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. This way—even on those nights when I am feeling tired and uninspired—I can quickly pack school lunches with ease. I would seriously never survive this chore otherwise!
My Top School Lunch Packing “Tricks”
- 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!
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.
- 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.
- 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).
20 Freezable Lunch Ideas for School
- 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).
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.)
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.)
- 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! :)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
11. Whole-Wheat Lemon Raspberry or Carrot Applesauce Muffins
Whether it’s to accompany a serving of warm soup or to beef up a snacky cold lunch, my daughters never met a muffin of mine they didn’t like! And these in particular are two of their favorites.
12. Homemade Uncrustables
So even though my daughters don’t actually mind the crust, they still think uncrustables are fun to make and eat. Plus, the fact that I can make and freeze a big batch makes my life so much easier on some days!
13. Homemade Pieces of Pizza
Pizza that’s been made (and cooled) surprisingly freezes beautifully! And if you don’t want to make your own crust, you can cheat and use whole-wheat pitas. :) (P.S. That’s a Yumbox that’s pictured, and you can get 15% off with our “SWEET15” code.)–
14. Slow Cooker Potato Soup (recipe is in my cookbook)
This is one of our new favorite soups. I love how hearty and filling it is, and my daughters love that I put (organic) bacon on top. (P.S. If you use jars to freeze individual portions like I did, don’t forget to leave room at the top for the food to expand.)
It’s hard to go wrong with chili this time of year! But I have two options for you (both made in the slow cooker) – either Steak Chili or Red and Green Veggie Chili.
16. Whole-Wheat Crepes
Leftover crepes are not commonplace around here, but you could always make a double batch for a fun surprise in a breakfast-themed school lunch.
17. Lunchbox Quiches (recipe is in my cookbook)
18. Whole-Wheat Bread or Cinnamon Raisin Bread
When you find a good source for bread, it’s a great idea to stock up. I divide loaves from Great Harvest into three or four Ziploc bags and freeze them. I love how their honey whole-wheat loaf is made with only five ingredients (whole-wheat flour, yeast, salt, water, and honey) and holds up really well in the freezer. You can always make your own too, of course!
19. Broccoli Cheese Soup
This soup is a great way to get a dose of green veggies. I sometimes even add noodles to it when I pack it in the lunch box, which my kids love.
20. Tortillas (Corn or Flour)
If I have a couple tortillas on hand, I can always use that as a starting point for a great school lunch. Whether I use them to make a quick cheese quesadilla or pack them along with leftover taco fixings, my daughters like Mexican food so much, they don’t mind eating it cold. :)
Bonus Freezing Tips
- You can also freeze sauces like spaghetti sauce (for making 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!
- I also love to freeze fresh organic berries in the summer to use all winter long to top off yogurt and add to muffins for the lunch box!
How many of these items do you already have in your freezer? :) Please share your freezing ahead tips for school lunches in the comments below.
284 thoughts on “20 Freezable Lunch Ideas for School”
Our little one was eating school lunches forever and then finally she wanted us to start packing her lunch. I feel better now that I know what she is eating each day and we have been able to slowly get some healthy snacks in her lunch box too.
i’m dying to know where to get that cool food serving tray above that is metal and seems hinged and has a lot of compartments —
Hi Molly. I believe the one you are talking about is from PlanetBox. You can read about those and other options here: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/review-favorite-lunchboxes-for-kids/
My number 1 tip for school lunches is…… don’t leave your lunch at home! I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten to school and one of my daughters have said they left their lunch behind. My daughters (now in middle school and high school) make their own lunch. They know my rules about adding veggies and fruit, and I try to have a bit of leftovers on hand as they get tired of sandwiches.
Brilliant idea on the pop tarts. Haven’t had those in years! And I’m a big soup maker. I’ll make 10 servings at a time and freeze them. Living in the So of France I’m spoiled with fresh and diverse tomatoes, and bisque is one of my favourites to make adding fresh basil.
PLEASE don’t send glass containers in school lunches. Spills are one thing but injury with broken glass is quite another.
I don’t think she does. She says how she freezes stuff in the glass mason jars,defrosts the contents, then heats it up and transfers it into their thermos for lunch. No glass.
I’m a college student and I pack my own lunches to eat in between classes on busy days. My trick is to just keep things simple–half of an almond butter sandwich, and apple, and raw veggies gets the job done.
Instead of chicken noodle soup, I’ve been making quinoa vegetable soup. The saltiness of the veggie broth kind of masks the quinoa taste (if you dont like the taste). Super healthy and kids seem to love it too!
Love this! Thank you.
Hi. There are endless possibilities. Here are a few: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/09/09/recipe-make-ahead-smoothie-2-ways/ and https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/12/26/green-smoothie-recipe/.
Hi What brand of sauce do you use for the Spaghetti Meatballs?
Hi there. There are lots of great options out there but do look for organic. Some brands I really like are Amy’s, Muir Glenn, Newman’s Own Common Good and several others.
Love the suggestions. I have also been making healthy smoothies and freezing them. We like the thin bag containers with spouts (like ‘natures little squeeze’ or ‘mini kiwi’). They are as big as our lunch bags so they work to insulate the whole lunch and don’t leak even if the kids are full and don’t finish them. My youngest often finishes his after school and it’s still cold.
Do you have a trick for keeping the noodles in the chicken noodle soup from turning to mush?
Because my kids have complained about this, I sometimes separate the noodles from the broth in a separate container and they add them back in before eating. :)
Can you post some of your favorite smoothly recipes for the silicon containers, please?
My question how are you. Keeping things hot in glass for school lunch.
Put them in a seperate container and have him/her add the noodles at lunchtime. Its how my Nana always did it.
Make sure you send ice packs with the smoothies. Sending frozen smoothies in an insulated lunchbox is not enough. My daugters’ smoothie leaked all over her lunch. (I bought the same smoothie container as pictured/recommended).
Thank you! I can’t wait to try these ideas. We’re not on a real food diet but we’ve been trying to reduce the amount of processed/fast food, cook more from scratch and incorprate more vegetables and whole grains. The lunches available in our school cafeteria are terrible! With the schoolyear about to start I was Googling for ideas when I found this page. My favorite is spaghetti since we can just make extra when we’re making dinner.
This is completely brilliant! We’ve frozen meals like this for the first time this school year, and it’s been the best “cold” lunch year. My 4th grader loves not being limited to sandwiches if there’s nothing leftover from the previous nights’ dinner. Thanks for sharing your tips.
Hello. Eating real, unprocessed food is something I started doing just a few days ago. To be truthful, I began doing it after talking to my sister and we have the belief cancer is being diagnosed more and more due to processed food. That is our opinion only. We lost our mom just a bit over a year ago from ovarian cancer. So, my questions are these: my daughter is 10 and was diagnosed this year with asthma and I had allergy testing done because of it. One of her allergies is wheat. I went to one of our health food grocery stores and bought gluten free flour. I’m assuming this can be used in any recipe that calls for wheat flour? She is also very allergic to peanuts but likes and eats almond butter. So once again, guessing that can be used in the place of peanut butter? She loves smoothies!! So Amazon, here I come :). I love your blog, so thank you!!!!
Costco sells a gluten free flour and we use that in place of all wheat flours. The cost is a lot more reasonable! Yes, we substitute almond butter also – the taste and texture will be different. One of my girls minds and the other doesn’t.
Thank you!! They are opening a Costco next month :). I will look then.
I recently purchased silicone muffin “pans” – both the regular and the mini size. They have been great for freezing servings of food for cooking, storing leftovers (broth and tomato paste/sauce), and lunches! Best part is they require no thawing to get the food out and are super easy to clean.
In the first picture on this page what meat has the windmill toothpick in it??? Ham?
Yes, that is Applegate ham.
I have a question about freezing soup in the jelly jars. If I do this, and take it to work with me, is the jar microwave safe?
Yes, as long as you remove the metal lids. ;)
Hi. Thanks for your great ideas. Can you help me out though? I need to pack double or triple what you’ve got in the pictures for each of my children. This is so much work! Especially to incorporate variety. And I have a chronic illness that means I’m in bed for half of each day with low energy levels the rest of the time. Any suggestions would be great.
Hi Sharon. Cooking in large batches and freezing as much as possible is one way to approach it. How old are your children? Are they able to pitch in?
This year when canning peaches, I decided to can a slew of single servings in jelly jars to use in my childrens’ lunches. They. Love. Them. And I love the convenience of sending something premade (by me) and healthy. They get them on Fridays when school serves store bought pizza and I send homemade pizza, peaches and peas. We love our alliteration ;-)
Still quite a lot of sugar in some of these, though, we are advised now just 2 helpings of fruit and four of vegetables.
Do you have a deep freezer? I don’t have enough space to freeze all my make ahead items and have space for my meat (I buy bulk). When you do make food like muffins and waffles do you only make one batch a week/bi weekly/month? I love how prepared and organized you are to be able to pack such nutritious lunches and snacks for your girls everyday!!!
Hi there. Lisa does have an extra freezer for storing her frozen items. Her cooking and freezing schedule varies quite a bit. I double recipes and freeze regularly. It is just easier for me that way.
When you pack the soups, do they eat them cold? (I know at my kids school they have no way of heating up foods, so can only bring cold lunches). I tried doing it in a thermos before but it didn’t stay at a food safe temp, even with following the strict directions on the thermos.
This might help, Dawn: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/11/26/how-to-use-thermos-food-jars/.
Thank you for some helpful ideas – I have been wanting to get those reusable silicone freezer pop molds to cut down on the processed options.
Okay, where can i buy those sylicone baking cups that doesn’t require online purchasing, cause i see how they work perfect for basically dry food items.
Hi Chrystal. You can find them at Target, World Market, and many other stores. :)
I have found them at Dollar Tree!
You’re a genius. You’re a heaven-sent gift from God for this working mama of 2 toddlers. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the work you have done–what an amazing blog! I will not only return to reference, but also tell everyone I know ;) May God bless you as you continue to bless others dear sister!!
I was curious if I could freeze fresh grated cheese? I would like to stop using the store bought but I like to find deals and would grate it ahead of time! Was not sure how the texture would be after thawing.
Hi there. You can. This will help: http://www.thekitchn.com/can-you-should-you-do-you-free-117893.
Tips for freezing the soup? Can I reuse lids or need a new one each time? Also I have the cookbook with the recipe for your potato and tomato soups, about how many jelly jars do you use to freeze on batch?
Hi Sherri. I do re-use my lids for freezing. You can also use the plastic lids if you prefer. I usually get about a dozen jars from the bisque recipe.
This is also good for retiring Dads. Lol My Dad bought himself a retirement home on 10 acres, far away from any stores. With his strict diet of fast food burgers, I am up for a battle. Lol Bulk shopping, food saver and mason jars with food saver attachment, will make me a winner. Thank you!
I’ve been trying to make some of the grilled sandwiches that are recommended in your book and freeze but they always come out mushy. Recently, I had a LOT of trouble with the Grilled Caprese Pita. Any recommendations?
For those it’s important to let them cool off completely before you freeze them or put them in any type of airtight container (even in the fridge).
I have been freezing pancakes and when I defrost they are cracking and very dry. What am I doing wrong and what can I do to fix. I put in toaster to warm, but they are dry and cracking prior to this. They were good when first cooked. Also the potatoes in my stew got all mushy and not palatable for me. What can I do to correct this?
Hi Monica. The pancakes will retain their moisture better if most of the air is removed from the bags in which they are frozen. As far as the stew goes, potatoes along with most veggies, do tend to change texture when frozen. There is not really any way around it.
I know this post is a little old. But I was wondering about sending blended up smoothies in lunch? Any tips or tricks on sending those along in school lunch? Thanks! :)
HA NEVER MIND! I found my own answer when I read the article again, slowly LOL :)
Hi – I am wondering how egg dishes that I freeze (like the lunch box quiche in Lisa’s cookbook) defrost best? I am guessing you put them in the fridge the night before, then pack in the morning, straight from the fridge?
Hi Tracy. Yes, that is right. Make sure you pack the quiche with ice packs, too. ~Amy
Tupperware has some great containers of all sizes that work really well with the freezing…
Do you reuse the lids for the jelly jars? Since you aren’t actually sealing/canning them, it seems like you could. I checked out the lifeyourway.net link Amy posted but it didn’t answer the question.
Hi Jana. You can reuse them for FREEZING as long as they are clean and not rusting. You should not reuse them for canning. ~Amy
We use these screw-on lids for canning jars, but we can find them for quite a bit less at the grocery store, Walmart, and Fleet Farm.
I’ve been trying to lose weight and eat fewer processed foods and your website is like a gift from heaven. Thanks for all the work you put into recipes and sharing snack ideas and practical tips. So appreciative!