Packing school lunches for your kids has a number of advantages. First of all, with the price of school lunches going up, it’s often a more economical choice for most families, especially couponing families. By packing school lunches for your kids, you’re also in complete control of what they eat each day. This is a great option if your kids have food allergies or are just plain picky eaters.
Most kids can only eat so many PB&J sandwiches, though, before they get sick of them. A hot lunch is usually more satisfying for most kids and a welcome relief from sandwich overload.
The main problem with this is that hot food doesn’t stay hot for long, even in an insulated lunch bag. Most schools also typically don’t have microwaves at the students’ disposal either. At least not the ones around here!
So, how do you keep food warm for school lunches?
It took a little research and experimenting last year on my part to figure this out, but I think I finally got it! The key is a good quality insulated plastic food container and super hot food. Voila – warm school lunches!
Here are the steps you need to take to keep food warm for school lunches.
1. Start with a good quality insulated food container. Thermos brand food containers are well-known for their quality. Compared to a lower quality container, a quality container will hold up to abuse better and keep food warm for a longer period of time. Think of it as an investment, especially if you’ll be reusing it for a few years.
2. Preheat the container before you add food. This is an optional step, but some people claim that it helps keep food warm for longer periods of time. The kids didn’t notice much of a difference with this step, so I actually skipped it last year.
3. Heat the food to much hotter than you would actually eat it. This step is not optional. If you want to keep food warm for school lunches several hours later, you’ll need to super heat it before putting it into the container. Remember, they’ll be eating it at lunchtime, and it will have cooled some by then.
4. Seal the container well. You’ll want to make sure that your kids can actually get the lid off, but it should be sealed well enough to hold in the heat and so nothing spills.
And that’s pretty much all there is to it! Just toss it into the lunch bag or box, and your little ones can have a hot school lunch! Well, a warm school lunch, at least.
Additional Tips and Tricks
The inside of the container can get pretty funky quickly, so make sure you wash it thoroughly each day after school. You might also want to place food into plastic bags or wrap it in foil before putting it into the container to help cut down on the mess.
Get creative when you’re packing warm school lunches for the kids. Repurpose leftovers or make larger food into finger food so it will be easy to eat and will fit into the container better. Grilled cheese sandwiches can be cut into strips, for instance, and leftover chicken breast can be cut into chicken nuggets.
Finally, do a test run before school starts. Follow the steps above and test the temperature several hours later, around the time that your child will be going to lunch, to make sure that your container can keep food warm long enough.
This is important not only to ensure that it’s palatable, but also to ensure that it’s safe. Perishable food should not be kept between 40 and 140 degrees F for more than a few hours, since this can cause bacterial growth. However, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, since you’re most likely facing a period of time of no more than a few hours from the time you pack the lunch until your child actually eats.
Do you send hot food for school lunches? Do you have any tips to keep food warm?