Packing hot school lunches and keeping them warm

I try to pack school lunches for kids as much as I can. However, recently I’ve given up, having to throw away so many untouched foods, half eaten or even barely eaten sandwiches. I let the kids eat school’s cafeteria lunch instead of spending all that time to think, prepare and see all that wasted food.
Packing Hot School Lunch in Thermos

The school cafeteria lunch menu this year, unfortunately, is not-so-healthy, fast food type food that repeats week in and week out. My options looked bleak: unhealthy cafeteria food vs. healthy food that’s uneaten.

Finally, it dawned on me, that the main problem was food being cold, really cold especially with this exceptionally cold winter. I usually prepare cold sandwiches but they complain about them getting soggy. I prepare warmer type of foods and save the lunch boxes in insulated bags. They get cold nonetheless. Their lunch break is only 20 minutes, which is not enough to eat properly either.

I decided to try out insulated food containers. I got two small (Thermos Foogo Leak-Proof Stainless Steel Food Jar, 10 Ounce), two big (LunchBots Thermal 16-ounce Stainless Steel Insulated Food Container, Dark Blue) stainless steel insulated containers. I read the reviews for different brands as well as different shapes and sizes. These two seemed the most favored options. I’ve been packing hot lunches, mostly leftovers from the night before and the results are pleasingly satisfying. Results:
1. I don’t have to spend a lot of time on preparing new food. I can warm up and pack leftovers from dinner.
2. Based on their feedback, food seems to be staying warm.
3. The containers come back empty.

Here is my trick to pack warm lunch and keep to food warm until lunch break:
1. Boil water.
2. Pour boiling water into the container and close the lid to wait until you heat up the food that’ll go in the container.
3. Warm up the food.
4. Empty the water in the container. Dry inside the container.
5. Put hot food in it and close the lid tightly.
6. Put the containers in their insulated lunch bags.

I ask them every single day to make sure the lunch stays warm. The containers come back empty and they confirm the food was warm. I usually put one serving of a main dish (meat + veggies + carb). I do not put fruit, dessert or snacks for lunch because they barely have time to finish the main meal. If I put anything else, especially snacks, they eat that first and don’t have time left for the main meal. I put separate snacks (fruit, yogurt, granola bars, crackers etc) for the afternoon.

One other consideration is my kids’ palm size vs. the container cap size. My son, 8.5 y.o., can open both the big and small containers. My daughter, 6 y.o., on the other hand, can only open the small container. Her palm is not big enough for grasping the big container’s cap.

I don’t know why I didn’t think if this before. I am happy that it’s working out well both for me and the kids


  1. Sue says

    Do you use microwave to warm up the food you cooked before? Can you give us more ideas for kids school lunch? Do you put yogurt in your kids lunch bag? How do you make sure that it’s cold enough to be safe?
    Thanks a lot…

  2. Natalie says

    Hi Sue. I heat up my kids’ thermos the same way, sometimes just using very hot water from the tap. If I send yogurt or a sandwich with cheese, I use the reusable ice packs and set the cold item directly on top. There are also lunch boxes that have a plastic insert for the good and a pocket to put a large ice pack. This keeps the whole lunch cold. My kids have used both of these methods for years and have had no problems keeping lunches safely warm and cold. In other words, they’re both still alive and well today and they appreciate their homemade lunches! Amazon has many options for hot and cold. I like the rectangular leak-proof hot lunch containers. They are more expensive, but I can fit a meal including protein, carb, and vegetable inside and it lays flat.

  3. Courtney says

    I have started doing this for my son and he loves it. He isn’t a picky eater such as only eats chicken nuggets. He just doesn’t eat gross foods. So I have to come up with different ideas. You will want to heat the food up just a little hotter than usual so it stays hot longer in the thermos. I have done soups, ravioli, nachos with hamburger and salsa on the side he can dip chips in. I add a yogurt, a snack size apple and a veggie like raw broccoli or mushrooms and fruit snacks or something along with iced tea or water in this thermos. I add ice to that one to keep it cold til lunch. He is loving it


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