10 School Lunches Recipes to Freeze

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.

School Lunch Tips

My Top School Lunch Packing “Tricks”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    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 “10 School Lunches Recipes to Freeze”

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  1. 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.

    1. 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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  3. 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??

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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!

    3. 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.

      1. I went to high school with 1600 kids -there were two microwaves available for student use during lunch and I rarely had to wait long for it -if I had to wait at all!

  7. do you have any other easy homemade lunch ideas that would cater to three year olds? I currently have to take my daughter to daycare 3 days a week and she has to bring her own lunch. We do the whole grain sandwiches and i tried the the sandwich waffles but am having a hard time finding something easy to prepare and pack that she will actually eat… Granted we have only started three weeks ago. Any tips? She eats everything at home and until now has always been at home with mom so this is a big change for both of us.

    1. Mimi, we pack scrambled eggs, ham and cheese roll – ups, quesadillas, avocado and cheese wraps, macaroni and cheese, brown rice with chicken and avocado and a little bit of soy sauce, pita bread and hummus, spaghetti and meatballs, sliced sausages and steamed broccoli for our 3 and 4 year olds at daycare. It helps if they are willing to warm things up for you but the thermos would work well too. Good luck!

  8. I too like to make rwal food for my kids school lunched.
    And my little miss likes to NOT follow rhe crowd..everyone has sandwiches..so she does not want to…lol.
    So she happily eats left overs…and in this house whenever I cook I make extra to freeze for lunches for my daughter and also my partner.
    My daughters absolute favourite lunches are spaghetti bolognese…tuna mornay…potato bake…or a veggie slice.
    All of which freeze beautifully…brimg out night before dflefrost in fridge and heat in the morning.

  9. I just found your website today and love all the great ideas I have three school age kids 9-16 and am at a loss on what to fix my oldest child is very very picky in the past I have frozen sandwiches,muffins,and I do use heat soups for them to take they also love to have salads I buy cheap small containers at dollor store to hold the dressings and salad toppings in so they can add later once at school.

  10. Hi! I have a 9 year old boy that is very picky and only likes a few veggies. I was always afraid to pack hot food due to spoiling. Thank you for these tips – I would love to experiment with many of your ideas. His school is a “nut free” school, so that cuts out the PB&J and PB with apples. Do you have any other suggestions to replace the peanut butter? Thanks!

    1. You can also get soy butter (I got mine from Walmart lol). I actually like it better than peanut butter :)

  11. I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you going out of your way to share your ideas & help people. You make a positive influence. Love your page on Facebook.
    Thank you,
    Gina Cook
    Vancouver, WA

  12. Hi! I have a question in regards to your smoothie molds. I followed the link to Amazon, and several of the reviewers for that product mentioned a strange “plasticy” odor after several uses. Have you had any problems like that? Do they need to be washed in any particular manner to avoid that? Thanks for your reply! I make tons of healthy smoothies for my kiddos and have been looking for a way to freeze them for later.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jessica. We’ve not had an issue with that but have heard it from other. Mine do not have an odor nor do Lisa’a. We clean them both by hand and in the dishwasher. ~Amy

  13. Do the waffles get mushy by lunch time? I always worry about things getting mushy or soggy
    Is there a way to avoid when packing lunch?
    Thanks

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jenn. It helps when you have separate compartments (like in the Ziplock divided containers) so no moisture gets to the items you want to keep dry. You can find tiny little condiment containers for things like syrup, too. ~Amy

  14. What we do is make extra at dinnertime and freeze leftovers in Ziplock bags. Then I flatten and stack them on a cookie sheet. This way I can store more in my little apartment size freezer because they are less bulky than jars. If I freeze a bigger portion than I need in one bag, I just snap it In two and take out half without needing to defrost the whole thing.

  15. I have two teenage boys and have always packed them healthy school lunches. 16 years of packing lunches is a lot of work and gets boring. I often run out of ideas and they end up with a PB&J. Thanks so much for some great new ideas. I can’t wait to use them.

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  17. Hello,
    I just found your website and absolutely love your ideas and recipes without processed foods! Do you have some suggestions for gluten-free ingredient substitutions for your recipes that use wheat? Maybe rice flour or coconut flour? Any thoughts would be appreciated, thanks!

  18. Love all these suggestions! I do a lot of make ahead things on Sunday (pre-pack the veggies, make the snack bags of raw trail mix and whole grain crackers, make lentil salad for the week and so on) but I had NOT thought to freeze things! This is a brilliant idea. Make a little extra of dinners or just a special batch of something and use my empty jelly jars and not only does this make life easier it expands the lunch menu! Fabulous. Thank you!

  19. I’m so glad I found your web site. With my son now in Kindergarten, I am trying to work out his eating routine – He eats lunch early (10:30 am)we eat dinner late (6:30 pm), so he needs healthy and hearty snacks when he comes home from school at 3:30. Your ideas will work very well for us!

  20. I am LOVING your site! It’s such an amazing resource… I just quit my 9 to 5 job to stay at home with my 3 year old and 1 year old and am relying on your site for recipe ideas… THANK YOU! I’m also a holistic health counselor and am recommending your site to all of my clients! THANK YOU for all that you do!

  21. i really like your lunch box healthy options, as iv been trying to steer our sons lunches in this direction … ps the meatballs idea is so awesome, its his favorite thing, he eats at home, will try this at least twice a week now, never look at it ,as a school idea … awesome just awesome keep up he revolution on healthy options

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Christine. No, but you should make sure yours are freezer safe. Also, leave room at the top for expanding. ~Amy

  22. Can you freeze grilled cheese sandwiches? I make quesadillas for my kids and freeze those in advance but thought grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches would make a nice variety and I think they’d taste fine cold – any thoughts?

  23. I just used the 8oz mason jars to freeze some smothered pork chops and dumplings as well as meatballs and sauce. Such a great idea for left overs. Can’t wait to pull these out for yummy lunches. Thanks for the great ideas!!

  24. Do you put the morning and afternoon snacks in a separate insulated bag? My son like his lunch hot and cold for both his morning snack and drink. I bought one of those double compartment insulated lunch bag but it was useless.

    1. Hi Marion – Our girls take hot oatmeal in a thermos for their morning snack almost every day. We put it in a separate cloth drawstring bag with a cloth napkin, the thermos, and a spoon. Lunch is in the insulated bag (both hot and cold stuff in there). They have an afternoon snack when the get off the bus at home, so we don’t have to pack that. – Jason

  25. Love this blog! I recommend it to everyone! I tried the smoothie pops, ordered the silicone holders, made a great smoothie, put them in the holders, froze them overnight and put them in my kid’s lunches and they leaked all over everything! I had to scrub their new insulated lunch bags down tonight. Any tips to avoid that in the future? I didn’t fill them all the way and I closed them shut and had a big ice pack in their insulated bag. I love the idea of frozen smoothie pops and I don’t want to give up yet!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Tina. Take note of the #5 photo-Lisa wedges the molds into the Ziploc container to keep them securely in place. You have to do it that way to assure a leak free fit. :) ~Amy

  26. Can you freeze the noodles in with the sauce and meatballs? Does frozen pita bread once its defrosted, taste good?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Allison. Sure, you can freeze it all together. I freeze pita bread all the time with no negative effects. Just get as much air out of the bag as possible. ~Amy

  27. Such great ideas! My best friend, who lives out of town, just had a baby, and I’m going to visit her this weekend — and cook a bunch of freezer-friendly meals for her and her husband to eat after I leave. This list is perfect. And I love the focus on healthy eats. Thanks so much!

  28. I am trying to get into using my freezer more, but I have had some issues…. 1. when i freeze things with whole wheat noodles in them, so far I have noticed that the pasta is sort of gummy and doesn’t hold up when re-heated. 2. I tried a batch of muffins, and they didn’t seem as fresh/moist when they were thawed. Am i missing something or do you just accept a lesser quality when you are striving for the convenience of having the food already made an available? Maybe my expectations are too high?! LOL :) Any advice would be appreciated!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Chrissy. Well, freezing does change the texture, moisture, and consistency of foods. There is no way to avoid it completely but the more airtight your containers/bags are the better. One advantage of bags over other containers is the ability to get most of the air out. Some foods are affected more than others so you just have to decide what passes the test for you and what you only want to prepare fresh. It requires some trial and error. I’ve found that most things freeze up and prepare pretty well. One note: be sure that your backed goods are fully cooled before you package and freeze them, otherwise they can be too moist/mushy when thawed. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  29. I just want to thank you for all your wonderful ideas. With help from your site I changed a lot of what I packed for my daughters lunches (6 and 11) I start with your crock pot chicken recipe so my girls have chicken and spinach pitas or chicken salads. Living in the south I don’t pack any hot soups and such but I do a lot of your other lunch suggestions. My daughters now love to take thier lunches to school. Thank you again!

  30. Donette Mullinix

    Thanks for the great ideas! My kids are grown but I teach and take my lunch every day so I love new healthy ideas! The students and other teachers always have lots of questions about what I am eating. It’s a great way to talk about healthy eating choices with them.

  31. Thanks for the great ideas! One tip I have is buying plastic drink stirrers you can use to pack kebobs. I typically make fruit kebobs, but you could use them for olives/veggies, meat and cheese or anything you can put on a stick. It makes it fun for them to eat!

  32. How long do these items stay good in the freezer? I’m just wondering how far in advance should you make stuff. thanks!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Candice. Yes. I use ice trays that fit two trays to one large Ziplock bag. You could use whatever system works best for you. ~Amy

  33. I Use Ice Cube Trays to I Q F and store everything ! Calzones ,the staple of Napoleon’s Armies , travel well and have many varieties .

  34. Thank you for this article,I think this is a great .
    I hope more parents are going to encourage the children to eat healthy ,natural food by learning from this good Ideas.

  35. Thank you Lisa for these great ideas! They are super helpful, even for a busy homeschool mama like me. I’m always looking for a way to escape from Pb&j every day, but without a lot of prep time.

  36. Thank you for the ideas! I don’t have kids but I pack my own lunch every morning. I like to have soup in the winter time and I want to start making my own, but didn’t know what to put it in that would be safe for the microwave. I don’t want to microwave in plastic anymore. I never thought of canning jars to freeze in.

      1. It would be easier to just take the canning jar to work with me. Then I don’t have to worry about remembering to thaw the soup the night before and I won’t have to wash a thermos every night.

  37. One thing occurred to me… some schools have microwaves available in the lunch room. The school my oldest 3 go to does.

    If this is the case, you could just send the soups/leftovers in a glass-jar or a plastic lunch container and they can heat it in the micro… no need to use a thermos then.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. Word of caution: Please don’t microwave food in plastic containers. Chemicals easily leach into foods when heated in plastic. ~Amy

      1. Hi Sarah, I sent all my sons food in small mason jars last pre-school year and not one broken. They are sturdy and don’t easily break when dropped. We have turfed all plastics from our house and the glass jars are being used by a few other parents now and they love them!! BTW my son is 3.5 :-)

  38. What peanut butter do you use? Looking for a good, yet economical option. I use it a lot for granola, granola bars, etc.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kam. Look for an organic peanut butter with only peanuts and maybe a little salt as ingredients. ~Amy

  39. My son, who has gluten and peanut allergies, went to the National Scout Jamboree this summer: 10 days, no refrigeration. They were having pie two of the nights and I racked my brain and then the internet for a solution: pie-in-a-jar! I decided this would be the right solution since I saw so many talking about shipping them to soldiers (meaning weeks to months unrefrigerated).
    Simply take your pie crust and line the sides and bottom of a half-pint jar, spoon in your filling and top with another circle of dough. Bake (45-50min at 350?) by setting the jars on a cookie sheet (no lids). Once done, as quickly as possible, clean the rim of each jar and add a (boiled?) canning lid and ring. If you got them clean, they should seal (all of mine did).
    It would probably be wise to consult a canning book before applying this to much beyond fruit pies, but these worked great for him, and I sent the last one (now a month old) in his lunch today for the first day of school.

    1. Richard,
      I like this idea! My brother is currently serving our country overseas so I can make a ton of these for school and to send to him as well! Thank you so much :)

  40. Hi! I don’t have to pack lunches for my preschooler and kindergardener (they prepare their lunches at school!), BUT I’m loving these ideas so much for just getting lunch on the table quickly at home… seems nap is always late because I’m taking too long preparing lunch. Just wondering if you’d heard of the product Zipzicles? My daughter received these as a party favor, and it is really fun to have something like Flavor Ice pops (those kinds in the plastic tube), but yummier and “real.” Thanks for so many wonderful suggestions for all meals of the day!

      1. We have tried the zipsicles they are great for just liquids. When we put smoothies in them they snapped in half and we very hard to clean out. I was bummed.

      2. I did a smoothie the first time I used them with no problem, but they were pretty fat. Maybe you have to be more careful not to overfill with smoothies. I will admit that I just went ahead and chunked the bags afterwards, did not attempt to clean them :). My kids do just love them though.

    1. Yes heather schools prepare lunches!! But some of us Chose to provide our children with lunches that are healthier than what the schools provide. Chicken nuggets and French fries and maybe a smal side of canned fruit drenched in corn syrup isn’t my idea of a nutritious meal for my child. I’m sorry if I sounded snappy but school lunches get me very upset.

      1. Before making judgements (if you have to make judgements at all) find out what her school lunches are. Here in the Seattle area, many schools make very healthy, sometimes organic lunches. Obviously, just by visiting this site, OP is showing she cares about what she feeds her family. If we moms could be a little less snarky toward each other, that would be really great. Let’s be supportive.

      2. Hi Jaimee, Yes I do completely understand your frustration with school lunches. I was just writing a quick little comment, and didn’t take the time to be clear about what I meant about my kids preparing their lunches at their preschool. What I meant is that the kids to actually cook and prepare their own meal (with help) there at school. It’s part of the curriculum, and a pretty amazing program. Each month, their lunches represent a culture they are studying, and are real foods from that culture. Any pastas or breads are made completely from scratch. My kids have made and eaten “real” foods from all kinds of cultures. I have made many of the recipes a part of my regular dinner rotation at home, it’s just good “real” food. Of course it’s not always perfect. There are times when they use white rice instead of brown, or white flour. My son is only there 2 days/week so no biggie. My daughter is 5 days/week this year, so I’ll be sending her lunch on days when the meal at school is a compromise.

  41. Hi! Love your website. My hubby now wants to start eating healthier & clean food but he drives all day for a living and has no access to microwaves. Do you have any ideas for lunch packing that do not involve sandwiches, salads, chicken or tuna salad? Those foods overstayed their welcome with my hubby. I struggoe because he has higher caloric needs.
    Thanks

    1. I ordered a Ms Bento for my son on Amazon.com. It has 3 separate compartments and it vacuum seals to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Your husband may need full size thermoses, however, being a grown man :) Fill the thermos with boiling water and let it sit for about 2 minutes, then pour out the water and add hot food. It should stay hot for several hours.

    2. Hi – my husband and I eat a hot meal for lunch everyday at work – we take our lunches in a food flask. I use a thermos one, he uses a Stanley one. We take, casserole, stir fry, curries, stews etc in the flask and an additional Tupperware of rice. Although the rice is cold it all heats up when we pour on the hot contents of the flask :) My husband has a big appetite so his food flask is slightly larger than mine. It’s transformed out lunchtimes :) Happy eating!

  42. My kids are older now, but I used to pack homemade pizza breadsticks (breadsticks with cheese and/or pepperoni in the dough). A small container of sauce and another of shredded cheese to dip the breadsticks in. Or a thermos of hot water with a hot dog in it, along with a bun packed separately. Their friends thought I was the BEST. MOM. EVER.!! LOL

  43. My son would love homemade hot items at lunchtime such as soups or pasta but I cant seem to find a good container that not only he can open but does not leak before or after his lunch. Any recommendations?

  44. School starts next Monday for us! We are not able to afford to pack a lunch every day (the kids are on free lunch) but I will do it 2 days a week. Over the summer, we really tried a bunch of your recipes and others Ive found all over the place for “real food” and my kids LOVE everything! They were a ham and cheese or PB&J kids and now they are expecting their homemade “lunchable” or build your own pizza and wafflewiches…Im so glad I found this website! I cant wait to try all of your ideas!

  45. Do the freezie pop molds leak at all when the smoothies start to melt?

    I just purchased about everything shown here from Amazon so I can do this with my son’s lunch! Thanks so much for the amazing tips!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Mollie. If you pack them the way Lisa does here, they hold together really well. Best of luck with the new school year. ~Amy

  46. Hi there, I have a son that is going into pre-school this year and I find I am having a hard time with something. My son and I are mostly GMO-free, organic and try to stay away from processed foods as much as we can. All the rest of my family thinks I am crazy and that makes it hard on me to explain to him “why our family doesn’t want to be healthy.” (Direct words from him!) He is very smart for his age and I am worried about him going to school and seeing someone eating food he knows has dyes/gmo’s in it and telling them not to eat their food. Do you guys have any suggestions for me and my son? Thanks so much!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kailee. I have faced this myself. I think that it is fine to let your kids know that it is okay to share why they eat what they eat if they are asked, such as: “because I want to put healthy things in my body to help it work right”. But, it is also important to help them understand that it can be unintentionally hurtful to make comments about the foods that others are eating similar to if he made comments about their clothes or the home that they live in. Start there, and then as he gets older you can help him understand that old habits/choices can be hard for people to change which is why you are helping him learn to make good choices now. Hope that helps a little. ~Amy

  47. Thank you for the great ideas. My daughter is about to start kindergarten. I know she won’t like the leftovers I usually take. Have you ever tried to freeze Mac n cheese? That is one of her faves but I sure can’t make it in time to leave at 640 with her.

    1. One more ? Are you still buying pizza sauce at the farmers market, or have you started making your own? Thanks again!

    2. I have frozen mac n cheese many times (homemade not the blue box but that would probably work too. Last time I made some for dinner I doubled the recipe and put the extras in ramekins lined with foil, when they were done baking I let them cool- popped them out of the ramekins wrapped and froze them, perfect size for lunches.

      1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Hi there. Ramekins are a great idea. You can also use the jelly jars and thaw them overnight in the fridge. You can send it either hot in a thermos or cold. Regarding pizza sauce, Lisa has her favorite that she buys locally but there are lots of good organic sauces to choose from. Or, you can always make your own. I sometimes use Lisa’s marinara: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/07/19/recipe-homemade-spaghetti-sauce/ instead of traditional pizza sauce. ~Amy

  48. I find that it is really easy to freeze liquid things (spaghetti & sauce, soups, beans, etc…) in regular size silicone muffin trays. I put the tray on a cookie sheet in the freezer & once they are frozen, pop them out & store them in a ziploc bag. Then I just thaw what I need. I find that the mini muffin Silicone trays work great for dipping sauces (pizza sauce, etc) and pesto.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. This is Lisa’s method in detail: 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.” ~Amy

  49. Thank you for the great ideas, I already have my wheels turning for other things to put into my boys lunches. Oh and so glad I am not the only one with a child that likes tomato soup.

  50. I went out to the store and bought a couple of items I saw in your post. I tried last year to pack my children’s lunch but got lazy and lunch got boring!! These ideas are great, would love to hear even more ideas to keep a nice handy list so the kiddos will not get bored. I’m kinda excited to give this another try!!

  51. I love this! I am past the age of school children but still enjoy all the info. I will have to say that you are defeating your purpose of healthy food if you cook or heat anything in the microwave as it kills all nutrients. So on the stove would be much better or heat water in the microwave and set the items in the warmed water.

  52. We use the full-size freezable PackIt reusable lunch bags to keep the kids lunches cold for school. This is a good option for older kids and adults.

  53. Your school must have lockers. Our schools do not have lockers and the kids carry everything class to class. No rolling backpacks allowed. A lunchbox will be another additional item. Can you suggest less bulkier selections like brown bag choices.

  54. Thank you for this posting! I am sending my kids to day care a few days early this year so I have extra time for food prep and storage. I just ordered a Foodsaver, so I can be sure my baked goods and meals stay fresh. I checked and the bags and they are BPA free, so I think it should be a good way to store. Has anyone else used these devices successfully?

    1. I love my foodsaver but I did discover that it does not work for air filled baked good (like muffins). Since it squeezes out all the air the muffins got smushed. But for flat things or things that don’t matter if they get squished a little it is great. You do have to be careful with liquids (soups, sauces, etc.) as the liquid spreads as the air is sucked out. I wouldn’t fill the bags more than 1/2 full the first few times so you can get an idea of how the food ‘flattens’.

      1. hi there,
        I LOVE my foodsaver, if you freeze your muffins first you are able to then vacuum seal them without them getting squashed. :)

  55. Melissa Crittenden

    love these ideas…I bought the silicone freezie pop molds and my 9 yer old loves them! we freeze applesauce, smoothies, kefir, yogurt, and real fruit juices. this is a great way to use these things up when the exp dates are getting close. and you’re right…envy of lunch table she is.

  56. This is great! I always hear people saying they freeze things like muffins, but I wasn’t sure about how to go about defrosting them without them coming out mushy. My son is starting preschool this year (and we have a baby due in November) and I’d like to send him to school with some fun, yet healthy snacks without a lot of morning prep time. I also love the freezable jars. I have to get some to send hubby to work with some soup and sandwiches this fall. Thanks for all the great tips & recipes. I enjoy reading them.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Christina. Freezing does inevitably somewhat change the texture and moisture of a muffin but my results have not been soggy. :) I typically defrost in the fridge overnight and may heat them briefly if served as a breakfast item. For lunches, however, you just put them (defrosted but still cold) into their lunch containers. ~Amy

  57. Thank you for sharing! I have made several of your recipes and have had good success! My favorite is the whole chicken in crock pot, and then making the chicken stock as well. The chicken stock has been amazing!
    Question on the jelly jars: can you heat up the jars in a pot of water to heat up? Sorry if this is a silly question – haven’t used them before. Thank you again!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Madeline. We’ve not tried that. Here is Lisa’s method: “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.”
      ~Amy

    2. You will have to run some warm or hot water on the outside of the jar to get it loosened up if you wanted to pour it into the pot, but you “could” heat up the jar in a pot of water, though I doubt that it would heat evenly. They are used for canning but just be sure to look at the temperature that the jar is approved for. Would hate to burst a glass jar the morning of school!

      1. Hi! Thanks for the info, ladies! Looks like I will thaw in fridge overnight and then warm the contents on the stove. Didn’t know if the jelly jars were heat resistant or not. Thanks again for the advice!

  58. Love these idea’s for lunches! Question: Do your kids eat the pizza lunch cold? Do they have a microwave in their lunch room? Sorry this is a duplicate, didn’t have time to read all the comments.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Dawn. We do not have the option of heating food at school. The kids do eat their pizza cold or at room temp. ~Amy

  59. My three year old son is a very picky eater, pasta and sauce, hot dogs and nuggets are what he will eat. He will not try many new foods and especially refuses hummus. How do I get him to eat on this diet? Any tricks to helping him change his taste buds?

    1. Francis, maybe trying to change this diet slowly. Maybe try some homemade chicken nuggets and a healthy sauce that you can make together (thinking ketchup or honey/mustard based) and maybe trying to blend some veggies in the blender to add to the pasta sauces? Enlist him to help where he is able and give him choices? It is most definitely a challenge.

  60. We recently put our son on a gluten free/dairy free diet due to some health problems. He has gotten one million times better, but now I am at a loss for what to feed him when he goes to school. He had his first day of kindergarten today and was ok with mainly fruits and veggies, but I would love some fun, filling, and yummy lunch ideas from anyone who has kids on a similar diet. Thanks!

    1. Hi Erica – I recently switched to a gluten free diet to help with some health issues. I don’t know what all your son likes to eat, but I’ve had fun experimenting with some different whole grain gluten free flours (I followed Shauna’s advice at Gluten Free Girl http://glutenfreegirl.com/2013/02/how-to-make-a-gluten-free-whole-grain-flour-mix/). I’ve been able to make various muffins using the mix I made in a one-to-one replacement with regular wheat flour. They have frozen and defrosted well, so I’m really excited to pack these in lunches! I also used the flour to make some yummy waffles. Besides baking, it has helped me to start thinking about all the foods I CAN eat rather than the ones I can’t. Lots of dips (hummus, homemade bean dips, etc.) with veggies, rice crackers (without additives), or non-GMO corn chips, fruit, smoothies, nuts, homemade granola bars with GF oats, eggs in various ways (my husband makes a mean egg salad that’s great on celery or rice crackers). I’d love to hear other ideas for GF whole foods as well!

    2. Erica, try nomnompaleo.com/recipeindex There are mostly adult recipes there, but she does have younger children that she cooks for as well. Hopefully you can find a few ideas there. Like this page…nomnompaleo.com/post/30267255011/a-week-of-paleo-school-lunches-part-1-of-5

    3. To replace breads get organic gluten free bread. Also spaghetti is an awesome option if you use whole grain gluten free noodles and tomato sauce.

    4. Elanaspantry.com has gluten-free recipes as well, and there’s a book called cookies for everyone that has gluten, dairy, and nut free recipes for baking. Good luck.

    1. I totally agree. I love all of these dead but PLEASE stay away from using the microwave!! You are doing all this hard work only to harm the food with that appliance. Thanks again!!!!

  61. Oh my gosh I could just hug you right now! This is amazing and so helpful. You just took so much stress and anxiety about first time 5 day lunch packing away for me!!!!!!!

  62. I have a question. How do you pack a hot food such as soup with a cold food such as a smoothie in the same lunchbox? Thanks!

    1. I just put them in two different thermoses . . . withOUT ice packs on that day, so I don’t cool down the hot soup.

  63. Great ideas! It looks like you use the 2 part lids that come with the canning jars to freeze the soups in? Is that so? And if yes, do the soups ever experience freezer burn? The reason I ask is because I heard that those 2 part lids are not airtight…

    Thanks!

    1. If you put a canning lid on a jar with hot food in it, it will seal and becomes more air tight. It is not the same as canning it (safety wise), but air tight for freezing.

  64. I love packing smoothies. I do not have any of those little containers, however, many stores sell a small size plastic freezer jar. They have purple lids. I love them because they are just the right size and the lid turns easy so my kids can get it off without difficulty. (They too love that they are still a bit frozen at first lunch break!)

  65. You mentioned defrosting bread items the night before, is there any reason you can’t pack in the lunch frozen, an let thaw in the morning before lunch?

  66. Thank you! This post was just in time. I am looking forward to packing lunches this year.
    I have a freshman in high school this year and two in middle school. It will give me great peace of mind knowing what they are eating and also I think they will enjoy the autonomy of picking what they want to pack for lunch. I’m kinda curious bout portion sizes for their ages and the fact that they are growing boys? Any suggestions? Thank you! I am really enjoying and learning quite a bit from your site!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Tina. Every child is going to be different regarding their appetites. It may take some trial and error to find the amount that is right for them. Just pack healthy real food and if a bit comes home, you’ll know you can cut back on portions a bit. Best of luck. :) ~Amy

  67. I am really making a concerted effort this year not to use processed foods for my kids’ lunches. I have the smoothie pop makers, and I just purchased the “Laptop Lunchbox” containers (not the lunchbox itself since my kids all have nice lunchboxes purchased last year), Kidconserv thermoses, and I am ready to pack lunch. However, my kids are so picky now. They only like the processed, sugary stuff. We are eating differently at home and there’s a rebellion afoot (they are 12, 9, 9, and 8, and I am widowed so I don’t have hubby to back me up). Any reader tips for switching kids’ diets when they are older than toddler age? My saving grace is that they do like homemade soups, but they aren’t bread eaters, only two like muffins, etc. Tomorrow they are having rice balls (sushi rice), soup, and carrots and grapes, but I don’t know what I will do after the first day. Help!

    1. How about getting a kids based cookbook from the library and letting them take part in choosing and planning healthier choices? It won’t happen overnite, but i bet if they have some input and realize they can pick some things they DO already like they may be more open to change. Even if its just one or two items a day that get swapped out. And by the way, sometimes other adults are the most difficult ones to get on board with a lifestyle change! Hard boiled eggs, cheese, whole grain crackers/chips and a fruit or veggies with dip…it doesn’t have to look like a sit down dinner…think party platter food and it might help ease the transition! Best wishes!!

    2. Kimberlie, I’m having some of the same issues with my 4 kids. I am just emerging from the baby blur (youngest just turned 3) and am trying to make some changes in our eating habits. Talk to them about what’s in food…I had a rebellion when I stopped buying Kraft mac & cheese, but I told them why and had them start reading labels for themselves. Today I had them watch a video on Unreal candy (link on Lisa’s blog). Try serving things on toothpicks or skewers and have them help you cook. I’ve had some surprises along the way, like when my veggie-hating 11 year-old announced that she loves edamame! Keep up the good fight, you’re not alone!!

    3. Kimberly, my two kids (all 4 of us really) have widely different tastes so I understand! But I get to know what they like and make their favorites for the freezer, that way, batches of homemade baked goods and planned-overs last a while. Textures and temperatures are personal too, so offer the kids veggies both cooked and raw to see what they like. Odds are that they will find a variety of healthy things they each like and can make up their own menus/favorties lists. Some kids are fine with repeating the same favorites for a long time :) Get creative like the other comments suggested. Breads/crackers/popcorn/muffins/French toast/mini pancakes/tortillas/bagels/English muffins can all sub for a grain element. For protein, think of any nuts/seeds/cooked meats/cheeses/eggs/beans in all manner of states (pieces, spreads, etc depending on texture issues. Don’t forget about dried fruit, olives, pickled veggies, gelatin juice cubes. Dips are another way to get in some protein (made with yogurt or cheese or beans) if you have kids who like to dip. I also recently compiled a list homemade recipes that can replace the processed foods my kids eat the most of- cereal, bread, yogurt, crackers. Slowly you can find some recipes everyone likes. Good luck!

    4. I think give the kids as many choices as you can. I remember that we got my daughter to like salad by offering numerous toppings that she can add herself…olives, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, homemade croutons, etc. All of the toppings were acceptable to me and she had choices and that seemed to make all the difference. Maybe also enlist them into the cooking process too.

  68. So glad I saw this today. I have shared your page on my FB page. This is just what I was looking for, for my 4 kids that all react to lots of processed foods. I must say, since getting my Thermo things are better, but could be MUCH better with planning. Thanks again!

  69. I made and have frozen quinoa pizza bites for my boys lunches! They love them!! I also prefer your meatballs in organic bbq sauce instead of spaghetti sauce…and I com and puree butternut squash and freeze it in ice cubes to add to homemade mac’n cheese that I make in the morning. I find it makes it yummy naturally orange (lol) and its a veggie cant go wrong!

      1. I just use a recipe off Pinterest it’s cooked quinoa eggs mozzarella cheese pepperoni cut up basil garlic and a tiny bit of pizza sauce with more for dipping its really really sticky!! There were several pins but they all had very similar recipes. The one I looked at said to put it in a mini muffin pan…this was a disaster!!! Next time cull just make lil balls or parties!

  70. Do you heat up the spaghetti before you pack it? Sorry if that’s a silly question… I am trying to determine if it stays warm or if your kids eat it cool? Thank you!

    1. Yes, just like the soups I heat up the spaghetti in the morning. Although the other day my daughter said she was fine with cold leftover macaroni and cheese (for camp lunch) and she ate it all! I just can’t send hot food in the middle of the summer when camp is outdoors – just didn’t seem right.

      1. I was about to freeze my spaghetti and meatballs and realized that I’ve never frozen noodles. The directions on your site say to freeze the noodles but in the picture there is only meatballs and sauce. Just wondering if you add the noodles to be frozen?? Thanks

      2. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Hi Michelle. You can freeze it all together. It is very convenient to do so. I often just boil my noodles fresh because my kids like it better that way. ~Amy

  71. Your ideas are amazing! I was lucky enough to find your blog at the beginning of summer and have been slowly stocking my freezer with some of your recipes! This post is great though! Sums it all up! I feel so prepared to pack lunches this year! Thank you!

  72. I made smoothies and put them in the little molds, and I made waffles. I also made homemade granola bars and whole wheat blueberry bread using raw honey instead of sugar…. We shall see how the granola bars freeze…. Well hopefully eek:)

    1. Eileen you honestly sound way more prepared than me right now. I definitely have some cooking to do before school starts for us later this month!

  73. I just found out that you can freeze muffin batter-scoop it into liners and freeze the whole thing. Then instead of defrosting a muffin (which is good but sometimes they get dry) you just cook the batter and have fresh muffins without the prep work!

    1. Good idea Julia! Do you go straight from freezer to oven or defrost first? The reason I like baking them ahead of time is because a batch will last me a while. I only pull one or two out at a time (each week).

      1. I freeze the batter like this all the time. You pull them out frozen and then just add a few extra minutes to the bake time. It works like a charm!

  74. You have done a wonderful job! :) I am so excited to implement your ideas which look so fabulous! Thank you for sharing!