Easy and Pleasing: Simple Recipes That Turn the School Lunch Items Your Kids Won’t Eat into Delicious Family Dishes

If your children are enrolled in the Iowa City Community School District’s PK-12 Online Learning Program (the fully-online option), you can pick up free school lunches every weekday school is in session from 12-1 p.m. at select schools.

Children don’t need to be present — just roll up to the staff member in the parking lot and tell them how many lunches you need. These are free to everyone regardless of income level through at least December 2020. The details and the schedule are online.

These free, easy meals have been a godsend to my family.

My kids gobble down much of the fare every day — but there are always some items left over they don’t eat that day, and a surplus can build up, because the school district cycles through a limited array of menu options.

Because I hate to waste food, we’ve come up with some creative ways to use up the leftover or “less liked” options:

Frozen Yogurt Bark (using school lunch yogurt cups)


  • Whatever cups of school lunch yogurt you have on hand
  • Whatever toppings you have on hand or want to include: granola, shredded dried coconut, berries or other diced fruit (fresh or frozen), chia seeds (our families’ favorite!), honey, peanut butter, chocolate chips


  1. Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper.) If you only have a cup or two of yogurt, you can just use a plate.)

2. Spread the yogurt in a thin layer around the surface using the back of a spoon.

3. Add desired toppings – sprinkle/dollop/drizzle as much as you like on top.

4. Freeze until solid; then remove and break apart into chunks for eating.

Rice Pudding (using school lunch milk cartons) from Spicy Southern Kitchen


  • 6 cups milk, divided (1 school lunch milk carton = 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 heaping cup long grain white rice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ground cinnamon to taste (optional)


1. In a large saucepan, combine 5 1/2 cups milk, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Stir in rice and reduce heat to low. Be sure to adjust the heat so that it is at a gentle simmer.
3. Stirring occasionally, cook for 50 to 60 minutes. Mixture should thicken up to consistency of yogurt.
4. Once thickened, remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
5. Let cool and then refrigerate. The last 1/2 cup milk is stirred in just before serving. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Shepherd’s Pie (using school lunch mixed vegetables)

  • 8-16 ounces of mixed vegetables (at minimum, 3 of the little school lunch packages of vegetables, and you can use more)
  • 1 lb. ground beef (or turkey, or vegetarian meat “crumbles”)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • Box of instant mashed potatoes, pre-made mashed potatoes from Hy-Vee or Costco, or mashed potatoes from scratch (if you’re making them from scratch, you’ll need 2 pounds of russet potatoes, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup milk, and salt and pepper to taste)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Brown onion and ground meat (or meat substitute) together in a skillet until meat is cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. While that’s cooking, make either your boxed instant mashed potatoes or make mashed potatoes. (If you’re making them from scratch, try this recipe.) Add half the cheese to your potatoes and stir it in.
3. Back to your meat and onion, add the school lunch mixed vegetables you have on hand (at least three of the little bags, and you can use more), the ketchup, and the Worcestershire sauce (you can add less or more than the suggested amounts depending on your family’s taste). Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are warm.
5. Take the meat mixture and layer into the bottom of a 8×8 or 8×11 pan. Cover with the remaining cup of cheese. Finally, layer on the mashed potatoes.
6. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

Crock Pot Glazed Carrots (using school lunch baby carrots) from Together as a Family

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 pounds baby carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks
1. Spray the insert of the slow cooker with cooking spray. Pour the chicken broth in and then dump the carrots into the slow cooker.
2. Sprinkle the salt and brown sugar over the carrots. Place the small chunks of butter evenly over top.
3. Cover with the lid and cook on LOW heat for 5-7 hours.
4. Stir when done and serve with some of the sauce from the slow cooker drizzled on top.


Anne is a kinda crunchy, kinda unapologetically corner-cutting mom who has lived in Iowa City since 2004. She is a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa and works in the Children's Services department at the Iowa City Public Library. Before going back to school, she was a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters for several years, and took her children to the library multiple times a week. Basically, she has lived at the library for about a decade. Which is fine, because her biggest passion in life is books. When not reading, Anne also enjoys hiking, low-budget road-tripping, and drinking craft beer on a patio.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.