My kid is a super picky eater with food allergies. For the first several years of his schooling, I packed him a lunch each and every day. I filled his little R2D2 lunch box with everything from veggie sushi to chicken lo mein, in hopes that he would eat more than a few bites. I know I'm not alone in my desperation to get my child to eat his midday meal, so I've found 10 hot lunch ideas for your kindergartener who hates sandwiches, but loves a hot meal.
First and foremost, you're going to need an insulated lunch box that will keep your food hot and safe to eat. Also, consider who you're feeding. I have learned the hard way that packing your kindergartener soup, even if it's their very favorite food in the whole world, is a recipe for disaster. The same thing goes for chili and anything with a sticky sauce. Another thing you'll want to consider is sogginess. Foods like chicken nuggets and pizza will reach inedible levels of soggy before lunch is even served, so unless your kid is willing to eat floppy nuggets or saggy slices of reheated pizza, it's best to skip those. The following meals, however, should still be just the way your little one likes them when lunch rolls around.
1. Grilled Chicken Strips
My kids have always been fans of flame-grilled chicken, and thankfully, you can buy pre grilled strips in the freezer section. It makes for a wonderfully simple meal. Hot grilled chicken strips, honey mustard dipping sauce, a bag of veggie straws and some corn on the cob, and you're ready to go. Bonus points if you remember to throw in a piece of fruit or one of those pureed fruit pouches that every child seems to adore.
2. Mashed Potato Buffet
This one is also super easy. The only thing that needs to be hot is the mashed potatoes (and potentially gravy, but that could be messy). You then pack lots of little toppings in the other sections of the bento box. Bacon bits, scallions, butter, cheddar cheese, you're only limited by your imagination. My son loved chopped sausage, corn niblets, and hot sauce on his. (It sounds gross, but it's amazing.)
3. Buttered Noodles
Chances are, if you have a child, you are incredibly familiar with buttered noodles. They might even be a staple at your home. I know they are at mine. They're pretty much just as tasty even if they are only vaguely warm. You can kid yourself and throw peas in there, thinking they'll eat them, but why waste the food? Serving some raw carrots and apple slices on the side is just fine.
4. Lo Mein
I swear, it's easier than you think it is to make lo mein, and you can make one enormous batch on Sunday, and your whole family can have lunches from it. Also, once you master this meal, you can change it up with different proteins, types of noodle, and toppings. It's a go-to in our house.
5. Rice and Beans
My kids would eat beans and rice every day. This recipe for Cuban black beans and coconut rice has everything to keep your kindergartener full and happy for several hours. I pair these with slices of cucumber and radish, a big handful of berries, and a cool juice box of mango punch. Nothing comes back home from this lunch.
6. Chicken and Rice Casserole
Basically, I like this recipe for chicken and rice casserole because children love it, and it's not known for staining. Also, it scoops really well, so it's not getting all over your kids lunch box with every bite. If you have a MawMaw from the midsouth, you know this dish really well. Plus, it takes like a minute and a half to put together before you shove it in the oven.
7. Mac & Cheese
Sure, you can used box mac and cheese here, but the homemade stuff freezes so well, and is actually less messy in the end. This recipe from Ina Garten is my personal favorite, but don't worry, if you don't have a hand hewn pottery casserole dish to bake it in, store bought is just fine.
8. Pulled Pork
Puerto Rican style pulled pork, also known as "pernil," is a crowd favorite. Serve it with yellow rice and a heaping helping of raw veggies on the side, and your kid will be salivating before lunch even arrives. Also, you can make it in the slow cooker on Sunday and serve it all week. Win.
9. Shepherd's Pie
What's not to love about Shepherd's Pie? It's hearty, comforting, and easy to make in batches and then freeze in small portions. It has all the food groups, so all you need to add to the lunch box is a little something sweet, like fruit or a cookie. There is nothing easier.
Meatballs are fast, easy, you can buy them already made, and you can use whatever floats your boat as a dipping sauce. One cute idea would be to serve them with cubes of cheese and veggies, and give a few choices of dip, like ranch or Italian dressing. Being from the midwest, I'm a huge fan of Swedish meatballs, but I would pack the gravy separately.