Real Food Tips: 10 Recipes to Freeze For School Lunches (which makes packing a breeze!)

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If you want to send your child off to school with wholesome, “real food” lunches this year, planning ahead is key! I know it’s tempting to just grab and go with those little prepackaged bags of cheese crackers and tubes of flavored yogurt, but giving your child nutritious foods throughout the school day can help them stay alert and do their best.

Now if I had to wake up each morning and make homemade “real food” school lunch recipes from scratch, well…that would just never happen! So instead I make lunch items when it is convenient for me and freeze them. I think it’s safe to say freezing foods in advance is my number one school lunch “trick” that makes the lunches I pack even possible. And my number two school lunch trick is to always pack – or at least start packing lunch – the night before!

School Lunch Tips

So before we dive right into the list of things you should make and freeze right now at the beginning of the school year, here are a few freezing tips…

How to freeze and defrost recipes for school lunches:

  • For Soups, Pastas, Meatballs, Refried Beans, Stews, Etc: Freeze the finished dish in individual portions using small jelly jars, small Tupperware containers, or even freezer-safe Ziploc bags (once the food has cooled). Note: If using glass jars leave room at the top for the soup to expand!
    The day/night before school: Take out the frozen item of choice and let it defrost in its container in the fridge overnight. On the morning of school heat up the item (we usually use a small pot on the stove, but the microwave would work as well) in a heat-proof container and then transfer it to a thermos container in order to keep it warm at school. Be sure to check out our post on how to select and use a thermos. I try to send “hot lunch” (usually a soup) every Wednesday because it’s a nice break in the middle of the week, and I am now in a routine to remember to pick out something to defrost on Tuesdays.
    tomato bisque for freezer-
  • For Whole-Grain Muffins, Waffles, Pancakes, Quick Breads, Pizza Crusts, Store Bought Breads/Pitas, Etc: There are two ways to freeze bread items: 1. Freeze them in one layer on a baking sheet. Then once they are frozen transfer them to a big Ziploc bag or other freezer-safe container. 2. Eliminate a step by separating the layers of food with pieces of wax paper in your freezer-safe container/bag (so nothing sticks together). With certain foods (like muffins) I find that I don’t even need the wax paper.
    The day/night before school: Pull out the desired individual frozen bread item, put it in the divided lunch container, and let it defrost in the fridge overnight with the other items you’ve packed. If you are just defrosting a bread item alone and it is not already packed with a perishable item then it can defrost on the counter at room temperature.
    frozen waffles-
  • For Smoothies: I freeze our smoothies in reusable silicone freezie pop molds and do not take them out until the morning of school. These do not need to defrost overnight! Instead they will actually slowly defrost throughout the school morning. My kids say they are kind of half frozen, half not by lunchtime (Note: I pack their lunch in insulated bags with 3 or 4 frozen ice packs).

10 Recipes to Freeze For School Lunches
(which will make packing a breeze!)

  1. Whole-Wheat Pancakes or Waffles.
    We use these to make sandwiches with all sorts of fillings like cream cheese, jam, cinnamon, raisins, and even peanut butter (or other nut butters).
    Waffle Sandwich
  2. Spaghetti and Meatballs.
    Our family thinks homemade meatballs are pretty awesome. Combine them with cooked whole-grain noodles and organic sauce and freeze them in a jar – you now have yourself a lunch to get excited about. (See freezing notes above.)
    spaghetti and meatballs
  3. Pizza Crust (or Finished Pizza).
    Whether you make and bake your own plain pizza crust or just cut store bought whole-wheat pitas into triangles and freeze them, it is a great item to have on hand. Pack with grated cheese and tomato sauce and you officially have a homemade “lunchable.” Alternatively, pizza that has already been baked with sauce and cheese freezes beautifully so don’t be afraid to go that route as well.
    pizza crusts-
  4. Chicken Noodle Soup.
    Who doesn’t love homemade chicken noodle soup… especially on a cold winter day? Make and freeze this now and you will be SO thankful in a couple months when fall arrives. (See freezing notes above.)
    chicken noodle soup-
  5. Smoothies.
    We love smoothies in our house and one of the best parts about them is that you can easily add in greens and peanut butter and other good stuff. We freeze them and send them in colorful reusable smoothie pop molds, and they are the envy of the lunch table. (See notes above.)
    smoothie pop-
  6. Whole-Grain Pumpkin Muffins (or Mini-Muffins).
    They don’t have to be pumpkin flavored…blueberry, cinnamon/raisin, raspberry, or banana/nut would do! The important thing is that you make the muffins. And freeze them of course! :)
    pumpkin muffin-
  7. Tomato Bisque.
    This is my 8-year-old daughter’s most favorite soup. She would eat it every week and it would never get old to her. She especially loves it when I boil some whole-wheat macaroni or penne noodles (the day before of course) and then add them to the soup when heating it up in the morning before school. (See freezing notes above.)
    tomato bisque-
  8. Homemade Pop Tarts.
    If I actually have enough extra homemade pop tarts on hand to freeze and then I later find them in the freezer (after a period of forgetfulness), they are like the golden nuggets of the school lunch world to me. I am just being honest – it is the best.
    pop tarts-
  9. Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread or Cinnamon Raisin Bread.
    These can be a great stand-in for sandwich bread as well. Just add some cream cheese in-between two layers and you are ready to go.
    cinnamon raisin bread sandwich
  10. Slow Cooker Refried Beans or Baked Beans.
    Ya okay so beans aren’t for everyone. But I didn’t think they were for me either until I tried these recipes – so just give them a chance! It’s hard to beat cheap, real, and filling.
    refried beans

Bonus: You can also freeze sauces like spaghetti sauce (for make your own pizza “lunchables”), organic applesauce (store bought or homemade), and pesto in little ice cube trays. These are great to have on hand for school lunch boxes as well!

Please share your freezing ahead tips for school lunches in the comments below.

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194 comments to Real Food Tips: 10 Recipes to Freeze For School Lunches (which makes packing a breeze!)

  • Jen

    I have a son in college and a 16 yr old. They said that even with the thermos everything ended up lukewarm to cold at school (not your ideas just any heated stuff). Unfortunately I eventually gave up giving them hot stuff since they didn’t like/eat it anyway. I sure wish there was a microwave at school. I remember that when I went to school thermos things were always hot at lunchtime so it’s a shame that the ones we find nowadays are no good. Do you recommend a different item?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi. Have you seen Lisa’s recommendations? That should help. ~Amy

    • Terri

      I also heat the thermos first with the boiling water and boil what goes in it before filling it. I pack it with a kitchen towel around it and put it in the lunchbox with other room temp foods like raisins, crackers, grapes, etc. that don’t need to be kept cold. My son buys a juice or milk at school but you could send 2 thermos’ and put hot chocolate or warmed apple cider in it so the entire meal is a warm one with no foods to keep cold.

    • Dominique

      I’ve took soup to work in a thermos and it stayed hot for over over 4 hours before i could get to it. Might need a new thermos or make sure the soup is HOT before you put it in!

    • Vera

      You need to get a better thermos. I use one all the time – even in the dead of winter being outside for hours ice fishing and no matter what I put in it, it stays steaming hot for at least 5 hours. I have a thermos made from LL Bean. The idea of having a microwave available at school – think about that – there are 100′s of kids so do you expect them to all stand in line to take turns with 1-2 microwaves or for the school to have dozens of them. Yes, I have worked for schools and microwaves are not the answer.

  • Jen, have you tried boiling water and putting in the thermos with the lid screwed on tight for 10 minutes before filling it? I just pour out the hot water and put int he food (heated to much hotter than my child could possibly handle). Four hours after filling it, my daughter STILL has to blow on it before she takes a bite!

  • Beth

    Jen, there is quite a difference among thermoses. We had a really well-insulated small metal one that kept food so hot that hours later it was still too hot to eat. This thermos was more expensive than the plastic Crayola type. Unfortunately, it got lost. However, even the plastic ones will stay warm enough if you follow the tip that Kymm shared. I use those all the time, and never get complaints of cold food. Good luck!

  • evi

    Sure wish there was a way to make/sew a thermos keeper for those truly expensive thermos sets… I’m thinking like using rubber band type leash that can be wedged tightly onto the thermos lid and cup. That way, both the lid and the cup cannot get separated… especially if said rubber keeper(leash) was sewn into a corner of your kids lunchbox seam or even clipped to a loop that you have sewn onto inside seam of the lunch pack. Ideally, this would have to be made tight enough so that an adult could slide it onto the thermos lid and container, and just too difficult for a smaller child to remove easily.

    Has anyone else seen examples of this??

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  • […] 100 Days of Real Food started by a mom, Lisa Leake, in 2010 using $125 budget for a family of four per week.  The essence of 100 days was for the family to cut out all processed food.For quick kid and adult lunches go directly to this part of her site: 10 Recipes to Freeze for School Lunches […]

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  • Amy

    My daughter is 6 years old. She eats breakfast at 7am before going to school. Her school has a recess time at 9:30am then lunch time at 12pm. I want her to have a little snack (e.g. fruit or nut) and drink (water) at the recess. She doesn’t want to take the snack and water bottle out from her lunch bag. I would like to get some ideas how others to pack snack and lunch for school days. (e.g. put both into the same lunch bag? Bring two lunch bags?!…)

    Thanks in advance.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Amy. Lisa packs snack in a little cinched bag for the girls separate from their lunch bags. I do pretty much the same and put it it in the front zipper pocket of their backpacks where it is easily accessible. ~Amy

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