If your child craves more substantial food during the cooler months, a cold-cut sandwich may not cut it for his lunchtime meal. Because so many schools are making the peanut-free switch, the classic PB&J may not even be an option for your young student. While cafeteria hot lunch is an option, truth be told, there’s no telling what’s in the food. Generally, school lunches are prepared with pre-packaged foods that are laden with chemicals, additives and preservatives. Packing a nice, home-cooked hot lunch will ensure proper nourishment for your child and you’ll know exactly what’s in your child’s food.
- Stews, Soups or Chili – Prepare the thermos while you heat up your soup, stew or chili. You could even set up a slow cooker the night before and spoon hot chili or stew directly into the thermos. Pack some crackers and shredded cheese in the lunchbox to top off hot soup or chili.
- Nachos –This is an option for using up leftovers from taco night. Make a cheese dip to heat up in the morning. Use 2:1 parts cheese to mild salsa for an easy nacho cheese recipe, then put hot cheese dip in a prepped thermos. You could even put heated up leftover taco meat and whole beans on top of the cheese in the thermos; these ingredients are perfect for pouring over a plate of crispy tortilla chips. A small baggy or container of diced tomatoes, olives and onions to sprinkle on top of the nachos add the final touch. .
- Cheeseburger or Hot Dog – Hot dogs will fit nicely into a tall thermos, however a hamburger patty may not. Consider making small patties for miniature buns to make little sliders. You can prepare the hamburger bun ahead of time with a little lettuce, tomato and a slice of cheese. Ever wonder what to do with all those fast food condiments that are left over? Toss them in the lunch box to spread onto their hot dog or hamburger.
- Sloppy Joes – Whether it’s the mess implied by the name or the savory sauce, there’s just something kids love about sloppy joes. Spoon prepared sloppy joe meat into a thermos, then pack buns and your child’s favorite sides for a hot lunch treat.
- Baked Potato – First thing when you wake up in the morning, wrap a handful of potatoes in tin foil and throw them in the oven to bake. By the time you’re out of the shower or have the kids dressed and ready, the potatoes should be perfectly baked on the inside. Open the tin foil, slice the spud down the middle, put a pat of butter on the inside and seal the tin foil back up. Place the potato (with the foil still on) inside the thermos. Send them off with all the fixing’s on the side. Cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, chives or diced onion are great extras for kids to sprinkle on their potato at lunch time.
- Tacos – Put hot taco meat in the thermos and build a couple of soft tacos separately. When it’s time for lunch, your child can simply open the soft shells and spoon the meat into the tortilla, then wrap it all up and eat. Chips and salsa on the side would make a perfect as a side dish.
- Spaghetti, Lasagna or Mac and Cheese – Whichever classic pasta dish you choose to send off with your kid, a little parmesan to sprinkle over the top is a nice touch.
- Breakfast for Lunch – A veggie omelet and a couple of sausage links would tuck perfectly into a wide-mouth thermos. Hash browns might end up soggy, so consider skipping that part. A cup of fruit would go well with this lunch.
- Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes – Put hot mashed potatoes and gravy in the bottom of the cooler and place a small slice of hot meat loaf on top. At lunch time pull the meat out and serve on a plate or in the lid, and eat the mashed potatoes and pour the gravy right out of the thermos.
- Veggie Stir-fry – Rice will soak up all the liquid if it is put in a thermos with other food that is juicy or watery. If your stir-fry mixture is on the drier side, go ahead and put them in the same thermos. Otherwise, put stir-fried veggies and meat into the thermos and put rice in another container while it is hot. The rice won’t be piping hot at lunch time, but it will be warm enough to eat and enjoy.
Most of the time a microwave isn’t available for school-age kids, so packing a hot lunch takes a little extra time. Purchase a well-made thermos that has a wide-mouth opening; a lid that doubles as a dish is a plus. Pour boiling water inside the thermos and put the lid on for 5 minutes while you prepare the meal. When the food is ready to be packed away, carefully empty the thermos and dry out with a paper towel. Place the lunch contents inside and close the thermos. Don’t open the thermos until it’s time to eat to keep food hot. You may want to do a couple of trial runs at home or on the weekend to test the temperature of the food to ensure it is appropriate for your child’s age. Keep in mind, bread will become doughy or soggy if left in a warm thermos, as will rice and pasta if in a thermos with too much liquid. Be prepared to put forth a little more effort each morning, but know your kids will thank you for it.