Tips for keeping lunches cool
Use an insulated lunchbox
It doesn't matter if you choose a soft-sided insulated lunchbox or a hard cooler — use a lunchbox that's designed for keeping cold foods cold. If you don't have one of these lunchboxes available, use standard brown paper bags, but layer more than one to add a little extra insulation.
Use freezable ice packs
You can pick up a freezable gel ice pack for fairly cheap, and it'll last you forever. Keep one or two in your freezer overnight and add them to the lunchbox in the morning. You can usually buy them for $1 or less, so if they get thrown away or forgotten, it's not a huge deal.
Make your own ice pack
Instead of buying ice packs, make your own. Wet a washcloth, fold it, and place it inside a sandwich bag. Freeze the washcloth overnight and place it in your kid's lunchbox. The ice in the washcloth will melt throughout the day, and by lunchtime, the food will still be cold. As an added bonus, the washcloth will be thawed but still wet, so it's perfect to use for any cleanup.
Afraid your washcloths won’t make it home? We don't blame you! The same thing will work with a few wet paper towels, and they can just be thrown away after lunch!
Freeze your drink
If you send juice boxes with your kids for lunch, make a habit of keeping them in the freezer instead of the fridge. If you put them in the lunchbox frozen, they'll be thawed, but cold and ready to drink by lunch. They'll keep lunch cold all day while they thaw, too! This also works with water bottles or juice poured into an empty water bottle. Just make sure the bottles aren't filled completely, so there's room for expansion. Your kids will have a safe lunch and a refreshingly cold drink once lunchtime rolls around.
Pack cold foods
Never pack warm or room-temperature foods into a lunchbox that you're trying to keep cold. Even shelf-stable foods should be refrigerated before you pack them to absorb the cold. Prepare foods like sandwiches and salads ahead of time, and keep them in the fridge for at least a few hours before you pack them.