you’re concerned about food safety, you might want to include an ice pack or two in an insulated lunch bag to keep things cool. But three hours is not overly long in the larger scheme of things.

  30. Try to use the stainless steel tiffin container. It’s more affordable, safe, reusable, and has 100% BPA free. It is a perfect lunch pack container. You can stack up to 4 different kinds of your lunch in it without mixing the food together. =)