14 Hot Lunch Ideas for Back to School

My kids like to eat lunch in the cafeteria at school. Some days. For James, it is because he prefers a hot lunch. He will not eat any type of deli meat, and only occasionally, will he okay a PB&J. I’ve tried the “pack it and he’ll eat it” thing. It doesn’t work. Everything he doesn’t like comes back in his lunch kit at the end of the day. He would rather go hungry.

Last year when the kids went back to school, I learned pretty quickly that I needed to come up with ideas for a hot lunch that could be packed on the days the cafeteria served something he didn’t like. Also, both of my kids like variety. Do NOT give them pretzels every day for a week. If you do they will never eat pretzels again. I learned that one the hard way. I knew I would not be able to serve the same thing every time I sent a hot lunch.

I also wanted to pack things in their lunch that would be quick and easy to prepare in the mornings. Yes it would be easier if I would do it the night before, but unfortunately that is not a habit I have been able to develop (and doesn’t work so well with a hot lunch). So my criteria was hot, variety, and easy. It was time to put my thinking cap on.

I came up with 14 hot lunch ideas for back to school that keep both of my kids happy with their wants (hot and different) and mine (easy):

Does your child prefer a hot lunch like mine? Here are 14 hot lunch ideas for back to school.

1. Mac and cheese – My kids love it, and I can prepare the blue box variety in the time it takes me to prepare breakfast in the morning. Bonus: Add left over taco meat, meat sauce, or chili to change it up.

2. Spaghetti – Add the pasta, put the meat sauce on top, and it is good to go.

3. Dipping Tacos – Mix leftover refried beans and taco meat. Serve with chips, salsa, and cheese that they can add when they open the thermos.

4. Soup or Ramen – This one is simple. Whatever soup they like, warm it up, pour it in. My kids love chicken-n-noodle, and will eat it on cold or warm days.

5. Ravioli – Pop the top on the can, heat them up, and pour them in. Just like the soup. This is super easy and the thermos always comes back empty.

6. Pizza Rolls – I don’t know about your kids, but mine love pizza rolls. I can heat these up in the microwave in the morning, put them in their thermos, and they stay warm until lunch time.

7. Chicken Nuggets – Just like the pizza rolls. Heat them up and in the thermos they go. You can send these with a side of dipping sauce.

8. Sloppy Joe’s – Put the meat sauce in the thermos and pack the bun separate. They can make their sandwich at lunch time or dip the bread into the meat if they don’t want to assemble.

9. BBQ Sandwich – Same as the Sloppy Joe’s. Leftover pulled pork or chopped brisket and they are good to go.

10. Baked Potato – You can either bake a small potato in the microwave in the morning or the night before and reheat the next morning. Put the potato in the thermos and pack any toppings on the side.

11. Breakfast for Lunch – This is another favorite of my kids. Cook sausage, wrap in a paper towel, and place in the bottom of the thermos. Put cut up pancakes or waffles on top. Syrup goes in a container on the side. I’ve also put eggs in the thermos, but my kids are not as fond of eggs so that was not as big of a hit.

12. Sunday Special – You can find the recipe here. Basically this works for any kind of pasta with any kind of meat sauce. Pack with cornbread.

13. Chili – Pretty much self-explanatory. You can pack the cheese, crackers, or other condiments on the side.

14. Leftovers – Pretty much any kind of leftover can be put in a thermos. I put rice and pasta on the bottom with meat on the top and potatoes on the top with meat on the bottom. Whatever your kids like to eat for dinner, they will also eat for lunch.

Tip: For your kids' hot lunch, buy several different thermoses that are the same size. That way the lids are interchangeable.

I use these thermoses (affiliate). I have several different ones that are the same size. I like them because the lids are interchangeable. Along with their hot lunch, I also pack a drink, a fruit, a dairy, and, sometimes, a dessert. I like to use the bento containers (affliliate) from Laptop Lunches for sides and condiments because the lids fit really tight and there is no leaking.

What do your kids like to take for lunch? Do they prefer a hot lunch? Eat in the cafeteria? Okay with the same thing every day (if so I’m jealous)?

For more back to school ideas check out these posts:



  1. says

    Great ideas! I have never really thought about sending a hot lunch for my girls. I wonder if they would eat it…

    The only thing I’ve done other than sandwiches or wraps is to put frozen chicken nuggets in their lunch boxes. By the time they eat lunch, they’re thawed out and they just eat them cold.
    Leigh Ann recently posted…there’s a new juice in townMy Profile

  2. says

    My kids have “heat up days” twice a week where they can actually use the microwave at school. It is perfect for leftovers, etc. I really like the Sloppy Joe’s idea! My kids would be all over that.
    Elaine A. recently posted…I’m Such a Good MomMy Profile