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

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).
    Smoothie-Pop-Holders

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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284 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 10 Recipes to Freeze For School Lunches (which makes packing a breeze!)”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 —

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. PLEASE don’t send glass containers in school lunches. Spills are one thing but injury with broken glass is quite another.

    1. 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.

  6. Lindsay Untherbergus

    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.

  7. 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!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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.

  8. 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.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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. :)

  9. 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).

  10. MommySpendsLess

    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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!!!!

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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?

  16. 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 ;-)

  17. Still quite a lot of sugar in some of these, though, we are advised now just 2 helpings of fruit and four of vegetables.

  18. 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!!!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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.

  19. 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.

  20. Crystal Ecklund

    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.

  21. 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!!

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

    Thanks!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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?

    1. 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).

  26. 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?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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.

  27. 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! :)

  28. 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?
    Thanks!

  29. 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.

    Thanks

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      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

  30. 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!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Radha. Absolutely. Just be sure you put in in an airtight container or bag removing as much air as possible. I save old bread bags for homemade loaves. ~Amy

  31. I just went to Amazon to purchase the Ziploc divided containers you introduced us to (absolutely LOVE these)… and they are “currently unavailable”. Do you have a second best recommendation? I’m down to my last two Ziploc containers.. and they are cracked on the corners… so I need to get something quickly!!! Thanks! :-)

  32. I loved your info on school lunches do you have a book on all this stuff that you posted on the website. What is your website? thanks

  33. I saw in an earlier comment you don’t have to go through the canning process to freeze things like soup, can I reuse any glass jar? Or should it be a canning type jar?

    I am new to the whole freezing/canning world.

    Thanks!!!

  34. I made waffles yesterday and stuck them in the freezer. If I make a waffle sandwich with peanut butter to go in my son’s lunch, when would I put the peanut butter on the waffle? Would you still advise to defrost the waffle overnight in the fridge? Put the peanut butter on in the morning before I pack it? Would you still use an ice pack in the lunch since I will be putting strawberries and cheese in the lunch as well? I’m just worried the waffle will end up soggy. Thanks so much for the tips!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi LD. You could put peanut butter on the frozen waffles and they would thaw by lunch time. I would keep the strawberries and cream cheese cold, too, with an ice pack. ~Amy

  35. I am sure you might have discussed this . But how much it affects the nutrition of the soups when we freeze , thaw and re-heat them ? I am just comparing the option of actually making the soup every morning vs your steps of make-freeze-thaw-heat. Thanks a lot for any input !

  36. I make a BBQ variation of your meatballs I use stuffing as bread crumbs when I make them Italian for spaghetti but I use plain & ditch the parm then coat them in BBQ sauce abd freezer for another variation that’s easy! I also use flax eggs but that’s an allergy thing. My boys love them! I made a quadruple batch this past wknd (4# of organic grass fed beef!) and after my boys attacked I had 9 lunches to put up
    Kinda makes me sad it wasn’t more but with a new baby coming Halloween every little bit helps!

  37. My biggest challenge is to get anything into the freezer before my kids eat it all. I make double recipes and it’s still not enough 😕

  38. Hi,
    Is your cookbook easy to adapt to gluten free diets? I know you use a lot of whole wheat and was wondering if I should still purchase it.

    Thanks!!! Love your ideas and love your website!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Holly. About a third of the recipes are gluten free. Many of the others can be easily converted by swapping out with a whole grain gluten free flour blend or a gluten free pasta. :) ~Amy

  39. Do you have links to the great lunch box containers you showed (like the one for pizza, the thermos, etc)? And what lunch bag do you get that will hold all of this?

  40. Do you have a link to some of the smoothie combinations that you put in the smoothie pop molds? We make a a lot of smoothies at home but I am wondering if they will taste more watered down after being frozen and then rethawed? Our most common one is almond milk, banana, peanut butter, with some flax seed. Would I skip the ice if I am freezing it? TIA

  41. Thank you for all the great suggestions! I just spend a fortune on amazon and have reorganized my whole kitchen around lunch prep cupboard :)

    Question that might be silly…. Do you need to go through the actual canning process when freezing the soups in the canning jars? Or are you ok just setting the lid on and screwing the band around it?

  42. Are your kids allowed to warm foods at school?? Ours are not, which SEVERELY limits our lunch choices to raw foods and sandwiches. It always surprises me when schools have microwaves for kids to warm foods in. Seems the line would be so long, that some kids wouldn’t get to eat, with 20-minute lunch periods.

    1. Jema, use thermos for warm food. I fill mine with boiling water while preparing their food. Dump the water & fill with hot/warm food. My boys say it’s still warm at lunch time.

  43. Hello. I love your ideas, my husband is a truck driver that delivers Azure Standard its an organic and whole foods company in OR we are on the road constantly with our almost 2 year old son, we love eating fresh and grilling our own meals, I love the smoothie tubes and the metal food containers shown in the above photos! What brand are they and where can I buy them? : )

  44. I really appreciate this article. Any ideas for lunches for toddlers that don’t require heating? My son is one year and his child care center cannot heat up foods. I’m struggling to find new things for him.

  45. love your lunch box solutions. I haven’t figured out how to adapt them for very hungry high school boys however. Any ideas?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Dawn. You have to tailor them to their needs by increasing the serving sizes. That may require a larger lunch box and containers. :)

  46. I see dates on the freezer bags. Do you make these weekly or how long can you keep the frozen items considering there are no preservatives?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. Many things you can keep in your freezer for up to 6 months. I typically use three months as a rule of thumb or my freezer becomes too packed. :)

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