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12 creative thermos lunch ideas besides the same old soup

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Fill that thermos with a new, satisfying meal day after day

Thermoses really are such a handy way to send lunch to school. They keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, they're easy to eat from, and they often come with a handy little cup (OK, so with the advent of bottled water and juice boxes, that cup is mainly useless now, but it's there if Mom or Dad forgets to pack a drink).

But thermoses can tote so much more than soup, so get creative with one of these fun ideas for kids of all ages (and for you too, parental units).

Pro tip: For hot foods, pour boiling water into the thermos, let it sit for 10 minutes, then dump the water, and fill. This will keep the food warm longer. For cold foods, fill the container with ice water, and let it sit for about 10 minutes before dumping and filling.

More: Back-to-school lunch ideas: Too-cute bento box meals

1. Pasta salad

Pasta salads will stay nice and cold in a thermos without being any worse for wear after a few hours in the lunchbox.

2. Chili

Don't forget to include your kiddo's favorite chili toppings, like sour cream, shredded cheese, onions, Fritos and more or a side of cornbread.

3. Leftover broccoli-rice casserole with chicken

Last night's side dish becomes today's main course with the addition of cubed or shredded chicken.

4. Ultimate nachos

Fill one thermos with taco meat, refried beans and cheese. Fill another with a mix of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa. Send a side of chips and a spoon or fork for them to use to spread a little of each on the chips.

5. Lasagna

"What?" you say. "How am I supposed to eat lasagna out of a thermos?" When you heat it up in the morning, just cut it into bite-size pieces before spooning it in. Doesn't have to look like lasagna to taste amazing.

More: Cafeteria food hacks you can pack

6. Chili-topped baked potato

Smash up a baked potato, and toss it into the thermos with chili and cheese (maybe some onions for kiddos who like them). Don't forget to include a fork for eating.

7. Sneaky veggies and tofu mac and cheese

Toss some prepared frozen mixed veggies and small-diced tofu into some mac and cheese. Extra vitamins and protein, and maybe they'll manage to sneak past your kid's inner "I don't like that" bouncer.

8. Meatball subs

Pack meatballs, sauce and cheese in the thermos, and send it with a precut roll. At school, they can just spoon the meatballs onto the sub, and enjoy — no soggy bread!

9. Pad thai

Whether you make it yourself or order takeout the night before, pad thai is good hot or cold, and the peanut sauce makes it kid friendly, teen appropriate and adult approved.

10. Savory oatmeal

Mix prepared oatmeal with bacon, cheese, diced tomatoes and chives. But warn your kid first, because nothing is more alarming than expecting something sweet and encountering a completely different flavor.

11. Easy (healthier) thermos ramen

Boil ramen noodles in chicken, beef or veggie stock with a little fish sauce. When it's about two minutes from the end of the package's cook time, add your kid's fave frozen vegetables, cook for one minute, and pull it. The noodles and veggies will keep softening until lunch. You can toss in some chicken, pork or beef if desired, and pour it into the thermos.

More: How to make a tuna and avocado sushi hand roll at home

12. Deconstructed sushi

Mix chopped imitation crab, sushi rice, cucumber and sesame seeds. If desired, squeeze lemon juice over avocado chunks, and mix that in (or leave it out if your child is brown avocado-averse). Send it with pickled ginger, wasabi and a packet of soy sauce left over from takeout.

Fill that thermos with a new, satisfying meal day after day
Image: Karen Cox/SheKnows

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