Thermoses allow us to switch things up and enjoy a nice hot lunch, whether it’s your favorite leftovers or homemade soup or even keep items like smoothies or yogurt parfaits chilled!
The questions “how long is it safe to keep my food hot in a thermos?” and “how long will food last in a thermos?”, or “what thermos containers are best?” are notable concerns for many parents packing school lunches.
Properly packing hot and cold food into a thermos container is essential in ensuring that your food will be safe to eat by the time lunch rolls around so let’s go over both methods. Since packing cold foods is super simple, we’ll start there.
When it comes to packing milk, smoothies, or a yogurt parfait as long as the food does not sit at a temperature above 40F you are good to go. Before packing cold food, you do need to chill the thermos, which can is done by placing the thermos container in the freezer overnight, once your food is packed and sealed place it in the lunch bag along with a freezer pack. Ta-da!
Now onto the hot meals! Ever heated your food in the morning, packed it in a thermos and by lunch it’s was cold? Yup, me too but before you throw away that thermos container watch the video below to see if you are correctly packing hot lunches.
How long can food last in a thermos and still be safe to eat?
Given that you cooked the food to a safe temperature and then warmed it up to a piping hot temperature, the food inside the thermos container is not likely to go bad.
But because I love you guys, I’ve researched proper food preparation and storage so that you can safely pack hot lunches for your family! Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Bacteria grows quicker between 40F and 140F, so perishable foods should NOT stay at that temperature range longer than 3 hours (therefore, hot foods should be heated to 212F a.k.a “too hot to handle” before packing in a thermos).
- Thermoses must be preheated before filling. This step often skipped, but it’s easy to do and worth it on cold winter ways when you want to pack leftover homemade Mac and Cheese or Chicken Alfredo.
Here’s how it’s done:
1. Boil water
2. Fill thermos container with boiled water, cover.
3. Wait 5 minutes and warm food in the microwave while waiting.
4. Empty the thermos
5. Place piping hot food into thermos, close.
6. Pack and enjoy!
Food packed inside any lunch container should be thoroughly cooked through, so no raw eggs, onions or undercooked meats or raw fish.
Now for the thermos testing.
Below are my four thermos container recommendations. Each container was tested three times with the same method: Heating soup to 210F, packing it into the thermos and waiting 5 hours before checking the soup’s temperature. The results:
Great for kids, easy to open and fits a good portion of food – 1 1/2 cups! The temperature of the soup was 210F when placed into the thermos, and after 5 hours, it was 138F –perfectly warm and good enough to eat.
Buy the Thermos Funtainer here.
Similar to the Funtainer (with the exception of a rubberized grip) and great for kids. Totally worth purchasing! The temperature of the soup was 210F when placed into the thermos, and after 5 hours, it was 134F.
Buy the Thermos Foogo here.
I love and own this one merely for the size. It has a wide opening which makes it more like a bowl and easier to eat out of. However, it can be a little more difficult for younger kids to open because of the wide lid. It also holds a lot of food, 2 cups!
The temperature of the soup was 210F when placed into the thermos, and after 5 hours, it was 130F.
Buy the Lunchbots Food Jar here.
This one WORKS! The temperature of the soup was 210F when placed into the thermos, and after 5 hours, it was 165F!
It was almost too hot to eat, but after a few minutes of being open, the soup was perfect! It’s also great for both kids and adults, easy to open and since it’s 17 ounces that means more room for food, about 2 cups.
Buy the Stanley Insulated Jar here.
You can’t go wrong with any of the options above for packing lunches. A thermos is a terrific vessel for repurposing leftovers and sending hot and cold foods for lunch!
If you need ideas to fill the thermos containers, check out our meal plans. Our real food dinners can yield leftovers, and our lunches will add variety to any lunchbox, guaranteed.
Plus, you get a shopping list, a meal-prep sheet with a breakdown of what to prep when… it’s practically a kitchen assistant at pennies per day.
One thing to consider prior to sending food in a thermos for the first time is to let your child try it at home first, so they are comfortable opening and closing the container own their own.
What are some of your favorite things to pack inside a thermos?