How to pack a lunch box with cold food and hot food

by on July 1, 2013 · 2 comments                       

how to pack a lunch box and keep cold food cold and hot food hot

One of the most common questions I get about packing lunches with my EasyLunchbox System is, “How do you keep the hot food hot, and the cold food cold?”

And, “Will kids eat “hot food” cold, or at least… at room temp?” Yes, most will, especially when they’re hungry! You may have to do a little bit of trial and error, but many recipes that your child enjoys hot, will be equally enjoyed cold or at room temp. Often there is so much talking, etc. at lunch time, even if a meal is served hot, it quickly cools yet still gets eaten … Read on for some tips about keeping food cold,  using a thermos for foods like soup or chili that are best served warm, and packing BOTH hot and cold food in the same lunch.


It’s important to start with cold food in the cooler bag. For example, if you don’t refrigerate your bread and you make a cheese sandwich, the cheese inside may start off cold but the bread is room temp. A cooler bag (and an ice block) will not cool the food down, and therefore, the sandwich would not be cool at lunchtime. (Also, mostly room-temp food will cause the ice block to “sweat” quite a bit, causing an excess of moisture).

What I’m saying is that, whether you prepare lunches the night before or in the morning, if you start with a lunch container full of cold food, that is the most important thing.

A large enough ice block must be included with lunches. In our house, we use one of those oversized hard blue ice blocks and put it in the cooler on the top of the food. I’ve found that the smaller ice blocks and “pillow” type ones don’t do the job as well. My kids’ lunches are cold at lunchtime and in fact, if they’ve brought home unopened yogurt containers, at 3pm the yogurt is still cool and we can repack it the next day.

Additionally, if you freeze a tubed yogurt, juice box, or (not quite full – needs expansion room) water bottle and include that, it will be thawed by lunchtime and will keep the lunch even colder. (A neat trick for “sweating” water bottles, (or even ice blocks in extra warm climates), is to put it in a clean sock to absorb any moisture caused by condensation as it thaws. You could also pack it in a zip-lock bag.).

Lunches should be kept inside in a temperature controlled environment. If kids are say, at camp, and lunches are kept outside where it’s warm, in the sun, (or in a hot car), they will not stay cool.

Moving on to HOT FOOD or both HOT and COLD food in the same lunch

Are you wondering how long it’s safe to keep food hot in a thermos? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. And MOMables has the answer. She’s also got a VIDEO:

[VIDEO] How to pack hot and cold food in the same lunch bag

► ► If you’ve been struggling with hot and cold lunch-packing dilemmas, read through a recent conversation from my EasyLunchboxes Facebook wall,  and hopefully, our discussion there will answer your questions :)

Here’s most of it –

And here’s more from Lisa, mom of 4, who packs LOTS of school lunches and shares her tips, recipes and pics on What Lisa Cooks.

Will lids eat cold leftovers? │What Lisa Cooks

If you’re still wondering about anything,
please leave a comment below and we’ll continue chatting :)

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1 Cristi July 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm

This is a question I’ve been asked a lot as well. I live in Washington State, and our trip to school takes all of 5 minutes, so food safety is not as much of a concern for me as it would be for someone whose child who took a long bus ride to school somewhere with more extreme temperatures – keeping my kidlets’ food hot or cold is more for their preference than to prevent spoilage. But even on our coldest winter days our Thermos containers have kept their soups hot, and ice packs in insulated lunch carriers have kept things safely cold enough. For items they prefer very cold, I add frozen reusable ice cubes right next to the food. Or cut water-filled pillow ice sheets into perfect fit cold packs [HERE]

Keep lunches extra cool by tucking these reusable ice cubes into your EasyLunchbox containers
Cristi is the cool author of..I Want To BelieveMy Profile

2 Kelly July 2, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I love those little reusable ice cubes you pictured on your blog Cristi!! I had never thought of that before. Super cool idea :)

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