Tired of the same boring lunches? Packing for picky eaters? Check out these ah-mazing warm lunch hacks! Chicken nuggets or pizzas rolls that stay yummy, anyone?!

White plate of chicken nuggets, from Shelf Cooking

PB&J, DIY Lunchables, and fruit and veggie bento boxes all make for fun, tasty, and easy lunches. But eating a cold lunch every day can get old pretty quickly!

There's nothing that warms the soul quite like a hearty, home-cooked meal. But soggy, room temp food? Not so much. Luckily we've got the hacks you need to pack chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and more!

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So, whether you're looking for ways to use up leftovers or you just want to spice up lunchtime, these tried and true ideas will make you a hero! Here's everything you need to know to pack the perfect warm lunch.


We love ourselves a good thermos! They come in all different sizes and fun colors. They're perfect for packing a warm lunch to work, school, or wherever your adventures take you! A few things to keep in mind:

  • Invest in a Good Thermos – You get what you pay for, so don't skimp. Look for a thermos that'll withstand bumps and bruises but will still keep your food at the right temperature.
  • Keep Hot Foods Hot – Boil a small pot of water, and then pour it into the thermos. Drain just before you're ready to pack the food. The heat from the water will warm up the thermos and help it retain the heat!
  • Prevent Sogginess – Stuff the bottom of your thermos with a paper towel to absorb the liquid condensation. Boom! So simple. So clever. Such a game-changer.

Pro Tip: When your thermos gets extra dirty, soak it in a sink filled with warm soapy water and baking soda for an hour or two. It will come out sparkling clean and odor-free.

Now, what to pack in those thermoses? You know we've got some ideas!


Warm lunch of spaghetti with meatballs with fresh parsley on top, from Shelf Cooking

Now that you know how to pack a warm lunch, you might be wondering what to pack. There are SO many options, but we've pulled together a few of our favorites. You can whip up most of these using things you have leftover in the fridge. Hello, shelf cooking!

  • Hot dogs – Super affordable and easy to buy in bulk, these travel so well in a warm thermos!
  • Soup – This broccoli cheddar soup is one of our all-time faves!
  • Chicken nuggets – If you have kids, then you probably have a bag or two in your fridge already!
  • Pizza rolls – Make a big bag of frozen pizza rolls in the oven and you've got multiple lunches for the week!
  • Rice & beans – White rice and black beans, brown rice, and red beans. You decide! Cheap, filling, and super easy.
  • Pasta – So many options here! Build your own pasta meal with these ideas.
  • Eggs & bacon – Breakfast for lunch? Why not?! Eggs and bacon keep really well in a warm thermos. You can use this trick for camping trips, too.
  • Meatballs – Use whatever meat you have leftover to make a yummy batch of meatballs. Need some sauce? We love this recipe.
  • Roasted veggies – Vegetarian? Looking to sneak veggies into your kids' lunch? Roasted veggies are so delicious and easy.
  • Quesadilla – Everyone loves quesadillas! And you make a dang good one using whatever you have in your fridge. Toss in some beans or leftover meat to make them even more hearty.

If you decide to pack a hot dog, pack the bun separately. You can throw it in a ziplock bag or wrap it up in cling wrap or foil.


Have you seen the adorable mini crockpots that you can take on the go? We're kind of obsessed them. Not only are they so dang cute, but they're also super useful! Especially when you want to pack a nice warm lunch.

If you're new to the world of mini crockpots, here's what you need to know:

  • They're super versatile – The only difference between the mini version and the full-size? They're SO portable. Otherwise, you can cook just about anything you would in your larger crockpot at home!
  • Perfect for shelf cooking – These little slow cookers are super affordable and make it so easy to use up leftovers. Such a good investment for any shelf cooker! And a great gift idea, too.
  • Cooker and carrier all-in-one – Prep your food before you head off to work, school, or wherever your day may take you. Grab it, and hit the road! It comes with a convenient handle, so it's a cooker and a carrier all in one.

Pro Tip: For easier cleanup, buy a box of small crockpot liners. Toss the liner after you eat and boom! You're done. No scrubbing or soaking required.


A big white bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese, from Shelf Cooking

Are you getting hungry just reading this post? Yeah. Us, too! Wait 'til you try these mouthwatering mini crockpot dishes:

  • Baked potatoes – Set up a baked potato bar (like we did), but right at your desk. Just rub a little oil on your potato, toss some salt on it, and wrap it up in foil. Cook on high for 4 hours. Bring along your favorite toppings, and you're good to go!
  • Taco meat – Toss in some meat, a small jar of salsa, and a packet of taco seasoning. Bring the shells and toppings, and you've got a quick, easy Taco Tuesday party right at your desk!
  • Chicken and rice – Make-ahead one of these rice dishes and then warm it in your little crockpot.
  • Sesame Chicken – This tasty, hearty meal is so much better than takeout! Try this sesame chicken recipe from One Dish Kitchen.
  • Chicken nachos – Toss a couple of boneless chicken tenders, a cup of salsa, and a packet of taco seasoning into your crockpot and cook on low for 4 hours. Shred with a fork and place on a bed of tortilla chips with the toppings of your choice. YUM!
  • Chili – We love this chili recipe. Just scale it back, so it will fit in your smaller slow cooker!
  • Meatloaf – Meatloaf for one?! Yep. This meatloaf recipe from One Dish Kitchen is worth a try.
  • Vegetable and meat stew – Use what you've got! Toss in some veggie broth, leftover veggies, and beef, and let the slow cooker do the rest.
  • Mac and cheese – Is there ever a wrong time for mac and cheese? No! Amanda's Cooking has an awesome recipe that you can re-calculate for a smaller pot.
  • Apple crisp – Who says you can't have dessert at lunch?! Give our slow cooker apple crisp recipe a go.

Want to save some serious dough? Use cheaper cuts of meat for your crockpot meals! The slow cooking keeps the meat nice and tender, so you won't even know the difference.


If you don't have a mini crockpot handy and all your thermoses are dirty (hey, we've all had those days), we have a few other clever hacks you can try so your warm lunches travel well!

  • Insulated Lunchboxes – These are a great option, too! Just be sure to toss in a warm pack. Double wrap your food in plastic, then foil to keep everything from getting too soggy.
  • Steel Bento Boxes – If you need to keep foods separate, you'll love this option. You can use the same trick that you did with the thermos. Boil a bit of water to keep the box warm, then line the bottom with paper towels.

And there you have it. No more run-of-the-mill lunches for you. No more soggy surprises! With these tips, tricks, and recipes, you'll be a lunchroom hero.

Tell us what you think! Drop a comment below to let us know what you'll be packing in your next lunch.

Various warm lunch ideas from Shelf Cooking

Looking for even more clever ideas? We've got you covered!

Bon appétit!