Healthy School Lunch Ideas For Middle Schoolers


I’ve been researching for a post about healthy school lunch for middle schoolers for a few months now. I’ve talked to my classmates (er, rather, I’ve talked at them), and I’ve consulted Google. What I’ve found surprised me a lot. Apparently, having a bad eating habit starts from an early age. Who would have thought? But don’t get discouraged yet! The good thing is that you can change it by following the tips below. Let’s start with some ideas on what to pack.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas For Middle Schoolers

When it comes to pre-teens, thinking up, planning, and executing lunch ideas for your middle schooler can sometimes feel mundane and chore-like. It’s no wonder that parents struggle to come up with interesting, new, and healthy lunch ideas for their hungry kids each day. Doing just that — day after day — can become extremely tedious in a short amount of time, causing parents to burn out or lose interest in creating fun and different meals for their kids. Not only can fresh meal ideas liven the feeling around the kitchen of “same old, same old.” It can also create opportunities for conversations with your children while including them in the prep and planning of their weekly mid-day meals. Ask questions about what your child may like to see in their lunch bags, and invite them to join you in the kitchen to whip up some of these delectable bites.

School Lunch Photo

Healthy lunch ideas for middle schoolers

Deli-wrap pinwheels

These fun, simple, and handheld tidbits encompass a healthy sandwich in easy-to-eat, bite-sized pieces. This makes it easier to eat and save, should your child not finish their food at lunchtime. You’ll need a tortilla shell — any kind will work, our favorite is the whole wheat option — sliced or chipped deli meat, sliced cheese, any toppings your child likes such as lettuce or tomatoes, and a dressing or condiment if desired. Start by selecting deli meats your child enjoys, adding a slice or two of each kind to the laid-out tortilla shell to customize it. Top the sliced meat with your kid’s favorite sliced cheese. Provolone, gouda, or sharp cheddar cheese make great options. Top the cheese with your child’s desired toppings and condiments, roll up the tortilla, and slice it into 2-inch pieces. Serve with fruit, chips, pretzels, or veggie sticks.

Mini-charcuterie box

If your child is a grazer, in the sense that they like to eat lots of smaller items like cubed cheese and sliced vegetables and less of a structured meal, now is the perfect time to supply them with their ideal lunch. Begin by gathering all your child’s favorite cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, dips, and spreads, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. A variety of cheese and meats can help add depth to the meal, giving your child the option to mix and match different flavor combinations. Grapes, mandarin oranges, blueberries, strawberries, sliced melon, or apples give a sweet note to the dish. Hummus, dips, or a simple cup of ranch dressing can jazz up sliced peppers, cucumbers, carrots, or celery added to the mix also. Toss in a few of your child’s favorite crackers for a crunch factor.


Pasta salad

This picnic favorite doesn’t only have to be used during the hot, summer months. Pasta salads make great school lunches for the simple fact that they encompass most of the food groups in one dish. Protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and grains are all included when preparing such dishes. While your family may already have a favorite recipe to choose from, there are other options out there to which we’d like to highlight. Ree Drummond’s “kid-friendly” version includes bacon — yum! — cheddar cheese and sweet cherry tomatoes paired with a creamy-style dressing your kids will love. Also, this easy-to-follow Italian-style pasta salad includes pepperoni, olives, and peppers in conjunction with your kid’s favorite pasta shape for a very flavorful bite.

Burrito bowls

This delicious nod to one of our favorite Tex-Mex style restaurants is perfect for kids who love the blend of beans, corn, rice, and pico. Burrito bowls are a super easy dish to make that can effortlessly be placed into lunch containers, while also being meal prep friendly. Take this recipe and apply it into your own household with help from your pre-teen on planning the ingredients, as well as prepping the week’s mid-day meal together. By doing this work ahead of time, not only are you teaching your child time management skills, but you’re also saving yourself mid-week fights and arguments over what’s for lunch. Additionally, by including them in your plans, kids are more likely to stay involved in the process, while enjoying their fun, fresh, and healthy choices while sitting with their friends in the lunchroom. Consider zesting up the recipe by including leftover taco meat, grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp, blended cheeses, hot sauces, and spices to their liking.

California roll in a jar

What pre-teen doesn’t like to feel a little elegant and stylish in the lunchroom with fancy-style meals? If your child is a sushi lover, then we have a great option to mix up the boring and same-old lunchtime routines. This California roll in a jar recipe is perfect for make-ahead meals and ideal for prep the night before. Because the Cali-roll does not use any actual raw fish, it makes it great for meals on the go without the worry of illness. The uncooked fish is replaced with cooked lump crab meat, and for Cali-roll lovers, that’s just fine. Once you’ve gathered the ingredients, simply layer them in a plastic container or mason jar, refrigerate, and enjoy. Add to a bowl and toss if that’s your style. Additionally, soy sauce, pickled ginger, or julienned carrot make awesome additions to this dish.

Whether your child is a fan of Mexican or Asian cuisine, or just enjoys a tasty pasta salad as their mid-day meal, this list of ideas should get the idea ball rolling for more fun and creative ways to plan, prep, and build your middle schoolers packed lunches. These recipes are also perfect for prep as a team, making the steps go quicker, and getting some essential bonding time together as a family, doing simple day-to-day activities.

7 Tips for Packing a Balanced Lunch for Your Middle schoolers

Enjoying a sandwich during recess

You send your child off to school to get an education, and nutrient-packed lunches they enjoy can help them succeed. Middle school can be an especially demanding time for students. In addition to all the rigors of academia, many tweens are going through the increased energy demands of puberty, navigating more decisions on their own, experiencing emotional ups and downs, and going through a slew of other changes.

But a packed lunch–especially one that is balanced–can give your child the fuel they need to power through the day as well as help them create habits that can last them into high school, college, and beyond. A lunch packed with nutritional balance in mind can help provide steady energy for the rest of the afternoon. These seven tips will teach you how to pack a balanced lunch that your tween will actually want to eat.

The Makings of a Balanced Lunch

    1. Keep the temperature in mind. Any lunch you pack will have to maintain the proper temperature so that food poisoning doesn’t become a risk. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Take advantage of any sales to stock up on ice packs and at least two thermoses. Make sure your tween understands that these items should return home after use so they don’t accidentally end up in the cafeteria trash can.
    2. Flavor their water. Getting tweens into the habit of relying on water as their go-to beverage most of the time can help solidify this habit moving forward. Adding things like sliced fruit and/or herbs can be a fun way to add flavor to water. Fresh min and cucumber, orange and apple, or lemon and lime are all fun options.
    3. Think fruit. A piece of fruit in your child’s lunch is a great way to add color, flavor, and texture along with nutrition. Grapes, berries, apples, oranges, and bananas pack well in a lunch tote. For optimal flavor, choose fruits that are in season. Also, ask your tween how they prefer to eat fruit (and maybe even engage their help). For example, they might love apple slices with a yogurt-cinnamon-maple syrup dipping sauce.
    1. Include veggies. If your tween is still exploring vegetables, start with the ones they’re most comfortable with. As you experiment, engage their input. They may enjoy helping with the preparation and they also may offer up some ways they do or do not like specific veggies. Consider packing vegetables that can be dipped in ranch dressing, like carrots, celery, radishes, cucumber, cauliflower, and broccoli, or celery and carrots and a container of nut butter. You could also pack a salad complete with plenty of veggies, diced turkey, and a favorite dressing, or incorporate vegetables into a favorite dish like a pasta salad full of veggies, cheese, and diced meat.
    2. Don’t neglect your leftovers. Last night’s dinner could be today’s lunch. Spaghetti with marinara sauce, soup, homemade chili or any other meal that packs well is sure to keep your child nourished until dinnertime.
    3. Don’t forget about calcium. Growing tweens need calcium to build up their bones. If your child is a milk drinker, send along a cold carton of milk. For tweens who don’t like milk or are lactose intolerant, consider a calcium-enriched substitute or lactose-free milk. Fortified rice milk, almond milk, oat milk, and soy milk can provide your child with the essential nutrition they need. And if your child isn’t a milk drinker, yogurt and cheese slices/sicks are other great options.
  1. Offer dessert as part of lunch. Offering up dessert as part of a tween’s lunch helps to level the playing field when it comes to foods—they are all morally equal. With so much diet-culture messaging, especially during this age, it’s important to build food trust for tweens. Allow them to practice eating what they enjoy as well as find a way of eating what makes them feel their best all while encouraging a healthful relationship with food and eating.



    Perhaps, you’re probably already thinking “what do I do if they think packing a lunchbox is dorky?”, “what if they want to pack it themselves?”, “how much should I pack?“, and of course, “what do I pack so they are not starving when they get home after school?“.

    No worries, you aren’t the first to come across these questions or situations. So let’s start with these tips which I’ve pulled together in a video for you. Then, you can read on, for more!


    When it comes to packing lunches for teens, it’s not as easy as it used to be. They no longer want to pack their food in the best kid’s lunch container. Now, it’s not cool at all!

    While packed lunches usually include more of a healthy variety some kids find that carrying a lunchbox just isn’t… cool. In this case, it’s important to find a durable container, that will pack enough food, and will easily fit into a gym bag or school bag.

    Here are a few more “grown-up” options for teens and tweens:

    • Swap the character thermos for this Minimal Food Jar
    • Turn in the cutesy lunchboxes for the Packit Cooler Lunch Box
    • Say goodbye to boring tupperware and try these sophisticated glass containers

    More “grownup” recommendations for lunch gear here.


    If your teen wants to pack their own lunch – LET THEM! You’ve been waiting for this moment for years, and now the time has come, embrace it.

    Of course, you will want to make sure the fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy options like fresh fruit, veggies, hummus, whole grain crackers, sandwich/wrap ingredients. Otherwise, left to their own devices teens will pack chips, cookies, and 5 packs of string cheese.

    If you’re looking for ways to help your teen establish healthy eating patterns that will last a lifetime, check out my Family KickStart Program. Many parents are using it to make healthier breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks that teens, parents, and younger kids can enjoy together.

    And, using the program you’ll know that the lunches the teens are packing themselves are filled with nutritious ingredients and something you’ll be glad they’re eating at school.


    Finding foods that won’t leave your teen feeling like they’re “starving” by the end of the day is a major concern for parents. However, it’s as simple as providing a balanced lunch, with healthy fats like cheese, hummus, nuts, and peanut butter (or no-nut butter). Including proteins like deli turkey/ham, hard-boiled eggs, tuna fish; and the right kind of carbohydrates; whole-grain bread, wraps, crackers, rice, and fruit.

    If your teen stays late at school, it’s best to pack an additional healthy snack or two, too.


    Remember when your teen was little and you packed cute lunches for them? After school, you’d open the lunchbox and see that some things were left, but the treat was always devoured.

    When they’re teenagers, they’ll still want to eat a treat; and while it’s convenient to pack a packaged item, it’s best to keep dessert full of nutrition with fruit, nuts, energy bites, or maybe a homemade parfait.


    If you just don’t know what to pack because a single ham sandwich doesn’t cut it, check out the recipes below. There’s a reason that these are some of the most popular recipes on this site! You can also use my book, 101 Packed Lunches to find even more lunchbox inspiration.


    These healthy lunches for school are always huge hits with the teens. Or, as “always” as anything can be with teens. This list will give you a good variety to start with from things my own teens and teenage exchange students have enjoyed.

    Nobody wants to be seen with a PB&J anymore (or so I’m told), so give them an “adult lunch” upgrade with one of these ideas. I’ll give you a list and recipes below, but for those of you who prefer the visual, you can watch how I pack my teen’s lunches here and grab the recipes belo

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