Keeping Stuff Hot for Lunch

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on August 29, 2008

In the comments of yesterday’s post on Lunchbox Planning for School, one NH Mom of 3 asked:

Do your kids eat the Ramen Noodles, Mac N Cheese, etc cold? I’m wondering how we can successfully add that to the rotation.

I have to admit I’m not there when Princess opens her lunchbox,so I don’t know first hand how hot the food really is come lunchtime. I have quizzed her closely, and she says things are “warm” when she eats them.

To keep the food warm, I use either a children’s thermos (it looks like a crayon) or one of those short, wide mouth “soup” style thermoses, depending on what I am sending.

Both of mine are made of double walled plastic, which does not have the best heat retention properties. Honestly, one of the metal ones lined with glass would hold in the heat MUCH better. On the other hand when you have small children who might get rambuctious, then it’s probably best NOT to have glass in there.

The big secret is to preheat your thermos. Heat always tries to move into cold*-so the minute you put hot food into a cold (or even room temp) thermos the heat starts moving OUT of the food and INTO the thermos walls. That makes your food colder!

To prevent this you must fill the thermos with the hottest water you can (boiling if possible) and let it sit with the cap on for 3-5 minutes so that the heat can move into the thermos walls. At the same time you heat the food up as hot as you can (Thank you whoever invented the microwave!). Pour the water out and then immediately put the hot food into the hot thermos.

Viola! You have now greatly increased the chances that your food will still be hot (or at least warm) at lunch time.

For added insurance (since I’m using the aforementioned plastic) I like to wrap a kitchen towel around mine for extra insulation. I also try not to send anything that requires ice packs in the same lunchbox-because then you’ve got the hot and cold duking it out.

I’ve even on occasion resorted to using of those cheapo thin insulated lunchbags that I bought at the dollar store to put just the hot stuff in. Then I put the rest of the lunch in the regular lunchbox.

This may not be an issue with older kids. I’ve read (although not seen myself) that some middle and highschool cafeterias now contain a microwave. If that’s the case, you simply have to keep the food at a safe temperature until your student can heat it up.

Does anyone else have some brilliant ideas for how to keep the food hot until lunch?

*Note: Yeah, I know it’s a lot more technical than that-I’m giving the short, science for idiots version.

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