These Hot School Lunch Ideas Will Make Your Child’s Day

Updated: Nov. 07, 2023

Our hot school lunch ideas—like quick soups, hearty pasta dishes and fun finger foods—will make you Parent of the Year.

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Lunch-Box Chicken Soup

A friend gave me this recipe, and I tweaked a few things to make it healthier. It’s so delicious and quite easy to make! I use it for family gatherings, church functions, care packages ... just about anything. For shortcuts, I sometimes replace the celery and carrots with 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables. The prepackaged rice saves time, too, so you can have the soup ready and waiting even when the kids are busy with activities. —Jean Ann Fairchild, Shelby, Ohio

Looking for more thermos lunches for school? Check out our top soup recipes. 

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Mama Mia Meatball Taquitos

We love lasagna, but it takes too long on weeknights. My solution: meatball taquitos. My kids get the flavors they want, and I get it on the table in a hurry. —Lauren Wyler, Dripping Springs, Texas
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Thermos Funtainer

A hot, home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be a treat reserved for the kitchen table. With a fun thermos ($15), keep any of these delicious, kid-friendly recipes warm for your little ones. It’ll be a recess to remember!

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How do you pack hot lunches for school? Get more thermos ideas here.

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Slow-Cooker Mac and Cheese

This classic casserole is a rich and cheesy meatless main dish. I've never met anyone who didn't ask for a second helping. —Bernice Glascoe, Roxboro, North Carolina
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Lasagna Rolls

My Italian lasagna roll-ups are not complicated; they require only basic ingredients to assemble. Prepared spaghetti sauce helps me save time and get dinner on the table sooner. —Mary Lee Thomas, Logansport, Indiana
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Muffin-Cup Cheddar Beef Pies

My kids love these beef rolls so much. I always make extra because they heat up so quickly. I give them their choice of dipping sauces—spaghetti sauce or ranch dressing are the top picks. —Kimberly Farmer, Wichita, Kansas
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Easy Turkey Noodle Soup

Rich, homemade taste that’s easy on the budget makes this chunky soup a family favorite. We enjoy it with hot bread in winter and with salad in summer. —Elaine Bickford, Las Vegas, Nevada
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Cheeseburger French Fry Casserole

Kids love this cheeseburger french fry casserole because it combines two of their favorite fast foods. And I like the fact that I can whip it up with just four ingredients. —Karen Owen, Rising Sun, Indiana
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Hurry-Up Ham N Noodles

This is a rich-tasting entree. The basic, hearty dish is ready to serve in almost the time it takes cook the noodles. It is super for a luncheon or anytime I’m in a hurry. —Lucille Howell, Portland, Oregon
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Tacos in a Bowl

This easy skillet dish offers a delicious use for leftover taco meat. Garnish it with sour cream and salsa for southwestern flavor. —Sue Schoening, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
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Lunch Box Pizzas

When you have these fun-to-make mini pizzas, it's no challenge finding lunch fare that the kids enjoy. Plus they pack nicely in sandwich bags and travel well, so there's no mess. —Rhonda Cliett, Belton, Texas
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Chili-ghetti

I came up with this recipe when unexpected guests stopped by and I didn't have enough chili to go around. This spur-of-the-moment main dish is now a family favorite. —Cindy Cuykendall, Skaneateles, New York
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Muffin-Tin Chicken Potpies

I made these personalized chicken pot pies in muffin tins for my kids, and they gobbled them up. For the record, the grown-ups did, too! —Melissa Haines, Valparaiso, Indiana
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One-Pot Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta

When the weather's too chilly to grill, I whip up a big pot of this cheesy pasta. Believe it or not, it tastes just like a bacon cheeseburger, and it's much easier for my young children to enjoy. —Carly Terrell, Granbury Texas
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Hearty Split Pea Soup

For a different spin on traditional pea soup, try this split pea soup recipe with corned beef. The flavor is peppery rather than smoky, and a tasty change of pace. —Barbara Link, Alta Loma, California
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Cashew Chicken with Noodles

I tried this recipe for chicken with cashew nuts when making freezer meals with some friends. I was smitten! It's quick, easy and so delicious! —Anita Beachy, Bealeton, Virginia
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Unstuffed Peppers

If you like stuffed peppers, you'll love this speedy version. It offers all the comforting flavor of the original, but takes just half an hour. Instead of cooking the instant rice, you can use 2 cups leftover cooked rice if you have it on hand. —Beth Dewyer, Du Bois, Pennsylvania
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Priscilla's Vegetable Chowder

This is the perfect soup to warm up with on a cold fall or winter day. Serve it in a bread bowl to make it extra special. —Jenna Jackson, Salt Lake City, Utah
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Homemade Fish Sticks

I am a nutritionist and needed a healthy fish fix. Moist inside and crunchy outside, these are amazing with oven fries or roasted veggies and low-fat homemade tartar sauce. —Jennifer Rowland, Elizabethtown, Kentucky
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Fiesta Ravioli

I adapted this recipe to suit our taste for spicy food. The ravioli taste like mini enchiladas. I serve them with a Mexican-inspired salad and pineapple sherbet for dessert. —Debbie Purdue, Freeland, Michigan
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Simple Taco Soup

We first sampled this chili-like taco soup recipe at a church dinner. What a warming dish for a cold day. And because it uses packaged seasonings with several cans of vegetables, it's a snap to prepare. —Glenda Taylor, Sand Springs, Oklahoma
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Swedish Meatballs

Mom fixed this Swedish meatball recipe for all sorts of family dinners, potluck suppers and PTA meetings. The scent of browning meat is intoxicating. Add to that the sweet smell of onions caramelizing, and everyone’s mouth starts watering. —Marybeth Mank, Mesquite, Texas
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Sloppy Joe Biscuit Cups

I’m a busy teacher and mom, so weekday meals with shortcuts are a huge help. I always have to share the recipe when I take these to school. —Julie Ahern, Waukegan, Illinois
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Pizza Soup with Garlic Toast Croutons

This comforting soup satisfies our pizza cravings. It’s super versatile, too, and I sometimes substitute light Italian sausage for the chicken or add a little Parmesan cheese. Go nuts and add all your favorite pizza toppings! —Joan Hallford, North Richland Hills, Texas
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Tangy Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs

A tangy sauce, combine with green pepper and pineapple, tranforms Ruther’s pre-made meatballs into a delightful main dish served over rice. —Ruth Andrewson, Leavenworth, Washington
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Tortellini Carbonara

Bacon, cream and Parmesan cheese make a classic pasta sauce that's absolutely heavenly. It's a delightful option for company! —Cathy Croyle, Davidsville, Pennsylvania
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BLT Skillet

This quick weeknight meal reminds me of a BLT, with its chunks of bacon and tomato. The whole wheat linguine gives the skillet dish extra flavor and texture. —Edrie O'Brien, Denver, Colorado
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Corn Chowder with Bacon

I was raised on a farm, so a warm soup with homey ingredients, like this corn chowder with bacon, was always a treat after a chilly day outside. My hearty chowder nourishes the family. —Katie Lillo, Big Lake, Minnesota
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Slow-Cooker Barbacoa

My husband adores this slow-cooker barbacoa simmered in lime juice, chipotle and cumin. He would eat it one a week if I would make it that often! We have it over rice with cilantro and a spritz of lime. —Aundrea McCormick, Denver, Colorado
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Skillet Beef and Macaroni

I found this simple skillet recipe many years ago on a can label. I made some tweaks, and my family loved it. Because it's so easy to put together, it's a real timesaver for people with super busy schedules. —Maxine Neuhauser, Arcadia, California
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Macaroni and Cheese Soup

I have worked in the food service industry for too many years to count and have made this one-of-a-kind soup at many different jobs. It's always been a big hit. —Emma Head, Sunrise Beach, Missouri
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Chicken Nuggets

I like to make these golden chicken nuggets because they’re so quick and easy. My whole family loves them. The seasoning can also be used on chicken breast halves to make amazing sandwiches. —Annette Ellyson, Carolina, West Virginia
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Wagon Wheel Casserole

My ground beef hot dish is a family pleaser. We love the combination of ingredients.—Barbara Hopkins, Lusby, Maryland
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Cheeseburger Soup

A local restaurant serves a similar cheeseburger soup but wouldn't share its recipe with me. I developed my own, modifying a recipe I already had for potato soup. I was really pleased with the way this all-American dish turned out. —Joanie Shawhan, Madison, Wisconsin
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Egg Roll Noodle Bowl

We love Asian egg rolls, but they can be challenging to make. Simplify everything with this deconstructed egg roll made on the stovetop and served in a bowl. —Courtney Stultz, Weir, Kansas
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Beef & Tater Bake

The entire family will enjoy this heartwarming, all-in-one dinner. Plus, it offers easy cleanup! —Mike Tchou, Pepper Pike, Ohio
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Tender Beef over Noodles

I dress up stew meat with noodles and a slightly sweet red sauce for this satisfying main dish. It goes great with a salad and garlic bread. —Olivia Gust, Salem, Oregon
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Meat Lover's Pizza Rice Skillet

My son named this “pizza rice” after I threw together a quick dinner from what I had in the fridge and pantry. Add any other pizza topping ingredients you desire. I often add black olive slices or mushrooms. —Teri Rasey, Cadillac, Michigan
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The Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup

My first Wisconsin winter was so cold, all I wanted to eat was homemade chicken noodle soup. Of all the chicken noodle soup recipes out there, this type of soup is my favorite and is in heavy rotation from November to April. It has many incredibly devoted fans.—Gina Nistico, Denver, Colorado
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Hearty Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

This creamy, cheesy casserole is so hearty that second helpings are a must! —Lynne German, Woodland Hills, California
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BBQ Meat Loaf Minis

Kids can have fun helping to prepare these mini meat loaves in muffin cups. For extra spice, we sometimes add 2 teaspoons chili powder and 1 cup of salsa. —Linda Call, Falun, Kansas
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Broccoli Cheddar Soup

My husband and I love this cheesy dish. It is proof that soup doesn't need to be made in big batches to be good. —Cheryl McRae, West Valley, Utah
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Slow-Cooker Pizza Casserole

A comforting casserole with mass appeal is just what you need when cooking for a crowd. For added convenience, it stays warm in a slow cooker. —Virginia Krites, Cridersville, Ohio
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Pretty Penne Ham Skillet

I'm a busy nurse, so fast meals are a must. This pasta is a tasty change of pace from potato-ham casseroles. —Kathy Stephan, West Seneca, New York
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Sloppy Joe Pasta

Since I found this quick-to-fix recipe a few years ago, it's become a regular part of my menu plans. Everyone loves the combination of sloppy joe ingredients, shell pasta and cheddar cheese. —Lynne Leih, Idyllwild, California
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Barbecue Pork and Penne Skillet

I'm the proud mother of wonderful and active children. Simple, delicious and quick meals like this BBQ pork skillet are perfect for us to enjoy together after school activities, especially if I have leftover pulled pork. —Judy Armstrong, Prairieville, Louisiana
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Cheesy Ham Chowder

My five children all agree that this soothing recipe is wonderful. The soup is full of potatoes, carrots and ham. The best part is that I can get it on the table in only a half hour of hands-on time. —Jennifer Trenhaile, Emerson, Nebraska
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Caramelized Onion & Garlic Pasta

This full-flavored recipe is the result of my mother's love of pasta and our love of cooking together. With a bit of pepper heat and smoky bacon, the entree is excellent alone or paired with grilled chicken. —Lacy Jo Matheson, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
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Quick Chili Mac

This combines chili with one of my favorite pasta dishes. I often serve it for company or potlucks and occasionally add taco seasoning or use beanless chili and add black beans. —Lee Steinmetz, Lansing, Michigan
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Creamy White Chili

Years ago, as a time-starved college student, I got this wonderful recipe from my sister-in-law. She had made a big batch and served it to a crowd one night. It was a hit—and easy and quick. In all my years of cooking, I’ve never had another dish get so many compliments. —Laura Brewer, Lafayette, Indiana
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Corn Dog Casserole

Reminiscent of traditional corn dogs, this fun main dish really hits the spot on fall days. It’s perfect for the football parties my husband and I often host. It tastes especially good right from the oven. —Marcy Suzanne Olipane, Belleville, Illinois
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Slow-Cooker Meatball Stew

This recipe was a lifesaver when I worked full time and needed a dinner that we all would enjoy when we got home. It is perfect to let your young ones help prepare. They can chop, peel, mix and pour. It doesn’t matter if the veggies are all different sizes—your children will still devour this fun and tasty stew. —Kallee Krong-McCreery, Escondido, California
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White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

My mac and cheese is simple and has lots of flavor from the cheeses and ground chipotle chile. I use conchiglie pasta because its shape allows more melted cheese to pool inside. Yum! —Colleen Delawder, Herndon, Virginia
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Kids' Favorite Chili

This third-generation hearty chili is a family favorite. It's a sweet and easy chili that's sure to warm up the whole family on those chilly fall nights. —Terri Keeney, Greeley, Colorado