20 Thermos school lunch ideas

20 Thermos Hot Lunch Ideas
Since Chicago Public schools changed their food provider to Aramark about 4 years ago, I’ve been packing school lunch for my kids at home every single school day. Their school food is not only unhealthy but also terrible. My son who would eat fast food 3 meals a day every day if provided, refuses to eat any school lunch including his favorite, pizza, at school. This is really sad because there are many kids who have no other option but to eat school lunch.

Preparing school lunch every single morning is not easy. I didn’t want them to eat bland, cold sandwiches or munch on raw veggie pieces every day either. I purchased 2 types of thermos containers to be able to pack hot lunches. I really like these containers.

  • I can just heat up leftovers from the previous night and pack for school lunch.
  • I can pack warm sandwiches or burgers.
  • They can eat their vegetables at lunch too.
  • I don’t have to come up with 5 types of small things to pack a bento style lunch box every day. 1 or 2 entrees are enough.
  • They are big enough to hold sufficient food to feed a very hungry pre-teen boy. :)

Here is a list of ideas to pack in thermos containers for school lunch:


With thermos containers you can pack any type of warm sandwiches and burgers for lunch. The trick is to keep the bread or the buns dry and prevent them from getting soggy.

IMG_06641. Chicken Sandwich: I toast the buns and grill the chicken breast. I heat up the containers as explained in this post and place the warm buns and chicken in the container. I pack all the garnish separately so that buns won’t get soggy. Kids add the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers in the sandwich at lunch time at school.

IMG_21122. Hot Dogs: I cook the links and put them in the containers. Kids put the links in the buns at school. There is garnish and sauces to top at school if they want them.

IMG_22913. Meatballs (kefta) in pita pocket: I place grilled kefta patties and place them in warmed up thermos containers. I spread hummus in pita and place them in plastic containers so that they don’t get dry and hard. Kids put the keftas in pitas at lunch time. They don’t want me to add rice, lettuce or tomatoes as they serve these pita sandwiches at restaurants but you definitely could.

IMG_47384. Pesto chicken in pita pocket: This is one of my kids’ favorite. I grill chickens and place them in thermos containers. I spread pesto sauce inside pita halves and pack them in plastic containers to keep them soft. Kids put the chicken pieces inside pita halves at lunch time at school.

Stew Dishes

You can pack any type of stew or casserole dishes with vegetables and/or meat. You have to have it ready the night before. Then the only thing you need to do in the morning is to warm them up and put them in thermos containers. You can serve them layered on top of carbs such as rice, bulghur or pasta.
IMG_12515. Great northern bean stew: We love northern beans, pinto beans, read beans, any type of beans. Here is how to prep dried beans for last minute use.

IMG_02926. Chickpea stew: Chickpeas can be cooked with or without meat. My favorite meatless recipe is to simmer chickpeas and cauliflower with canned Indian simmer sauces. It’s a great simple meatless recipe.

IMG_45517. Green beans: Green beans are one of our favorites, especially if they are from our vegetable garden. On this day, I included rice and topped it with green beans.

IMG_2679 8. Any type of mixed vegetable stew or casserole: At this point, you can tell that you can cook any type of veggie stew or casserole for thermos containers. This is peas and potatoes (which are hidden at the bottom).

IMG_59379. Ratatouille: This is one of the few times I went above and beyond out of my usual cooking style, which is “visually appealing” on top of delicious. I’m usually focused on nutritious value and taste and ignore the looks and visual appeal. I’m not sure how it looked at lunchs time after traveling from home to school in lunch boxes, but at least I tried to make it look nice in the morning.

Meat & Carbs

If you don’t have time for complicated recipes, plain grilled protein and carbs are the way to go.
IMG_0325a10. Salmon and rice: In order to simplify my menu planning, we eat seafood once a week. That means next day, kids are eating seafood at lunch.

IMG_04281. Salmon and pesto spaghetti: The salmon above is with rice. This time it’s spaghetti with pesto sauce.

IMG_053512. Pasta: {Ground beef filled jumbo shells}: This is one of my favorite 5-minute recipes. I usually have cooked ground beef {like homemade hamburger helper} ready in the freezer. I defrost them. Fill cooked jumbo shells with meat. Lay them on a mini oven tray and sprinkle them with shredded cheese. Voila! You get kids looking forward to lunch break.

IMG_462713. Homemade pies: Homemade pies are great both as entree as well as sides . The one pictured here is pie (Borek) stuffed with potatoes. You can also go for meat or spinach.

Dine-out leftovers

Restaurant leftovers are the best when you have no idea what to pack for school lunch on Monday morning.
IMG_452814. Leftovers from a dine out: Indian butter chicken and Vietnamese dish

IMG_520315. Leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey and sweet potatoes


You can prepare filling soups and pack it as an entree for lunch. Here are 5 great soup recipe ideas for hot lunch.

16. Minestrone Soup by Mixed Greens Blog
17. Healthy Chicken Tortilla Soup Slow Cooker Recipe by must Have Mom
18. Cheesy Chicken and Vegetable Soup by This Silly Girl’s Kitchen
19. Chicken Pot Pie Soup  by Gimme some Oven
20. Pasta e Fagioli Soup  by Cooking Classy

Containers I use and highly recommend {amazon affiliate}


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