“She’s got a one-a-day lunch
good for all the bunch, yeah,
— Fame (1980)
Though it’s hard to imagine right now, autumn will soon arrive with its cooler weather and kids craving heartier lunchtime fare. By then, requests for sustenance beyond the typical sandwich, fruit and drink may have pushed some parents into packing previously unthinkable processed bags of chips, glow-in-the-dark yogurt tubes and frosted chocolate-chip “granola” bars.
Don’t give in to the processed food temptation. Healthier, heartier alternatives are easy to pack with insulated food jars, otherwise known as thermoses.
Not your 70s thermos
I still have my old treasured Sesame Street thermos perched high in a kitchen cabinet. Featuring a red plastic pop-off cup with a teacup-style handle over a small twist-off cap that always seemed to leak, this thermos did little to keep my drinks—and it was only drinks—cold. I never dared to try hot beverages, fearing a hot cocoa slow drip soggying the rest of my lunch.
But today’s wide-mouth thermoses have double-wall vacuum insulation that can keep cold food chilled for up to 7 hours and hot food steamy up to 5—perfect timing for packing soups and stews in the early morning for lunches between 11:00 am and noon. The 10-ounce style is just the right size for kids’ lunch boxes; not too heavy and small enough for little hands to unscrew the lid.
But will they bite?
Of course, all wonderful nutritional intentions aside, the acid test of any lunchbox addition is if your child eats it. What good is a delicious thermos of chicken noodle soup if it stays untouched in the lunchbox all day?
Bonnie, a hospital administrative assistant and mother of two grade schoolers, reports success packing hot lunches. A big fan of the Foogoo brand thermos, Bonnie packs everything from macaroni and cheese and chili to cool fruit salad in the warmer months of the school year. “There’s a spoon attached to the lid, so we never have that instance where we forgot to pack a utensil and they can’t eat their lunch.”
Bonnie does advise parents to spend the money on a good thermos. “We spent like $17 on my son’s thermos, and it worked great all year. We just bought a $3 thermos at Target for my daughter, and on the first day, it completely didn’t work. She complained her macaroni was cold at lunchtime—the thermos had absorbed the cold pack we use for her other lunch items. I guess you get what you pay for.”
Kids favorites—tasty ideas
So what hot lunches do kids want to bring to school? Lily, a first-grader, at first quietly replied to my inquiry with an “I don’t know.” Five seconds later came a loud and enthusiastic “Nooldes!” Her older brother Jake requested pizza, “of course.” My son – he’s in second grade – yelled “macaroni and cheese” while playing ball with his neighborhood friends.
I decided to ask about some healthier options. “How about chicken noodle soup or tomato soup?” I got a few shrugs, and a couple of sures. Chili? “Can you put some cheese on that?” one of the boys asked. I said we could pack some shredded cheddar on the side and they could sprinkle it on top of the chili at lunchtime.
My son then came up to me and asked, “Mom, can you buy me a thermos for school? I want to bring it for lunch.”
Maybe this will lead to something good, after all!
Hot lunch ideas
Leftovers such as fried rice, spaghetti, stew, soup, and macaroni and cheese make great next-day hot lunches. But to get your kids excited for homemade hot lunch, here are some lunchtime menu ideas you can pack this fall.
Scoop the hot filling, either meat- or vegetable protein-based, into the thermos, and pack a soft bun and some shredded cheese in baggies or Tupperware on the side.
Prepare tortellini according to package directions. Heat some chicken stock with two slivered pepperoni slices. Add tortellini and pour soup into thermos. Serve with a couple slices of Italian bread and some shredded parmesan cheese on the side in baggies or Tupperware.
Scoop hot refried beans into the thermos. On the side pack a couple of tortillas, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, and chopped tomatoes in baggies or Tupperware.
Slip 3-4 hot chicken, beef, or vegetarian meatballs and spaghetti sauce into the thermos. Pack a small baguette or Italian roll, a few slices of provolone, and plenty of napkins!
Pour boiling water into thermos and add two cold veggie dogs. Pack a hot-dog bun and your child’s favorite condiments on the side.
What thermos lunch have you sent your kid to school with that was a hit? We want to hear from you! Please share your hot lunch ideas in the comment section below…