Who doesn’t love good hot pasta as one of their favorite meals? It’s delicious, comforting and filling. Pasta isn’t just reserved for dinner time, you can also have it for lunch.
While cold pasta salad is a treasure of its own, that’s not your only option for lunchtime pasta. You can have a hot pasta dish for lunch.
But how can you pack hot pasta for lunch so it stays hot and also so it doesn’t go bad?
If you want hot pasta at lunch first make it piping hot then pack in a thermos and wrap in a tea towel and it'll still be warm at lunch. If you don't have a thermos wrap your pasta container in aluminum foil and a tea towel and place in an insulated lunch box with some heat packs.
Doing this should keep your pasta hot right up until lunch time.
A Quick Word on Keeping Hot Pasta Safe to Eat
When it comes to keeping pasta at a warm temperature for an extended period of time you need to be extremely aware of food safety and bacteria growth so your food doesn't go off.
The USDA recommends that you keep food above 140°F (60°C) that bacteria struggles to grow so much that you can keep food indefinitely at this temperature without issue.
To do this you'll want to heat your pasta up as hot as possible (ideally around boiling temperature) and then quickly pack in your insulated container.
Once the pasta drops below 140ºF (60ºC) then you should consume the pasta within approximately 1-2 hours before discarding. Vegetarian pasta is less likely to go bad quickly when compared to pasta with meat in it.
If the pasta smells off or tastes off don't take the risk. Throw it out and get something else for lunch.
Use a Thermos
Without a doubt the absolute best way to keep pasta hot for lunch is to use a vacuum insulated thermos. Nothing beats these in terms of heat retention and keeping things hot.
Thermoses can keep food hot for 6+ hours if done correctly.
The thermos was actually first invented in the early 1900’s. It's funny that technology this old is still the best way to keep food hot without electricity.
Thermoses are often associated with coffee as they keep the popular beverage warm long after it’s poured from the pot. But thermoses can be used to keep almost any food or drink warm.
Pre-Heat Your Thermos
The key to using a thermos is to preheat it. Do not put your thermos in the microwave and nuke it.
To preheat your thermos, you’re going to need to fill it with boiling hot water. Then, screw the lid on to the thermos and allow the hot water to sit in the thermos for a couple of minutes.
After a couple of minutes of preheating, you can pour the water out. You can dry out the inside of the thermos, or you can leave a bit of liquid behind to keep your noodles from drying out.
Then fill up your now empty thermos with piping hot pasta and quickly place the lid on so you don't lose any heat or steam from your pasta.
Thermoses come in all shapes and sizes. While a lot of thermoses are designed for drinks there are also a variety designed for food like pasta.
Whether it's spaghetti and meatballs or fettuccine alfredo, there’s definitely a thermos out there that will fit your hot pasta lunch.
To make extra sure your lunch stays piping hot, wrap your thermos in a tea towel to keep it insulated. This will trap the warmth emitted from the thermos close to it.
Use An Insulated Lunch Box
Lunch boxes aren’t just for school children. You can actually use a lunch box to keep your food warm.
However, it's important that you choose the right kind of lunch box.
Plastic and metal lunch boxes are really just containers for your food. They do not have the insulation necessary to keep warmth or coolness in. So any hot pasta put in these will get cold within a matter of hours (if not minutes).
The key to keeping your pasta hot is to first make it hot at home but then insulate it as best as you can.
If you're using a lunch box you'll want to choose an insulated lunch box. These lunch boxes are really just baby coolers.
Layers of insulation keep outside temperatures out and inside temperatures in. If you place something warm in an insulated lunch box, it will stay warm.
Wrap Your Pasta in Aluminum Foil
Before putting your pasta in your lunch box you'll want to wrap your container in aluminum foil.
Aluminum foil is great at reflecting heat radiation. This means heat radiation coming off your hot pasta will be reflected back to your pasta keeping it warm.
Aluminum foil is what they use in those emergency blankets when people are out in the bush and need to keep warm.
While your pasta doesn't need an emergency blanket aluminum foil is a cheap and effective way to retain extra heat when trying to keep your pasta hot for lunch.
Wrap Your Pasta in a Tea Towel
You don’t want to end up melting your lunch box by putting hot pasta in a box meant for only cold items. This will damage the lunch box and make it unusable.
Wrapping your food in a tea towel or some sort of cloth will both protect your lunch box from the extreme heat of your pasta but it'll also act as an insulator keeping your pasta hot.
Use a Hot Pack
You can toss a hot pack in with your lunch. These warmers are often made of gel and safe to reheat.
You could also use hand or foot warmers in your lunch box to create a toasty environment for your lunch. It’s important that hand warmers stay dry, so you should wrap them in paper towels or a clean cloth before placing them in the lunch box.
Tips and Tricks
If you’re looking to have pasta at lunch time, here are a few tips to help you pack a hot pasta lunch:
Make the food piping hot.
No matter what you do, your pasta is going to cool down a bit by lunch time.
Packing the food at a temperature that is too hot for your tongue will give it some extra degrees. Then, when your food does cool slightly, it will still be warm enough to eat.
Cook the pasta al dente.
If you plan on keeping your pasta warm all day long, it’s going to continue cooking. To keep your noodles from going overboard, cook them to al dente.
Al dente roughly translates to “to the tooth” in Italian. Al dente is used to describe pasta that is still a bit firm when you bite into it.
Most restaurants boil pasta until it is al dente because they finish cooking it in a warm vat of sauce. You don’t have to be a five star chef to cook your pasta to al dente.
Nearly all boxed pasta comes with directions that include a time to boil the pasta until it reaches al dente. If you’re working without directions, pull the pasta out of the boiling water shortly before it is cooked all the way.
You don’t need to throw your noodles at the wall to see if they’re done. All you have to do is remove one noodle from the boiling water and try it.
If it still has firmness when you bite into it, but it’s not crunchy, it’s al dente.
Store food in a heat-safe container
Not all Tupperware is created equal. Some plastic food storage containers are not meant to face high heat.
If you’re packing hot pasta, you definitely want a container that won’t melt. You’d be really disappointed to open your lunch box and find a pile of spaghetti and molten plastic.
Aside from heat safe plastics, metal and glass are great options. Metal containers will be hot to the touch, so you should consider packing an oven mitt with your lunch.
Glass is a fabulous option to store your hot pasta in when you’re not utilizing a thermos. Not only will glass be able to withstand the heat of your pasta, but the container won’t become stained if you use tomato sauce.
Glass is also great because you can pop the container into the microwave if your methods of keeping your pasta warm don’t pan out.