Healthy Packed Lunches For High School

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What I learned the hard way, is that healthy packed school lunches for high school is hard to do. And it can get expensive. But I have found a few tips and tricks along the way to make it easier (and hopefully less expensive). These are a few things that have worked for me.

What you pack in your child’s lunch box each day can affect their academic performance and overall health. Do you know what’s best to pack? Most kids are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, some aren’t eating any at all. This can lead to malnutrition, or a lack of vital vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Pack your kids healthy lunches with these nutritious tips.

Healthy Packed Lunches For High School

School packed lunch inspiration

Thinking of healthy and exciting packed lunch fillings can be a daily challenge – especially if you can’t envisage your child happily trotting off to school with a box of sprouting mung beans, and you’re not bowing to the crisp and chocolate demands. Here are some simple, fast and scrumptious ideas to bring new life to the dreaded lunchbox – and remember, the power of novelty is not to be underestimated.

Healthy and happy

According to NHS choices a balanced lunchbox should contain:

  • Starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes or pasta
  • Protein foods like meat, fish, eggs or beans
  • A dairy item, like cheese or yogurt
  • Vegetables or salad and a portion of fruits.

Try something new

Cheese and pickle is not to be knocked, but if your kids are tired with the same old sandwich fillings then why not try something new?

Omelette in a bun

Omelettes in bread rolls, with a bowl of fruit

Combine two lunchtime favourites for the ultimate mealtime mashup your kids will love. These hearty omelette rolls can either be served warm for a quick dinner or wrapped up for a satisfying veggie packed lunch the next day. Fill the omelettes with juicy cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta and spinach for a mouthwatering bite. You could add extra salad if you like, and older children may like a touch of salsa or pickle as well.

You’re a star sarnies 

Use a star-shaped cutter to stamp out six bread stars from the wholemeal bread (freeze the off-cuts to make breadcrumbs). Swirl the red pesto through the cream cheese and spread onto both sides of the stars. Close the sandwich, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge if making the night before.

Green club sandwich

Double decking bread just makes sandwiches more exciting – fact. But it also gives you license to squeeze in extra good stuff. This green club sandwich is high on energy, so kids should feel extra alert all the way through double maths. Lesley Water’s sandwich filler ideas are also a great way of adding extra variety by getting creative with simple ingredients.

Super salad wraps

Salad wraps and strawberries in colourful lunchboxes

Help your kids to pack in the veggies with these super tasty and colourful salad wraps. We’ve added lots of crunchy veg for texture, whilst cheddar cheese and hummus give a flavour hit. Alternatively, add tuna, chicken or egg.

For more tasty tortillas, try our carrot & hummus roll-ups or chicken roll-ups.

Cheese and apple 

Mix their favourite grated hard cheese with grated apple, chopped spring onions, a squeeze of lemon and a little mayonnaise. Delicious with wholemeal bread or rolls.

Creamy smoked mackerel

Skin and flake smoked mackerel fillets, then mix with a little mayonnaise and Greek yogurt. Spread onto thick wholemeal bread and top with crisp lettuce leaves.

Marmite, cheese and cucumber

Try Marmite, grated cheddar and sliced cucumber in a crusty baguette or ciabatta roll. They’ll either love it or hate it.

Sandwich swap

Want to bin the sandwich altogether? There are plenty of carby options that kids should love and that can help add a bit of variety into your child’s diet.

Pasta perfection

Pasta salad in a lunchbox with extra ingredients in bowls

Perk up their lunchboxes with a gorgeously creamy pesto pasta salad. Customise with cooked veg such as peas, green beans and courgettes, as well as an assortment of protein. Chicken, ham, prawns, hard-boiled egg or cheese are all good options, depending on dietary preference.

For more pasta inspiration, follow the ‘make it for kids’ swap on the store cupboard pasta salad; whip up a speedy Mediterranean-style tortellini with pesto & broccoli; or try this flavourful BLT pasta salad for a lighter version of a classic British sarnie.

Healthy bites

Coronation chicken with grains and salad in a pink lunchbox

For something a little lighter yet still filling and flavoursome, make our speedy coronation chicken salad. This deliciously creamy recipe uses pre-cooked roast chicken pieces along with a grain pounch to save time.

Our chicken taco salad and two-bean tuna salad also work really well in the summer months. If you’re worried about keeping your child’s lunchbox cool, why not freeze an extra bottle of water overnight to work as a cooler – it’ll give them a refreshing afternoon drink, too.

Feasts in a flask

Chicken soup in a bowl and lunchbox with spoons

If your kids fancy something warm and comforting for lunch, why not stir them up a tasty soup, a veg-packed curry or even some Swedish-style meatballs. Pack them in a wide-necked thermos flask to take to school. With these super satisfying recipes, they’ll be the envy of the class on chilly winter days…

Crisp and chocolate swaps

Cutting out foods that are high in salt and sugar is a huge step to creating a healthy lunch for your child. Simply swapping crisps, sweet biscuits and chocolate bars for foods like unsalted nuts, dried fruit, chunks of cheese or a low-sugar yogurt is a huge step forward. But if you want to get creative, we have plenty of interesting ideas for lunchbox snacks that kids should fall in love with…

Fruity sundae

Summer fruits and yoghurt in a lunchbox

A sweet and fruity treat for kids needing a boost at lunchtime – yogurt swirled with mashed strawberries and topped with berries.

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.

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!

    • 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.

High protein school lunch ideas | Cookie Dough Yogurt at Dashing Dish

High protein school lunch ideas | Peanut Butter Granola at Grain Changer

High protein school lunch ideas | Chipotle Lime Edamame at Dizzy, Busy, and Hungry

Our kids love to make the Apple Nachos we found at Oh Joy. Loading up the sliced fruit with nut or seed butter, granola, and coconut adds the extra protein we’re looking for. But for lunch, I suggest turning these into apple sandwiches by adding an extra slice on top to keep everything together. Then pop the whole thing in a plastic bag, just to make sure these don’t make a huge mess.Kick up your edamame game with this Mexican-inspired recipe for Spiced Edamame at Dizzy, Busy, and Hungry. We’d pack this up with some lunch meat and cheese for a healthy, energy-packed lunch that their teachers will appreciate. And if your kids don’t like spice, you can use the recipe, but swap in your kids’ favorite seasonings.This Peanut Butter Granola that we found at Grain Changer tastes like dessert, but it’s got plenty of protein to get your kids through the afternoon without fading. Pack it with hard boiled eggs or Greek-style yogurt to make it a protein-packed breakfast-for-lunch meal.High protein school lunch ideas | Protein-shake Pudding at Ancestral Nutrition

We love the idea of turning your protein shake into pudding with this high protein, high fiber Chocolate Pudding recipe at Ancestral Nutrition that makes a great lunch box snack. Plus, our kids will think that we’ve sent them to school with dessert, so it’s a win all the way around.

Can you believe this “dessert” Cookie Dough Yogurt recipe at Dashing Dish has a whopping 26g of protein and only 8g of sugar? This makes a seriously great lunch box snack. In fact, I might go ahead and make a week’s worth. . . then wait and see how long it really lasts. Yum.

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