Healthy lunches for... teenagers

    Encourage older children to eat a balanced lunch full of vital vitamins and minerals. Read our tips for packing a healthy lunchbox that kids will love to take to school.

    Sandwiches, salad boxes, snacks and flask for lunch

    With more than half of children taking a packed lunch to school – a staggering
 five billion lunches a year – not to mention
 the many office and outdoor workers who 
rely on them, it's clear that lunchboxes make a vital contribution to our everyday lives. That said, thinking up inspiring ideas can be a challenge. It's tempting to fall into the trap of using packaged, ready-made options. Although these seem like
 the easy answer, they tend to be high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar.

    Teenage years are when kids start to exert more control over what they eat, which makes guiding them towards the right choices all the more difficult. It's worth reminding your teenager that eating well not only helps them to perform at their best, but it's key for looking and feeling fab. Our on-trend recipes will not only make their mates envious, but are designed to provide the vital nutrients they need at this stage.

    Looking to inspire your kids with some new kit? Read our review of the best lunchboxes on the market that will look cool and keep food fresh until breaktime.
     

    What to include in your lunchbox

    Bento box with sushi rolls and edamame beans

    Iron
    Girls, especially, are at risk of being low in this mineral, so include plenty of iron-rich choices like lean meat, dark green leafy veg, dried fruit like apricots, as well as chickpeas, lentils and beans. 

    Zinc
    Growing kids need this mineral, especially as teens, so include good sources like lean beef, eggs, legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans, Brazil nuts and almonds (taking into consideration your child's school guidelines about nuts) as well as seeds including pumpkin and sesame. 

    Omega-3 fatty acids
    These all-important fatty acids keep the brain well-oiled and help to establish healthy, balanced hormones. Try oily varieties of fish including salmon, tuna, sardines, trout and mackerel. Alternatively, for vegans and vegetarians look to chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts (depending on school guidelines about nuts).

    Snacking
    Teens love snacking so pack handy nibbles like homemade popcorn flavoured with chilli or paprika instead of salt or sugar. Visit our healthy snack recipe collection for more ideas.


    What to avoid in your lunchbox

    Empty calories
    Swap the likes of fizzy drinks and squash for yogurt-based smoothies, 100% fruit juice or plain water.

    Read our guide for more kids' smoothie recipes.

    Strawberry smoothie in a glass with fruit and bowls in the background

    A note about school food policies

    Check with your teenager's school in case there are any foods they discourage or restrict – for example, nuts to safeguard students with nut allergies.

    Recipe suggestions

    Black bean chimichurri salad
    Vietnamese chicken baguettes
    Japanese-style bento box
    Pizza pasta salad

    More healthy lunch inspiration

    School packed lunch inspiration
    Healthy lunches for kids
    Healthy lunches for adults
    Best lunchboxes for kids review
    Quick lunchbox ideas for kids


    This page was last reviewed on 2 September 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

    Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

    All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

    Comments, questions and tips

    Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.
    Lordvaderismyface
    22nd Jan, 2018
    I will try this and see wether it helps
    mjhood
    4th Sep, 2013
    The simplest tip for teenagers or anyone else who is fat, is this - small to medium quantities of high quality natural food is the quickest route to a fit, slim & healthy figure. Apples equals abs!
    Be the first to ask a question about this recipe...Unsure about the cooking time or want to swap an ingredient? Ask us your questions and we’ll try and help you as soon as possible. Or if you want to offer a solution to another user’s question, feel free to get involved...
    Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe...Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.