Are you at a loss for school lunch ideas for your teens and tweens?
Lunch is an important time for kids and teens to refuel, connect with their peers, and take a break. It’s often been a while since they last ate and will have to sustain them for another long burst of time.
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed thinking what to include for lunch, haphazardly tossed random food into a bag as your kids ran out the door or wished you could offload the task to your kids, this is the post for you!
Below you’ll find school lunch ideas for your kids and teens, plus how to involve them in making their own lunch. I’ve got tips for what to do when lunch goes uneaten, and a great resource for knowing what and how to transport meals to school.
Let’s get started!
Things to consider when brainstorming lunch ideas
You’ve likely seen the Pinterest and Tik Tok super lunches. But what really makes a successful school lunch?
There’s only so much time in the day and night and packing lunches doesn’t have to take long! Using the formula below, and some of the provided meal ideas, you can quickly have that lunch box, bag, or container filled and ready to go.
Lunch with lasting energy
Lunch breaks don’t last very long, and many kids and teens don’t end up eating at their afternoon break, so we want to provide nutrient dense foods that are quick and easy to eat while providing long lasting satiety.
Include foods with protein, fibre, and fat
These foods provide long lasting satisfaction. They are filling, and because they take a while to digest, they keep the feeling of fullness for longer. Which is super important when going a while without being able to eat!
Include food with satisfaction
Have you ever had the sensation of feeling physically full but still wanting to eat? That could be because your food wasn’t satisfying. Adding in food with fat, having something with a crunch, something sweet or salty… the type of food will vary between people, but try to include something in this category.
RELATED: Learn how to include food that is filling and satisfying
Easy and Reliable Storage
The way food is packed can make a big difference in the success or failure of a meal. Whether it affects the foods’ temperature or texture, or makes it hard to access their food, make sure you have the proper storage. Alex Turnball RD at The Family Nutritionist has put together a fantastic lunchbox review detailing the pros and cons of more than 15 popular products. Access it here https://www.myfamilynutritionist.com/lunchbox-opt-in.
Easy to fit in with peers
Food can be connective or divisive, and kids usually just want to fit in with their peers. One teen client told me she “just wants to eat normal- like everyone else!” So while at home you may be serving sliced bananas with peanut butter, that likely won’t fly at school (and not just because so many schools are nut-free). A peanut butter snack bar or peanut butter pretzels would be the more peer-friendly snack where your kids don’t stick out.
School lunch ideas for your teen and tweens
Let’s get practical: What should your teen or tween eat for lunch?
Sandwiches are a classic lunch for a reason; they easily combine a carbohydrate with a filling protein. Add a snack or two and you’ve got a winning meal.
Tips for making it even better:
Use a thick and crusty bread so they don’t get soggy, and the filling won’t fall out. You can also try toasting the bread first, or even using frozen slices.
Layer on vegetable like lettuce or sliced tomatoes to keep the sandwich filling off the bread and keeping bread crunchy. This also works well when using pita as a base.
Customize it how you like! Choose your favorite bread and fillers regardless if they match or are popular. Enjoy eating cold grilled cheese? Go for it! Want to use pancakes instead of bread? Get creative and enjoy.
If there is one thing better than sandwiches, it’s only deconstructed sandwiches. With these you get all the best parts of the meal without worrying about your bread getting soggy or parts of the sandwich falling out. It doesn’t even take much more meal preparation, as all you’re doing is taking the individual parts and packaging them separately.
Soup can be a fantastic lunch transported in an insulated package. So many soups have all the makings of a filling and satisfying meal. Plus supper leftovers make lunch prep super quick and effortless. Aim for hearty soups or include whatever is missing as a side.
Pasta and grain dishes are another easy and filling way to ensure your teen or tween takes a filling and nourishing meal. They lend themselves to so many options! Add in fish, meat, cheese, or beans, plus some veggies and a dressing and you’ve got a quick and satisfying meal.
Are salads a healthy option?
Salads seem like the quintessential “healthy” lunch. But while vegetables are helpful for getting our fibre and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), kids and teens can’t live on veggies! They need more energy and nutrients to nourish their growth and development. If you look back at the “formula” above for a filling and nourishing lunch, salad may be missing some important components.
How to build a nourishing and satisfying salad
Salad CAN be a filling and nourishing meal; it just takes some thought and preparation.
When building your salad, consider the protein, fat, and carb content. See the above chart for examples of each to include in your salad.
Side note: our bodies need fat to absorb the vitamins and minerals from vegetables. So while some people may believe they’re messing up their vegetables when they eat them with a sauce or dip, it’s the complete opposite with those condiments optimizing our veggie intake!
Mix and match lunches
Lunch doesn’t have to be fancy; the main goal is that kids eat to sustain their attention and growth. Mix and match meals can easily do that.
Here are some lunch ideas:
- yogurt, crackers, fruit
- pizza, sliced vegetables, hummus
- cereal, soy-milk tetra pack, frozen berries
- imitation crab sticks, pretzels, avocado dip
- waffles, peanut butter, banana
Remember the snacks!
Snacks are important parts of a lunchbox. These can help with the “filling” and “satisfying” parts of a successful lunch. Snacks can be everything from fruit and vegetables to chips and cookies. Try to choose familiar foods so kids have dependable food to fill up on, and can experience a bit of comfort amidst the school day stress.
Supporting kids and teens to make their own lunch
So many parents have told me that the best time of parenting was when their kids started making their own lunch. This can start at a fairly young age, but if you want to avoid your kid’s lunch being a full bag of Goldfish and a container of Oreos, they’re going to need guidance.
School lunch scaffolding from newbie to master
If you’ve seen a building in the process of getting built, you may have noticed the temporary scaffolding. It’s there to provide the workers with support to get higher and safely concentrate on building without fear of falling. That’s your parenting role! You provide your kids with a temporary structure where they can learn and develop skills without fear of hurt or failure.
Let’s break down how that looks specifically around making lunch.
Model and educate
Let your kids see what you include in their lunch and explain why. Give them the knowledge of how to build a satisfying lunch.
Include kids in the process
Give your kids tasks to involve them in learning. Start off really specific, such as “choose an apple”. As they progress, increase their independence and skill with tasks like choosing a crunchy snack, or finding something with protein. Eventually you can put them in charge of all their snacks or main.
Provide support as needed
As your child or teen becomes more skilled, you can gradually limit your involvement. Remain for support and to ensure they’re still packing a lunch and including all components for a good lunch.
Be open to feedback
Talk to your kids about what is and isn’t working! They’re the ones experiencing their lunch and they may have ideas on how to improve their lunch box. Be open to their ideas.
What to do when lunch goes uneaten
There can be several reasons kids and teens don’t end up eating what you’ve packed. Talk to your child to know their reason, and how you can help.
Lunchrooms can easily overload senses with the excess sounds, smells, lights, and more. If your child gets easily overwhelmed or anxious in such a situation, discuss ways to help them manage. Wearing headphones, using fidget devices, or arranging to eat elsewhere may be necessary.
Some kids are super social and just want to talk after a long slog of classes. Encourage your child to eat first and then socialize. Or figure out food that don’t take much time to eat (like a loaded smoothie) and can fuel kids in a short time.
Food didn’t transfer well
Food that is mushy, soggy, wrong temperature, etc. is not enjoyable! Consider different containers, packaging, or food that is more easily transferable when packing lunches.
Read this post on including fruit and vegetables in lunches without getting ruined.
Didn’t feel comfortable eating the food
Your adolescent or teen may not feel comfortable eating particular food around their friends. I still remember how big a deal my high school classmates made the first time someone brought chicken fingers to lunch (we were all doing sandwiches or salad at the time). She loved the attention, but not all kids do, wanting to eat the same thing everyone else eats.
Staff involvement discouraging eating something
Many schools or staff members have policies or beliefs about what is “appropriate” for kids to eat. And they may discourage your kids from eating things that don’t meet this requirement. Unless the school has an actual policy around food (such as allergens), they should not be commenting on anyone’s food.
You can include this letter from Extreme Picky Eating https://www.extremepickyeating.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/LunchboxcardEPEhelpPDF.pdf to tell staff not to get involved in your child’s eating.
Successful School Lunch for Teens & Tweens
School lunches can be quick and simple to put together. Ensure they’ll be satisfying, can be transferred well to school, and will help kids and teen fit in with their peers.
Involve your kids and teens in making their lunch, and with the right amount of support, they’ll soon be independently making nourishing and filling meals!