Teenagers are busy people. From school year start to end, their schedules are filled with classes, homework, studying for tests, team sports, plans with friends, and other extracurricular activities. Staying healthy can be a challenge when you’re young and active, but it’s important.
There’s no better time to focus on good nutrition than in the teen years. Teenagers can develop beneficial eating habits that they’ll carry into adulthood. Plus, eating well helps keep energy levels high, avoid sugar crashes, and make it easier to power through a busy day.
With all of that in mind, here are some of the best, healthy, school lunch ideas for teenagers. These are simple and allow room for teens to customize based on the foods they enjoy. Each section will also mention some meat-free options for vegetarian teenagers.
1. Quick 'n Healthy Wraps
Wraps are quick to fix, tuck into a lunchbox, and go.
Use a whole grain or gluten-free tortilla. Add a healthy protein like turkey meat or a chopped hard-boiled egg, veggies like chopped lettuce and cherry tomatoes, and a dressing like Ranch. You might also add a little cheese.
Other wrap filling ideas include:
- Chicken or tuna salad
- Chicken, hummus, and veggies
- Beans, rice, and veggies
- Egg and avocado
- Cobb salad ingredients
Make sure the fillings contain at least one healthy protein and some veggies. Here’s a favorite avocado chicken salad that’s perfect in a wrap or a bowl.
2. Healthy DIY "Lunchables”
Many of you remember taking Lunchables for school meals but, as kids, we didn't realize that the ingredients were lacking in the nutrition department. Thankfully, teens today can still enjoy the fun of Lunchable-style lunches — but with better food options!
Foods to include in your healthy Lunchables include:
- Cubed turkey or chicken
- Cubed cheese
- Whole-grain crackers
- Veggies like carrot sticks, fresh broccoli, or grape tomatoes
- Fruits like grapes, sliced strawberries, or peeled clementines
- Dry-roasted almonds
Vegetarian options for protein could include roasted chickpeas, plant-based meats, edamame, baked tofu cubes, tempeh “bacon,” and nuts.
3. Healthy Noodle Pasta Dishes
Who doesn’t love noodles? Teens can pre-cook some noodles, add stir-fried or oven-baked veggies, and toss in some meat or tofu for protein. The best healthy noodles are whole wheat, chickpea pasta, or zoodles (zucchini noodles).
Make a quick mac ‘n cheese dish or use marinara or alfredo sauce.
4. Protein-Packed Grilled Cheese
Teens can enjoy protein, carbs, and fiber when making a grilled cheese with whole-grain bread. Make it even healthier by grilling the sandwich with zucchini, tomatoes, onions, or avocado, and a healthy protein like sliced chicken or turkey bacon. Add a side of carrot sticks with ranch dressing for extra veggies.
5. Good Ole PB&J
You can't go wrong with an easy peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Plus, there are ways to upgrade it with:
- Whole grain bread
- All-natural peanut butter with no added sugars or oils
- No-sugar-added jelly
- Almond butter instead of peanut butter
- Fruits like sliced apples or sliced bananas instead of jelly
PB&Js are the perfect option for when you have no extra time to prep a lunch. Keep little bags of carrot sticks, grapes, and other side snacks in the kitchen that you can add as fast, healthy sides.
Pinwheels are fun and pretty straightforward for teenagers to make themselves. Just take a whole grain or gluten-free tortilla, spread it with cream cheese, and layer fillings like turkey, tomato slices, cucumber sticks, and lettuce before rolling the whole thing up and slicing into pinwheels.
Not a fan of cream cheese? Use hummus or guacamole instead. Skip the meat and mash up some black beans to add more vegetarian protein.
7. Bento Boxes
Bento boxes are sectioned off so that you can combine different foods into a delicious and nutritious lunch!
There are endless options, such as:
- PB&J squares
- Cheese cubes
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Berries or other sliced fruits
- Cucumber slices
- Pretzel sticks
- Zucchini noodles
Here are more bento box ideas.
The Bottom Line
Healthy lunch ideas for school when you’re a teenager don’t have to be complicated. Find a few different options you enjoy as go-tos throughout the week. It’s the best way to start a school day, knowing you have a healthy lunch ahead to fuel you.
For more healthy meal ideas (for all ages), see these recipe ideas.
(Photo by Ella Olsson)