The HOT Lunch Box

The HOT Lunch Box

hot-lunchbox

by Cathe Olson

I want my kids to have a healthy, hot lunch when the weather gets cold. Although their school offers hot lunches, they are not always healthiest. So . . . I’ve started sending them with their own hot lunches – in a thermos! Soups, dinner leftovers like pasta or brown rice and stir fries, even breakfast foods like oatmeal and creamy millet cereal make delicious lunches for my kids to take to school – and my husband and me to take to work. 

Here are a few tips for using a thermos: 

  • Size matters! I’ve found that the 5-inch tall thermoses are a good size for kids and fit easily into any kind of lunch box. Most kids don’t want too much of any one item and it’s harder to eat from taller containers, especially for younger kids. A 6 to 7-inch tall thermos works well for adults.
  • No plastic! Get a stainless steel thermos–plastic leaches chemicals into food when hot food is put into it (which is why I don’t recommend the ‘heat and go’ type thermoses).
  • Preheat! Fill the thermos with very hot water while you are heating up the food. This preheats the thermos so the food stays hot longer.
  • Fill’er up! A full thermos will keep warm longer.
  • Premeasure! If heating food in the microwave, I find out how much food fits in the thermos by filling it with water and pouring it into a measuring cup. Then when heating food in the morning, I fill the measuring cup to that level (my 5-inch thermoses hold about 1 1/4 cups of food) and just nuke that. Never microwave in plastic — chemicals leach into your food. Or of course, it’s also easy to heat the food in a pot on the stove.
  • Utensils! Don’t forget to pack a spoon. (Woops — have done that several times. Sorry kids!)


Here are some of our favorite lunchbox recipes. Now that I’m working (out of the home), I’ve started baking muffins and biscuits on the weekend that I put in with our hot lunches during the week. I also prepare extra soup, rice, pasta, beans, etc. when I’m preparing our dinners and use the extra for our lunches. 

Alphabet Soup 

Makes 8 servings 

This soup is as easy as saying your A-B-C’s – or almost. 

  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium potato, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large carrot, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1 cup sliced green beans (cut into 1-inch slices)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 3/4 cup alphabet noodles


Pour the broth and water into a large pan and set to high heat. Add the potato, carrot, broccoli, green beans, thyme, basil, and salt. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the cover and add the peas and noodles. Cover and simmer 15 minutes more, or until the potatoes and noodles are tender. Taste the soup and add more salt if needed. 

Black Bean and Corn Soup 

This will really warm you up on a cold winter day – this is plenty for dinner with leftovers for your lunch box the next day. It freezes well too. 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 strip kombu, broken up (optional)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro


Heat oil in soup pot. Stir in onion. Sauté 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, jalapenos, and cumin. Saute 5 minutes. Stir in stock, water, beans, carrots, oregano, and kombu, if using. Simmer covered 30 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Puree soup in blender or food processor. (You will have to do this in several batches.) Return to pot. Season with sea salt to taste. Stir in corn and cilantro. Heat to desired temperature. 

Makes 8 servings 

Note: 2 cups dried black beans will cook up to 5 cups for this recipe. Or you can use 3 (15-ounce) cans of black beans. 

Ratatouille 

This is a simple stew to make because there are just a few ingredients to chop. It can be made the day before or in the morning if you like. The flavor gets better as it sits. I’ve added garbanzo beans for extra protein. Serve over brown rice, polenta, or whole grain pasta. 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups) with liquid
  • 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (optional)
  • 1/2 cup minced kale, collards, or chard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley (optional)


Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed pot. Saute onion about 10 minutes, until soft. Stir in garlic, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Saute 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garbanzo beans, kale, sea salt, oregano, and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer covered about 15 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Stir as little as possible so vegetables retain their shapes. Add additional sea salt and black pepper to taste. When serving, sprinkle with minced parsley or toasted pine nuts if desired. 

Makes 6 servings 

Note: This stew is delicious without tomatoes too. Just add about 1/4 cup water to keep vegetables from scorching. 

Variation: For a spicy stew, substitute 1/2 cup salsa for 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes. 

Sweet Potato-Spelt Biscuits 

These biscuits are so moist and flaky, they practically melt in your mouth. They’re great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They freeze well too. 

  • 1 1/2 cups spelt flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold nonhydrogenated margarine or coconut oil
  • 1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato (1 medium)
  • 1/4 cup nondairy milk


Preheat oven to 400°F. Sift flour, baking powder, and sea salt together. Cut in margarine or coconut oil until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in sweet potato and milk until combined. Scoop out 1/4-cup mounds of dough (an ice cream scoop works well) and flatten to biscuit shape on unoiled baking sheet. Bake 25 to 20 minutes, or until bottoms are golden. 

Makes 10 biscuits 

Cranberry-Orange Muffins 

These tangy, eggless muffins are made with flaxseeds to supply omega-3 essential fatty acids that are important for you’re the health of your brain and nervous system. 

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 3 tablespoons brown rice syrup, agave nectar, or maple syrup
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons flaxseeds, ground


Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil muffin tins. Place juice, grated orange peel, sweetener, and cranberries in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until steam begins to rise. Remove from heat. Stir in oil. 

In separate bowl, sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt together. Stir in ground flaxseeds. Mix cranberry mixture into flour mixture. Stir just until combined. Pour batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until tester inserted in center comes out dry. 

Makes 1 dozen 

Note: Use a coffee grinder, seed grinder, or blender to grind the flaxseeds. 

Banana-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies 

These amazing cookies contain no added sweeters and are wheat-free as well. They’re low in fat, high in fibrer and best of all very delicious. 

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup raw almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 bananas
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly oil two large cookie sheets. Place the rolled oats and almonds in a food processor or blender. Grind until the turn to a coarse powder. Pour them into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 

In separate small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher. Use a fork or a mixer to beat in the oil and vanilla until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir the banana mixture into the oat mixture until it’s well-combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir until they are evenly spread throughout the batter. 

Drop heaping teaspooon size balls of cookie onto the prepared cookie sheet. -a small-size scoop works great for this. Flatten them slightly with your palm. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until they’re golden brown around the edges. Makes about 3 dozen

Cathe Olson

Author: Cathe Olson

Cathe Olson is the author of the new nondairy ice cream cookbook: Lick It! Cream Dreamy Vegan Ice Cream Your Mouth Will Love, as well as Simply Natural Baby Food and The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. Visit Cathe’s blog at http://catheolson.blogspot.com.

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