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5 best healthy packed lunches for teenagers - a nutritionist's guide

Your kids' back to school lunch menu sorted

school lunch ideas
August 27, 2020
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With the return to school just around the corner, it can be tricky for parents to know what food to pack for their children's lunch – especially for fussy secondary school pupils.

SHOP: The best lunch boxes for kids and teens this September 

Teenagers need feeding! Their energy needs can be higher than adults due to the rapid growth and development during these years.

healthy lunch ideas

Try these simple and balanced lunch ideas for teens 

But teens also need nutritious food to support this growth; in particular protein, calcium and healthy fats. A packed lunch should be one that is quick to make, easy to eat and balanced - providing a range of nutrition.

If you have active teenagers they’ll need even more food, ideally of the healthier snack variety.

Some teens are keen to take the lead on prepping their own lunch, while others still see it as a job for the parents. Let’s start with ideas for the latter!

READ MORE: Back to School essentials checklist for a COVID-19 world - the ultimate guide

  • Sandwiches, wraps, bagels or rolls are an obvious choice – try different fillings through the week – roast chicken or cheese salad, tuna and sweetcorn, hummus and grated crated, mozzarella, tomato and basil, chicken and avocado, smoked salmon and cream cheese. Variety in our diet helps us to eat a wider range of nutrients than if we stick to the same few choices.
  • Salads can also work well and may be seen as a more 'grown up' option but make sure there are some carbohydrate sources to munch on e.g. breadsticks or crackers and you could include some cheese (e.g. feta, mozzarella, goat's or cheddar depending on their preference) to up their calcium intake.
  • Warm food can also help to mix things up a little especially during the cooler months – think pasta, noodles or chili with rice.
  • Veg & fruit – teens in general don't eat enough veg and fruit and they are so important to our overall health. Add anything they like to eat and that is quick to prepare e.g. apples, satsumas, grapes, kiwis, chopped melon, pineapple (this can be from a tin rather than fresh), cucumber, tomatoes, mini sweetcorn, carrots, edamame beans or peas still in their pods.
  • Snacks – breadsticks, granola bars, oatcakes, energy balls, hard-boiled eggs, crackers, tortilla chips, cheese chunks. Ideally prioritise these healthier options over crisps, biscuits, cakes and chocolate. While they are tasty, they don't contain as many nutrients as those healthier types of snacks. Don't restrict these types of food, one portion a day is considered part of a 'balanced' diet.
packed lunch

We unpack the basics behind packed lunches 

If your teen is keen to make their own lunch, keep your fridge and cupboards well stocked and have a list of easy to make options somewhere within reach.

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Key items are a selection of bread, fruit, veggies including salad, contents for sandwiches or wraps, healthy snacks and less healthy snacks. Ask your teen to plan their balanced pack lunch themselves and you can shop accordingly!

Hydration is key

Dehydration can have a negative impact on concentration and energy levels. Always send your kids off with a water bottle and encourage them to avoid fizzy or energy drinks due to the high levels of sugar within them.

Rebecca Stevens is a registered nutritionist supporting women and families to eat well, to find out more about her visit or on Instagram here.

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