We could all use inspiration to keep going with school lunch, so today let’s talk about 8 hot lunch ideas for school. While these hot lunch ideas work for school, most of the ideas also work for adult/office/work lunches as well. So if you don’t have kids in school, don’t click away. These ideas are for everyone!
The great thing about hot lunch for school is that most options can be made for dinner or lunch one day and then reheated and repurposed for the lunchbox.
Please don’t think I’m asking you to make any of the ideas on today’s list in the morning just for the lunchbox. Instead, think about how you can make something like chicken and rice or soup for dinner one night and then repurpose that food for lunch the next day or over the next few days. That’s what we call “cooking once, eating twice” around here. It’s a great way to work smarter, not harder when it comes to school lunch.
How to Pack Hot Food in the Lunchbox
First, consider if the food being packed actually needs to be warm or hot when served.
Roasted vegetables, quesadillas, grilled cheese, fried rice, and meatballs are usually served in a warm/hot state, but they may also be served at room temperature (and an ice pack added to the lunch bag for safety).
There are some foods that just taste best when served warm/hot.
If you plan to serve these foods (soup and certain leftovers like stir-fry), I recommend purchasing a thermos. Using a thermos is the only way to keep food warm until lunchtime.
How to Keep Food Hot in a Thermos
To keep food warm in a thermos…
- Fill the thermos with hot water. I use water that’s been heated in a kettle (this is the kettle we use for coffee, tea, and hot water for a thermos). Hot water from the sink also works.
- Let the hot water sit in the thermos with the lid on for about 5 minutes while you warm up the food.
- Then, dump the hot water out and fill up the thermos with the warmed food. Place the lid on the thermos.
When packing a thermos in a lunch bag, don’t add an ice pack. The ice pack can interfere with keeping the food warm. In this case, think about packing additional components that may be served at room temperature. I’ll share more about how I pack a thermos with cold food in the next section.
22 Hot Lunch Ideas
- Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup
- Homemade Chicken Tenders / Nuggets
- Tomato Soup
- Instant Pot Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Instant Pot Chicken and Rice Soup
- Macaroni and Cheese: Instant Pot Mac and Cheese or Stove-Top Mac and Cheese
- Instant Pot Chicken and Yellow Rice
- Instant Pot Chicken Fried Rice
- Veggie Fried Rice
- Beef and Broccoli with Rice: Warm up leftover beef and broccoli and add warm rice to the thermos as well.
- Chicken Stir Fry with Instant Pot Rice: Pack the rice and stir fry together in the thermos.
- Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs: Cut the meatballs into smaller pieces for the thermos.
- Oven-Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs: Cut the meatballs into smaller pieces for the thermos.
- Veggie-Packed Spaghetti Sauce with Pasta
- Hot Dogs (like Applegate, Niman Ranch, or True Story brand)
- Ground Beef Taco Meat: Add taco meat to a thermos and add a tortilla on the side for a build-your-own-taco lunch. Or, add the taco meat with leftover rice, mixed together, and top with shredded cheese.
- Hamburger Sliders: Warm up leftover small hamburgers and place on small buns for sliders, then place in a large thermos (works best with a 16-ounce thermos).
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Cut a grilled cheese sandwich into sticks, then place the sticks in the thermos.
- Scrambled Eggs: Make a batch of easy scrambled eggs in the morning for a protein-rich thermos lunch.
- Taquitos: Warm up leftover ground beef taquitos from last night’s dinner and place in the thermos. Cut taquito in half for a small thermos.
8 Ideas With Pictures
Here are 8 delicious foods to pack for hot lunch with pictures.
The best part is these foods may be prepped in advance, for dinner (or breakfast, like oatmeal) and then reheated later for lunch! Add the food to a thermos and pack in the lunchbox.
Oatmeal is one of the 27 easy & healthy kids breakfast ideas that I keep on rotation during the school year. Make a big pot of oatmeal for breakfast one morning and save the extra in the fridge to reheat for lunch. Reheat oatmeal on the stove-top or the microwave with a splash of milk or water to help the consistency. Add berries, nut or seed butter, butter (for a healthy fat), maple syrup, honey, and/or cinnamon once in the thermos. Try this stove-top recipe.
3. Chicken and Rice
One of my favorite weeknight meals. This easy meal is made in the Instant Pot, taking less than 30 minutes from start to finish. It’s also a favorite with the kids, making it the perfect meal to cook for dinner and reheat for a hot school lunch.
Another dinner-to-lunch meal. When it comes to school lunch, I like to mix warm stir-fry with the rice in a thermos. Warm up the stir-fry in the microwave or a saucepan. For rice, it helps to add a splash of water when reheating to prevent it from drying out. Here are a few favorite dinner recipes that are perfect for a reheated hot school lunch.
Meal Prep Tip: I love to cook rice in the Instant Pot on the weekend and use the rice to serve as a side dish, make easy stuffed peppers for dinner, fried rice, with sheet pan beef and broccoli, taco bowls (with ground beef taco meat), or stir fry. For school lunch, reheat the cooked rice in the microwave or stove-top, add it to a thermos, then add the reheated stir fry to the thermos.
5. Fried Rice
Fried rice is always a kid-favorite in our home and also a great adult lunch. Make this meal for dinner and save the leftovers for a hot school lunch, or make fried rice on the weekend for a prep-ahead lunch option throughout the week. Here are three delicious fried rice recipes that pack perfectly for a hot school lunch:
Soup is the ultimate “cook once, eat twice” meal. Make a large pot of soup for dinner or on the weekend and serve the leftovers for a hot lunch. A few favorite soups that you can easily make in advance for the lunchbox:
7. Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and meatballs can be made in the Instant Pot or oven. Either way, this is a great dinner-to-hot lunch meal. Serve the meatballs whole or crumble them with the spaghetti and sauce in the thermos. These recipes are perfect for dinner and then reheat for a hot school lunch.
8. Hot Dogs
Hot dogs are a super easy hot lunch. Keep a pack of grass-fed hot dogs in the freezer and you’ll always have a main lunch option ready to go. Warm the hot dogs in a skillet or the microwave, then place the dogs in the thermos whole or cut in pieces. Serve the hot dogs with a side of ketchup in a dipper container. I love Applegate and Fork in the Road brands.
42 EASY SCHOOL LUNCH IDEAS CHEAT SHEET
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