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 cuisine.
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.
What makes it unique: If your school isn't one of the more than 1,000 on the delivery list, you can get Revolution's Bundle Boxes, Lunch Bundles, Granola Bundles, Bundle Box Dippers, and In A Cup Dippers at supermarkets nationwide.
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, all meats are grass fed and all chicken is free roaming. 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 - Colorado, Dallas & Chicago
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 & Chicago
The Big Picture: Parents can choose from more than 50 items on a rotating menu with this lunch delivery service, which provides meals to more than 200 schools, camps, and child care institutions throughout the East Coast and in Chicago.
Where: Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, D.C.
What's on the Menu: Mediterranean chicken wrap; Southwestern salad with chicken; chicken fingers and mashed potatoes; French toast with vegetarian sausage.
How it works: Parents can go online or use their smartphones to put together their child's lunch—selections vary daily and include six entrees and five side items. Lunches are delivered to the school just before lunchtime.
What makes it unique: One to two percent of lunch sales go back to the school; furthermore, a portion of other revenues is given to local food banks.
Average cost: $6.50
Red Rabbit - New York City
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 New York City, dishing up traditional (but healthy) favorites for little or no cost to qualified students.
Where: All New York City boroughs except Staten Island (for now).
What's on the Menu: Cauliflower mac 'n' cheese; hand-pulled barbecue turkey with homemade barbecue sauce; cheese frittatas; and fruit and yogurt parfaits.
What makes it unique: Everything is nutrient-dense and made from scratch in the Harlem-based kitchen. Nothing is frozen, processed, or fried (Bye, bye greasy nuggets!); and all meats are bought directly from local butchers. Lunches are served family-style.
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 to be delivered (in a compostable box!) just before lunchtime.
Where: San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego.
What's on the Menu: Kid favorites like pizza, turkey sammies and mac 'n' cheese, plus more adventurous items like avocado sushi rolls and chicken tikka masala.
How it works: Parents can order online via the mobile app and online ordering system that shows pictures of every entree. There's also a monthly subscription plan that gives parents a discount on meals.
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.
Average cost per meal: $5.75
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. Check here to see if delivery is available in your city.
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 healthy snack pack to a child in need.
Online: Red Apple Lunch
IN'BOX - New York City
The Big Picture: With lunches costing close to $10 a pop, IN'BOX is the Rolls Royce of the lunch delivery crowd. That said, the company's all-natural (and beautifully-packaged) meals contain no trans fat, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, nuts or sesame seeds. And they taste good, according to the kids who approved the menu (see below).
Where: New York City
What's on the Menu: Salmon teriyaki with jasmine rice and edamame; codfish balls with homemade tartar sauce, brown rice and peas & carrots; English muffin pizza with roasted broccoli and orange-ginger glazed carrots.
How it works: Parents order in advance online or with their mobile phones; meals are delivered via brown paper bag to their child's school just before lunchtime.
What makes it unique: To make sure they are creating healthy meals that kids will actually like, IN'BOX holds kid-juried tastings where kids give the final say on proposed menu items. (to find out about tastings, click here). Also, if you're in the market for adorably-packaged box meals for your child's next birthday party, IN'BOX does that, too.
Average cost per meal: $8.50
Editor’s Note: All of these companies 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.
Are you interested in getting a cool lunch program at your kid’s school? Share with us in a comment below!