The days of soggy tater tots and cardboard-stiff pizza are over. From chicken tikka masala and pasta primavera to avocado rolls and barbecue chicken wraps, today’s young foodies can order made-from-scratch meals and have them delivered straight to school. Hungry yet? Read on to find out how to upgrade your kid’s school lunch.
The Big Picture: The LunchMaster’s goal is to provide healthy, from-scratch meals that’ll give students the energy to learn with more success every day. They also strive to strengthen the community, whether that means working with local farmers or meeting the specific needs of parents and schools.
Where: San Francisco Bay Area and California Central Valley
What’s on the menu: California roll, carne asada street tacos, Italian market salad.
What makes it unique: Parents can choose up to eight menu options (there are hot and cold entrees, fresh fruit and veggie sides), including a gluten-free or vegetarian meal. Each choice has been designed by a Registered Dietitian, is freshly made with local ingredients and delivered to your kids’ school every day.
How it works: Get your school to register with The Lunchmaster and then you’ll enter your school code online. All Meals adhere to strict regulations, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
Average cost: One entree, fresh fruit, fresh vegetable, snack, and choice of cold beverage costs less than $6.
The Big Picture: Yumble doesn't deliver lunch to your kids' school, but instead will deliver freshly-packed, ready-to-eat meals to your house, so all you have to do each day is pull one out of the fridge, throw it in a lunchbox and go!
Where: The east coast.
What's on the menu: Presto! Pesto Chicken Sandwich Meal, Mac N Cheese & Nuggest Please, Orange-You-Glad Chicken Bowl and more.
How it works: Simply sign up for four, six, eight or 12 meals a week, and they'll be delivered to your front door on either Tues., Wed., Thurs or Fri.
Average cost: $5.99 a meal & up.
Revolution Foods - Nationwide
The Big Picture: Founded in 2006 by two ambitious moms hoping to change lunchtime at America's schools, Revolution Foods is now one of the largest lunch providers in the nation, dishing out more than 1.5 million meals per week to kids K-12. All meals are made without any artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, nitrates or nitrites.
Where: California, Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.
What's on the Menu: Firecracker chicken and noodles; cheese pizza panada pie; chicken taco trio; whole-grain pancakes with mini chicken sausages.
How it works: The company works directly with the schools under the National School Lunch Program, so meals are served family-style or in cafeterias for little or no cost to the students.
Average cost: Free to qualified students under the National School Lunch Program.
Chefables - San Francisco Bay Area
The Big Picture: You wouldn't feed your one-year-old the same stuff you'd give your eighth-grader, would you? Well, neither would Chefables. Originally founded with a mission to provide healthy meals to the tiniest eaters—kids as young as one in childcare centers across the San Francisco Bay Area—this lunch delivery company now provides made-from-scratch meals and snacks to kids up to eighth grade.
Where: San Francisco Bay Area.
What's on the Menu: Homemade turkey burger on whole grain roll, served with grilled asparagus and fresh strawberries; baked whole wheat pancakes with berry compote; roasted chicken chow mein.
How it works: Parents go online or use their smartphones to assemble sides, snacks, and/or entrees a la carte to their child's lunch. Meals are delivered just before lunchtime.
What makes it unique: It's not just the kinds of food that's age-appropriate; it's also how the food is served. In creating the daily menus, Chefables co-owner Lesley Kohn said the chefs consider everything from how many teeth their little eaters might have to how big the portions should be to satisfy those hungry tummies. And, everything from the bread to the yogurt is made from scratch.
Average cost per meal: Free or low cost to students/schools who qualify for the National School Lunch Program; otherwise, sides start at $1 and entrees average about $5.
Organic Kids LA - Los Angeles
The Big Picture: Organic Kids LA started in 2011 with one mom making baby food for her friends and selling it at local farmer's markets. Today, the company serves elementary, middle and high schools and four camps across the greater Los Angeles area.
Where: Los Angeles
What's on the Menu: Vietnamese spring rolls with rice and edamame; turkey sloppy joe's with cold carrots and ranch dressing plus sweet potato chips; spaghetti bolognese with broccoli. There's also a different salad every day as well as a DIY bento box with more than 40 choices.
How it works: Parents load their online account with "credits" in order to customize and buy lunches in advance, and the meals are delivered in reusable boxes to the child's school before lunchtime. Empty boxes are then collected after lunch and returned to be cleaned and reused.
What makes it unique: The company uses 100% organic fruits and veggies, grass-fed meats and free-roaming chicken. Also, if kids don't want a hot lunch, they can pick and choose cold items to create their own 4-cup bento box.
Average cost per meal: Varies depending on size (small, $6.50; medium, $7.25; large, $8). Add-ons (cold-pressed juices and extra snacks) are at an additional cost.
Wholesome Food Services - Nationwide
The Big Picture: California Pizza Kitchen at school? Yes, please! Wholesome Food Services has a slightly different business model than most other lunch delivery companies: It partners with local restaurants (including CPK, Wahoo's Fish Taco, Jamba Juice and others) to provide yummy meals to school kids.
Where: Colorado, Dallas, Chicago (with more cities to come).
What's on the Menu: Every day features a different restaurant, so Mondays could be pizza and salads from CPK; Tuesday could be spaghetti and meatballs from Noodles & Company. Click here to see some of the partner restaurants.
How it works: Parents order online up to two months in advance. Orders are sent to partner restaurants, who make the foods, which are then picked up and labeled individually for each student.
What makes it unique: Instead of making lunches in its own kitchen, Wholesome Food Services uses partner restaurants to prepare foods kids already know and love. Another cool perk? Every day, Mom or Dad can write a special note to be included on their child's lunch box label.
Average cost per meal: $4 and up.
Smart Lunches - East Coast
The Big Picture: There is a monthly menu of breakfasts, lunches and snacks that arrive daily to preschool and child care centers in six east coast states.
Where: Massachusettes, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia
What's on the Menu: Grilled chicken parm, veggie chili, pasta with turkey meat sauce and more.
How it works: Contact a Smart Lunches rep to see if your school is in an area the company serves. From there, you'll be able to see if Smart Lunches is a good fit for your kids' school program.
What makes it unique: There are gluten-free and veggie options offered every day.
Average cost: Inquire for cost.
Red Rabbit - Greater New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey regions
The Big Picture: This Harlem-based business was founded in 2005 and serves more than 20,000 meals per day to elementary and middle schools throughout the greater New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey regions, dishing up heritage-based, healthy favorites for little or no cost to qualified students.
Where: Greater New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey regions.
What's on the Menu: Chana Masala, Jerk Chicken, Pollo Guisado and much more.
What makes it unique: Ingredients are locally sourced and include culturally relevant ingredients that kids recognize. Everything is made from scratch. Nothing is frozen, processed, or fried and all meats are bought directly from local butchers.
Average cost per meal: Free or low-cost to students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program. In schools that don't apply for federal reimbursement, lunches are about $5 per meal.
Choicelunch - California
The Big Picture: Founded by a husband and wife catering team who believed that school lunches should be "freshly prepared in a kitchen and not a factory," Choicelunch lets parents browse a selection of 16 daily entrees and up to 40 different snacks to be delivered (in a compostable box!) just before lunchtime.
Where: Over 300 schools in California.
What's on the Menu: Kid favorites like pizza, buttered noodles, plus more adventurous items like avocado sushi rolls and chicken tikka masala.
How it works: Parents can order online via the mobile app (iOS, Google Play) and an online ordering system that shows pictures of every entree. There's also a monthly meal plan that gives parents a discount and includes perks like credits for vacation or sick days and no fees for last-minute ordering.
What makes it unique: Orders can be placed months in advance—or at the last minute. Also, to lessen its environmental footprint, Choicelunch designed its meal boxes using GMO-free potato starch and uses fresh fruit baggies made of corn. There's also an allergen filter that helps put parents at ease about food choices.
Average cost per meal: inquire for cost.
Red Apple Lunch - Greater Boston Area, MA
The big picture: Red Apple Lunch helps busy parents provide healthy, yummy lunches for their kids without the hassle of extra prep. Everything is delivered to your doorstep!
Where: Currently serving the greater Boston area.
What's on the menu: Each lunch comes with the main item, fruit, veggies and a treat. You can opt to add a drink or a snack.
How it works: This Boston-area school lunch delivery service allows parents to choose lunches for the week and decide on a delivery day.
What makes it unique: For every lunch ordered, Red Apple Lunch provides a meal to a family in need.
Editor’s Note: Most require a partnership with a school in order to deliver lunches. If your school is not on board yet, talk to the school’s principal or food coordinator to drum up interest.