Try These Thaw-and-Eat Ideas to Keep School Lunches Fresh
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The thought of sending your kids off to school with frozen foods in their lunchboxes might make you cringe, but stay with us: Thaw-and-eat school lunch prep is about to elevate your lunch packing game.
We've identified a handful of recipe ideas that freeze well and thaw in time to eat by lunchtime without reheating. Think of them as edible cold packs that keep everything else in the lunchbox cool and fresh. But these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg; once you get in the groove of thaw-and-eat school lunches, you'll never pack lunch the same way again.
Why Thaw-and-Eat School Lunches?
There are a few good reasons to embrace frozen foods for school lunches. Not only do they act as cold packs to keep perishable foods fresher for longer—think turkey, tuna, and chicken salad sandwiches and wraps that need to stay as cool as possible until lunchtime—but you can also save time by prepping a big batch of healthy snacks, treats, or main dishes that will stay fresh in your freezer for weeks (or months!), allowing you to quickly pack them into lunches every day. (And since your kid is eating the "cold pack," they don't have to lug it home every day.)
How to Pack a Thaw-and-Eat School Lunch
Never packed a frozen lunch? The absolute simplest way to take advantage of thaw-and-eat lunch prep is to incorporate frozen fruits and vegetables into your kid's lunchbox. Carrot and celery sticks, fresh berries, and apple slices all work great, but be sure to flash freeze them first.
Flash freezing is easy: Lay out fruits and veggies on a baking sheet, evenly spaced and not touching so that they don't clump together. Let them freeze solid, then scoop them into bags or containers. Tip: Store frozen fruits and vegetables in serving-size bags so you simply grab and go when it's time to pack.
You can also freeze prepackaged food items to use in place of cold packs. Frozen juice boxes and single-serve applesauce and yogurt packages freeze well and will thaw in time for lunch.
If you're freezing cooked or baked foods, sure to let hot food cool down completely before freezing. You'll get better results when it comes time to thaw, and your kid won't be faced with a crystallized layer of ice on the top of the container.
The Next Level: Thaw-and-Eat Recipes
Ready to ramp it up and get that morning lunch-packing routine even more streamlined? Many recipes can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, then packed to thaw by lunchtime. Try these recipe ideas and see what works best for you and your little lunchers.
Whether you bake them full-sized or as minis, muffins freeze beautifully. Muffins make great edible cold packs especially if you bake them as minis because they'll easily thaw out just in time for lunch.
Tip: Any muffin recipe can turn into mini muffins. Simply bake them for about 10 to 12 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle; if the toothpick comes out dry, the muffins are done.
These 5-star muffins are great as is, or you can add a little fresh or frozen fruit to the batter to change things up. Tina Rodrigue says, "These are super easy to make and were delicious! I added some fresh berries in the middle of each one."
You can make a big batch of these bar recipes, let them cool completely before cutting into squares, and freeze them with wax paper or plastic wrap between layers for easy portioning. They'll keep in your freezer for a few months, giving you plenty of homemade treats to pack in school lunches.
Many reviewers used butter in this recipe instead of shortening (and you can, too!), and also used frozen instead of fresh berries. Amanda Hudnall Clark raves, "These are so yummy! The kids love them, and they are perfect for packing in lunches to replace both their fruit and dessert!! :)." Watch the video to see how to make them:
Quiches and Frittatas
You can easily freeze individually wrapped slices of quiche or frittata to put in a school lunchbox. These versatile recipes are a great way to use up leftovers from a previous meal—and they'll thaw in plenty of time for lunch without getting up to an unsafe temperature too quickly. (Egg-based lunches shouldn't be at room temperature for more than two hours, but starting with frozen foods extends that eat-by time.) Plus, you can "spike" any of these recipes with additional veggies.
Tip: Instead of dealing with slices, bake a big batch of mini quiches and frittatas in muffin pans. Let them cool, then freeze on a baking sheet. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil, and store in a freezer bag or container so you can quickly pop one or two minis into lunches.
You can use this recipe as your template, and change up the ingredients to suit your family's taste. Kristin Solis says, "My daughter loves these! I make them on Sunday and then heat a few up each morning for her breakfast before she goes to school." Watch the video to see how to mix and bake these easy bites, then check out our quiche and frittata recipes to get flavor combinations your kids will love.
Waffles, Pancakes, and French Toast
Sending your kid to school with breakfast for lunch is a great way to make lunchtime a little more fun. Make a few extra whole-grain pancakes, crispy waffles, or French toast on a Sunday morning, and freeze the extras to tuck in lunchboxes.
Tip: To make easy-to-pack pieces, slice the pancakes, waffles, or French toast into sticks or wedges, and freeze. Pack tasty dippers such as syrup, nut butter, or jam.
Make a double batch of these easy waffles on a weekend, and freeze the extras for lunch. Allrecipes community member Turtlemyrt says, "These were soooo delicious!!! I'm trying to get my family to eat healthier, and these waffles were a big hit with my 2-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son (not to mention myself and my husband)!"