There’s just something comforting about a hot lunch at school that a ham sandwich can’t quite satisfy, you know? (Unless it’s a warm, melty Croque-Monsieur — but that’s another story.) But for those of us packing our kids school lunches, we often forget that there are lots of hot lunchbox ideas  to help us make use of those adorable insulated containers we’ve invested in.

So next up in our Back to School Lunch Guide, we’ve got 8 great hot lunch box ideas you can pack for school. We especially like that each of these recipes give kids that comfort, all without too much work for busy parents.

At top :Homemade Alphabet Pasta recipe from Today’s Parent

Related: 5 items to buy at Costco to save a bundle on school lunch


Hot lunch box ideas for school: Homemade Alphabet Pasta at Today's Parent

Homemade Pasta

While you can always pop open a can of ready-made pasta, we’re fans of homemade, especially since it’s so easy. Our eyes are on this wonderful Homemade Alphabet Pasta recipe from Today’s Parent, which as we all know, is more fun for kids than any other pasta shape. (Not a scientific fact, but probably.) It can also last you for a few meals throughout the week. Just warm it to steaming-hot in the morning, then pack it in a wide-mouthed Thermos or insulated container that’s easy to open — and be sure it’s rated to keep contents warm for 7 hours.


Hot lunch box ideas for school: Chicken Ranch Quesadillas at Kitchen @ Hoskins

Warm Quesadillas

It’s hard to resist a cheesy quesadilla, whether your kids like them simple, or will try something more adventurous and hearty, like this fabulous Spicy Chicken Ranch Quesadillas recipe at Kitchen @ Hoskins. The fact that she stirs her cooked chicken up with some ranch dressing should make them extra-irresistible!

And while plenty of kids are fine with cold quesadillas, if yours like theirs hot (and don’t have access to a microwave) then we suggest packing them in a vacuum-insulated lunch container that contains multiple compartments. Or, just pack the quesadillas separate from small containers for chips and salsa. Either way, the idea is to keep everything from getting soggy.

Tip: If your kid’s school offers free or affordable cartons of cold milk, that’s fantastic. But if you do need to pack milk yourself, make sure you have smaller insulated containers on hand. That way your child’s bento or insulated lunch bag can accommodate a cold drink and a hot lunch.


Hot lunch box ideas for school: Cheesy Bacon Broccoli Quiche
Quiche. Yes, quiche!

Quiche is such an easy dinner idea and what’s not eaten at dinner makes for awesome school lunch leftovers. And premade pie crust can make it easy.  Try this Cheesy Bacon Broccoli Quiche recipe from MilkLife (a former sponsor). What’s particularly great about quiche is that if your kids have access to a microwave for lunch — lots of middle schools, high schools and even preschools do —  they can eat it nice and hot. But even if it’s not hot, it’s still delicious.


Hot lunchbox ideas for school: Grilled cheese hot dog recipe from The Baker Mama

Grilled Cheese With a Twist

We’ve seen fancy grilled cheese sandwiches before, but we think a whole lot of kids will flip for this Hot Dog Grilled Cheese recipe from The Baker Mama. Follow her recipe (tip: don’t skimp on buttering that bun) and cut the sandwich in half. Then wrap it in foil, and pack it in your kid’s Thermos or insulated container to keep it warm and melty until lunchtime.

Hot lunch box ideas for school: Meatballs and Noodles at The Organised Housewife

Meatballs and Noodles. Or, “Noodles”

Spaghetti and meatballs are always a hit at dinner time, so why not send them at lunch too? The Organised Housewife packs her kids Meatballs and Zucchini Noodles, and the recipe looks fantastic! Of course you can pack regular noodles as well. Or hey, just send the kids off to school with a lunch box full of warm meatballs. We won’t judge.


Hot lunch box ideas for school: Stovetop Cauliflower Mac n Cheese recipe: great for hot lunches for school | via MilkLife (sponsor)

Cauliflower Mac N Cheese 

We already offered up a great mac & cheese recipe in our post on non-sandwich lunch ideas, because it’s a perfect hot school lunch idea. For another nutritious take on a mac & cheese recipe for kids, we like the look of this Stovetop Cauliflower Mac N Cheese Recipe that you can find on the MilkLife website (a former sponsor). This relatively easy make-ahead recipe is so perfect for school, especially with that cauliflower giving them an extra boost of the veggies they need. Up to you whether you let your children know there’s cauliflower in it, though. We won’t tell.

Hot lunch box ideas for school: Cheesy Pizza Wheels at Noshing with the Nolands

Pizza Variations

Large slices of pizza can be hard to keep warm in school lunch boxes, which is one of the reasons we love the genius Pizza Toast recipe that we featured in our list of smart non-sandwich school lunch ideas. Another alternative: these genius Cheesy Pizza Wheels from Noshing with the Nolands. They’d be a great after-school snack with a cold glass of milk (of course!) but we think it’s pretty great during the school day as well. They’d easily stack inside a Thermos or even an insulated Yeti travel mug, which will keep it warm for about…8.5 years, by my calculations. Fortunately though, you only need to keep it warm until 12 or so.


Hot lunch box ideas for school: Cheesy Beef Empanadas at NeighborFood

Cheesy Empanadas

Mmm, will someone please make us these flaky, Cheesy Ground Beef Empanadas from NeighborFood for our own adult lunches? They look so outrageous, and what a fun surprise for our kids’ lunch boxes! You can whip them up ahead of time and warm them in the oven in the morning, then wrap in foil and pack them in a bento to keep them toasty.