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

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 SoupTaste of Home

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 TaquitosTaste of Home

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 kidsvia Thermos/facebook

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 CheeseTaste of Home

Slow-Cooker Mac and Cheese

What could be more comforting (or easy!) than a Crock-Pot mac and cheese? Nothing! This classic casserole is a rich and cheesy meatless main dish, and I've never met anyone who didn't ask for second helpings of the cheesy slow cooker dish. —Bernice Glascoe, Roxboro, North Carolina

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Lasagna RollsTaste of Home

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

Get answers to “how do I keep my school lunch warm?” and other important questions in our guide to lunch box food safety.

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Muffin-Cup Cheddar Beef PiesTaste of Home

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 SoupTaste of Home

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 and Fries CasseroleTaste of Home

Cheeseburger and Fries Casserole

Kids love this 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 NoodlesTaste of Home

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 BowlTaste of Home

Tacos in a Bowl

This easy skillet dish offers a tasty use for leftover taco meat. Garnish it with sour cream and salsa for southwestern flavor and crushed tortilla chips for a nice added crunch! —Sue Schoening, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

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Lunch Box PizzasTaste of Home

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-ghettiTaste of Home

Chili-ghetti

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

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Muffin-Tin Chicken PotpiesTaste of Home

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 PastaTaste of Home

One-Pot Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta

When the weather's too chilly to grill burgers, 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 SoupTaste of Home

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 NoodlesTaste of Home

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 PeppersTaste of Home

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 ChowderTaste of Home

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 SticksTaste of Home

Homemade Fish Sticks

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

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Fiesta RavioliTaste of Home

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 SoupTaste of Home

Simple Taco Soup

We first tried this thick-as-chili soup at a church dinner. It’s a warm dish ideal for a cold day and easy to prepare with kitchen staples. So what are you waiting for? Dig in! —Glenda Taylor, Sand Springs, Oklahoma

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Mom's Swedish MeatballsTaste of Home

Mom's 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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Lazy Lasagna for 2Taste of Home

Lazy Lasagna for 2

One day when I craved lasagna, I devised this simple recipe and it worked out beautifully. Celebrate weeknights, too! —Carol Mead, Los Alamos, New Mexico

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Sloppy Joe Biscuit CupsTaste of Home

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 CroutonsTaste of Home

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 MeatballsTaste of Home

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 CarbonaraTaste of Home

Tortellini Carbonara

I've made this bacon, cream and Parmesan cheese pasta sauce for so many years and have always called it a carbonara. Low-and-behold, I recently found out it's actually more like an Alfredo sauce. In either case, it's absolutely heavenly and a great option for company! —Cathy Croyle, Davidsville, Pennsylvania

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BLT SkilletTaste of Home

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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Bacon-Potato Corn ChowderTaste of Home

Bacon-Potato Corn Chowder

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 BarbacoaTaste of Home

Slow-Cooker Barbacoa

My husband adores this beef roast 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 MacaroniTaste of Home

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 SoupTaste of Home

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 NuggetsTaste of Home

Chicken Nuggets

I like to make these golden chicken nuggets because they’re so quick and easy. My whole family loves them. You can also use the seasoning to cook chicken breast halves. Stack them on rustic bread with mayo, lettuce and tomato for delicious sandwiches. —Annette Ellyson, Carolina, West Virginia

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Wagon Wheel CasseroleTaste of Home

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 SoupTaste of Home

Cheeseburger Soup

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

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Egg Roll Noodle BowlTaste of Home

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 BakeTaste of Home

Beef & Tater Bake

The entire family will enjoy this heartwarming, all-in-one dinner. And cleanup is a breeze! —Mike Tchou, Pepper Pike, Ohio

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Tender Beef over NoodlesTaste of Home

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 SkilletTaste of Home

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 SoupTaste of Home

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 CasseroleTaste of Home

Hearty Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

This gooey casserole is so hearty and homey that second helpings are a must! —Lynne German, Woodland Hills, California

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BBQ Meat Loaf MinisTaste of Home

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 SoupTaste of Home

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

My husband Eric and I eat dinner together to spend some quality time together. This cheesy broccoli cheddar soup 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 CasseroleTaste of Home

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 SkilletTaste of Home

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 PastaTaste of Home

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 SkilletTaste of Home

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 ChowderTaste of Home

Cheesy Ham Chowder

This recipe is one of my family's favorites. The ham chowder is chock-full of potatoes, ham and carrots. I like to make this comforting ham potato corn chowder at least once or twice a month during the fall and winter. —Jennifer Trenhaile, Emerson, Nebraska

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Caramelized Onion & Garlic PastaTaste of Home

Caramelized Onion & Garlic Pasta

This full-flavored recipe is the result of my mom'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 MacTaste of Home

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 ChiliTaste of Home

Creamy White Chili

I got the best white chicken chili recipe from my sister-in-law, who made a big batch and served a crowd one night. It was a hit. It's easy and quick, which is helpful since I'm a college student. In all my years of 4-H cooking, I've never had another dish get so many compliments. —Laura Brewer, Lafayette, Indiana

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Corn Dog CasseroleTaste of Home

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 StewTaste of Home

Slow-Cooker Meatball Stew

This recipe was a lifesaver when I worked full time and needed a dinner the kids 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 & CheeseTaste of Home

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 ChiliTaste of Home

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

Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.

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