I know that many kids out there have been missing their school lunches — because yes, some schools actually do have great cafeterias and no, the salami-and-cheese-stick meals I’ve been throwing together aren’t quite the same. So while we’ve already talked about easy lunches we can prep ahead for ourselves, this week I’ve rounded up six simple hot lunches that kids can cook themselves. Yay for independence!
Each of these recipes utilize store bought short-cuts and pared-down versions of some school favorites, like pizza and chicken tenders and even Frito pie, so kids can get that comfort food that we’re all craving, without us having to drop everything to throw it together for them. Older kids and kitchen-confident kids can totally 100% do these on their own. Younger kids may want to switch from ovens to microwaves or toasters, or you might have to prep (just a little) to get them started.
Are these hot lunch recipes for kids all healthy? Eh…more or less. Are we letting go of tracking every vegetable the kids consume right now? Absolutely. Besides, the joy and confidence they get from creating something they love all by themselves is worth it, even if it’s just once or twice a week.
I think these 6 hot lunch recipes will have you hoping the kids make enough to share. Because they totally owe us, right?
Top image: Walking Frito pie recipe | 5 Dinners 1 Hour
Related: Getting kids in the kitchen: A helpful guide to teaching kids cooking skills by age.
Hot lunches: Pizza kids can make themselves
I recently discovered some amazing frozen naan in the freezer section of my grocery store, and I can’t wait to try it with this naan pizza recipe from A Simple Palate. Of course you can also use the pre-baked naan in the bread aisle. Either way, it’s way easier than rolling dough and I love that these little naan pizzas are perfectly proportioned for single lunches. And if your kids can operate a toaster oven, they can make this favorite hot lunch for themselves easily.
Hot lunches: Nachos kids can make themselves
My family subsists almost entirely on sheet pan recipes during the week. Because, easy clean up! And these vegetarian nachos from Running in a Skirt are perfect for kids to whip up themselves, since they use canned beans for a protein. So easy! Pro tip: Have them mash the beans up with a fork before adding so they don’t all roll off the chips. And if your kids don’t like beans? Well, nachos are very flexible, and very forgiving. Pro tip: A microwave works just fine for nachos if you have younger kids not up for handling a sheet pan.
Related: Easy make-ahead lunches for those of us not used to making our lunches every day.
Hot lunches: Chicken tenders kids can make themselves
I confess that Doritos are a big guilty pleasure in our family, and chicken and mayo? Well, we pretty much always have those on hand too. I’m thinking these Doritos chicken tenders are a brilliant way for older tweens and teens to use up the crumbs at the bottom of the bag, or any stale chips you have left over — not that that’s generally an issue in our home. This is a good recipe for older kids who know how to handle raw chicken. Otherwise, prep the chicken fingers in advance, and let them handle the baking in the oven or a good toaster oven. And hey, barbecue sauce or bottled ranch can always swap in for mayo.
Hot lunches: Frito pie kids can make themselves
From Doritos to…Fritos! (I told you these were kid-favorite meals.) Cool Mom Picks’ own Lisa tells me that Frito pies are a big favorite with her Colorado kids, and I love how simple this walking Frito pie recipe is from from 5 Dinners 1 Hour. It’s literally just 4 ingredients — 3 if your kids aren’t big on jalapeños. (And 4 again if they want to add sour cream, ha). Tip: We love Annie’s Organics’ vegan canned chili, if you want an alternative to meat.
Related: Comfort food upgrade: 7 ways to turn plain grilled cheese into a legit family meal.
Hot lunches: Spaghetti and franks kids can make themselves
whether or not your kids are young enough to appreciate the silliness of this freaky franks spaghetti recipe at Weelicious, I think it’s still a great shortcut to a get cooked protein with your spaghetti on the table fast. And your kids don’t have to handle raw meat, so you can save yourself some peace of mind. Of course you could always do classic spaghetti and meatballs, provided you have some meatballs ready to go. Either way, it’s an easy dish to help inspire confidence and get your kids excited to DIY at lunchtime.
Hot lunches: Buffalo sliders kids can make themselves
Don’t let the name scare you off — kids can throw together these cheesy buffalo sliders at Joyful Healthy Eats so quickly and easily, with simple store bought short-cuts, like rotisserie chicken and bottled ranch dressing. And the result? Totally something I’d devour for lunch too. In fact, barbecue sandwiches were a mainstay of my school cafeteria growing up, so these sliders have a big nostalgia factor for me. I might just add them to my own lunchtime menu.