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Do your kids take a lunchbox to school for lunch? My kids do the majority of the time. With my boys who are now 12 and 14 years old, we pack a school lunch mainly because they eat so darned much! If you have a teenaged boy you know what I’m talking about. We got to a point a couple years ago when my boys were actually buying multiple lunches at school some days because they were so hungry, and with 5 kids, that quickly became an expensive routine. Not to mention, school lunches, nutritionally speaking, are not usually the best.
My growing kids needed a big lunch, but having a sandwich every day, or even two sandwiches, got old for them quickly. I thought, what would be really great would be if I could send some real food with them. Like leftover chili or a couple sloppy joes. These are the kinds of things they had started eating for their afterschool snack instead of the bowl of Goldfish crackers that had been the norm when they were younger.
That is when I discovered the potential of a thermos! In my mind, I’ve always thought a thermos was for soup. It turns out, it can be used for SO MUCH MORE. You can use a thermos for basically any hot food that you want to keep hot. There is a little trick to it, but I’ll show you how easy it is.
Using A Thermos The Right Way
Heating your food and then packing it into a room temperature thermos just doesn’t work very well. If you do this, the heat from your food will be lost to the walls of the thermos and your food will cool down before lunchtime. Instead, you need to get the insulated walls of the thermos hot first. That way, when you put your hot food in, there is no place for the heat to go, and your child’s lunch will stay piping hot, even until lunchtime!
You should pack the thermos in the morning before school. I often have the kids pack the rest of their lunch the night before so the thermos is the only thing left to be added in the morning.
Here is the step-by-step of how to pack a thermos.
- First, you need to preheat the thermos. Heat some water in a separate container to near boiling (in the microwave is fine). Then, pour the hot water into the clean, empty thermos. You can lightly place the lid back on the thermos to keep the heat from escaping. Leave the hot water in the thermos for at least five minutes.
- While the thermos is preheating, heat up whatever food you will be packing inside the thermos. This can really be practically anything that needs to stay hot. Pizza, burrito, barbeque chicken, chili, stew, spaghetti, chicken fettucini…you name it. Just make sure you heat the food completely so it is very hot.
- Once your food is heated, you are ready to fill your thermos. Dump out the hot water and very carefully blot out the extra water with a towel. The metal inside of your thermos will be very hot, so don’t burn yourself! Once the excess water is dried out, load the food into the thermos. You may need to be a bit creative on how you do this, depending on what food you are packing. Pizza is one that doesn’t seem to lend itself to being packed in a thermos, but if you cut it into strips and either insert them vertically into the thermos or roll them into spirals and stack them, it works great. Being creative is key!
What Kind of Thermos to Get
Thermoses come in lots of colors, sizes, and varieties. The main thing to consider is the material and the size. For my hungry boys, I need a large thermos to be able to fit enough food inside for them. If your child has not hit the hungry teen phase yet and you are simply looking for a way to pack more of a variety of foods in their lunchbox, then you can probably get away with a smaller thermos.
Make sure that you buy a thermos that has a stainless steel liner. There are some thermoses that are lined with plastic, and I really question the safety of that, even if it is BPA-free. Since thermoses are meant for hot food, and it’s never a good idea to heat plastic since you will be releasing chemicals into your food, stainless steel is just a safer choice. Plus, my guess is that plastic will not retain heat as well as stainless steel, making the thermos less effective at keeping the food hot.
Here are a few that we either own or that I would buy.
And there you have it! The trick to being able to send a hearty and satisfying school lunch for your growing teen. If you already have a thermos and just haven’t been using it, I highly recommend you pull it out and add it to the rotation of lunches for your child.
For a specific list of hot foods you can pack into a thermos, as well as lists for everything else you need to put together a well-rounded lunchbox, check out the free printable below!