Safety ConcernsYou know your child best so you should use your judgement when deciding if it is safe to send them to school with hot food. Can they open the container without spilling it? Will they test the food to be sure it isn't too hot before taking a big spoonful? If you have any doubts it may be better to stick to cold foods or a hot meal from the school canteen.
For safety's sake you need the food to be piping hot when you pack it, and to do so as close to lunchtime as possible. If your food is very hot and put into a preheated flask you will have killed most of the bacteria before packing so there should only be a small risk and bacteria wont multiply if the food stays hot enough. You want to avoid a situation where food cools and is left warm, basically you don't want the temperature of food to drop below 60 C (140 F) for more than three hours. For that reason it's worth buying a good quality flask as they do vary in how long they keep things hot. Also be sure that the flask is the right size, food cools quickly in a half empty flask.
My personal preference is to avoid putting hot meat or rice dishes in lunch boxes unless I know they will be eaten within a few hours, since those are the most likely things to cause problems.
SoupsAn obvious hot lunch is soup, and it's pretty easy to open a tin (or defrost some home made soup) and heat it up while everyone eats breakfast. Pop it in a flask and it's ready to go. You can either provide a cup to drink the soup from or a bowl and spoon. A vegetable soup could take the place of fruit in a typical lunch, if you choose a lentil or bean version it will be extra filling and provide protein as well.
PastaPasta is another great option, especially if you have a wide mouthed food flask. Some are even designed to include a spoon and you can eat straight out of them, which saves on washing up! A tomato and vegetable pasta will keep well, just slightly undercook it and make the sauce extra runny since it will continue to cook and absorb water while in the flask. You could provide a little packet of grated cheese to sprinkle over the top and your pasta dish will be almost a complete meal. Recently I was packing soup for a toddler but I wasn't sure that he would be able eat it without spilling, and I wanted to bulk it out a bit. I cooked a handful of pasta in the soup before popping it in a flask and it worked perfectly, "soup pasta" has been requested several times since!
StewsIf you have some leftover stew (or tagine etc) from a previous meal then this will fit beautifully into your food flask. If you prefer not to heat a meat stew you can include some chopped cold meat to be added to vegetable stew just before eating.
Mince dishesThings like cottage pie, spaghetti bolognaise or chilli are easy to fit into a flask. Since they fill up the whole space they stay nice and hot. Older children might enjoy an "assemble your own" meal with hot filling for them to add to tacos or wraps.
Chinese and Indian foodsLeftover stir fry, noodles, egg fried rice, korma etc are nice and easy to pack. Again, the rice and sauce fill up the whole space in a flask and few air spaces means food stays warm for longer. You could provide some naan bread, poppadums or prawn crackers to eat with it.
Finger foodsThese don't stay warm quite so well since there tends to be a lot of air space in the flask, and some things may also go a little bit soggy. Still, they can be good options for a bit of a change when they wont be kept for too long before eating. Of course, you may also need to cut up foods to fit in your flask. Some ideas would include:
- Chicken or vegetable nuggets
- Hotdogs (include a roll separately)
- Toasted sandwich
- Fish fingers
- Pasties or pies
- Spring rolls
- Breaded mozzarella sticks