School Lunches for Kids/ Teenagers (ages 6 - 19) *** REVISED ***
School is a big part of every child's life, whether they like it or not. As summer comes to an end, the topic of the dreaded school lunches returns. As a former student myself, I know what teenagers (and children) like to eat for lunch, and what they don't like. People like to have something that's easy to make, is somewhat healthy, but still something that they'll enjoy eating. Sometimes sending your child in with lunch money to school seems like a great idea on those hectic mornings, but do you really know what food they can access? Or even worse, what's in them? Typically canteen food is full of salt and sugars. In my old school we had a healthy eating policy and our canteen was no exception to the rule, however, a lot of schools have unhealthy canteens and even have vending machines in the hall. Good eating habits start while we're young, so here are some ideas for some healthy lunches that I liked to bring to school.
1. Smoothie: One of my favourite thing to drink is a smoothie, and they're completely customisable. You can add whatever fruit, veg, juice and yogurt your child likes to the drink and they can enjoy this healthy and very refreshing drink. You can make the smoothies at home and pack it in a beaker or flask or you could even buy pre made smoothies. Nowadays nearly every household has a blender/ Nutribullet style machine, so why not utilise this? It's a fantastic way to get some of your 5 a day without feeling like you're eating fruit/ veg.
To those of you who don't have a smoothie maker, you can also but them pre-made. Unfortunately, these can be a bit pricey. A favourite of mine is the Innocent Smoothie range which comes in a variety of flavours (and in a snack size carton for young children). You can find this brand in most good supermarkets, but there are a tonne of brands you can choose from.
On those mornings you're rushing out the door, or even want to substitute lunch for a smoothie, add some oats. This adds carbohydrates allowing energy to be released slowly throughout the day, and keeps you fuller for longer. You can also add things like chia seeds (and other super foods) to get an extra boost!
2. Water: Another very simple solution is, of course, water. Water is probably the best drink out there and is very good for your child. A lot of us don't drink enough water and I found that in school I would drink a lot more water then if I was at home. The fact that I just had some in my bag all the time reminded me to drink it.
Some people don't like the taste of water, and this is a problem considering you need to drink about 2 litres of it a day. I went through a phase of not liking water, and what I did to ensure I was still drinking enough of it was I added some sort of cordial/ dilute-able juice to the water like MiWadi or Kia Ora. This will have higher sugar content than just water, but at least they're getting some of that oh so important water into their bodies which will allow them to focus in school.
3. Soup: Ok so this isn't technically a drink ... or is it ? Who knows! Anyways, soup was one of my favourite things for lunch when I was in school, probably because I live in Ireland and the weather here is always abysmal, and freezing. Soup is a great choice on those cold mornings. You can make your own, or buy some cheap enough in the local supermarket. It's another great way to get some veg into your young ones without them even noticing. You can take the soup to school in a flask, to keep it hot, or if the school allows you the use of a microwave, your child can heat it up there in a different container. Flasks however, are readily available and are relatively cheap to buy. Some great brands of soup that I enjoy are Campells, Erin and Cully & Sully.
4. Cold Soup: Not all soup has to be hot. On those gorgeous summery days you can take some cold soup to school. I myself am not a huge fan of this but a few of my friends were in school. Cold soup is generally made from fruit (eg. strawberries or peaches), and just tastes like cold juice in my opinion. You can bring it to school in a flask, although this probably isn't necessary considering it's cold, or a beaker.
5. Tea/Coffee: For the more mature student, they may like to bring tea or coffee to school. I used to personally bring a reusable travel mug to school for the walk or drive (depending on the weather) to school to give me an energy boost in the mornings. I was not a morning person. I wouldn't recommend putting this in a flask however as it won't stay as hot as you'd want it to.
1. Fruit: One of the healthiest snacks is fruit. Fruit is full of natural sugars and carbs to release energy throughout the day. Fruit may seem like a boring option, but you can mix it up by cutting it into shapes or making a fruit salad.
2. Cereal Bars: Cereal bars are a quick and easy solution to hunger. Sometimes they can be high in sugar, but there are also very healthy ones out there.A favourite of mine are the 'Nature Valley Bars'. They come in a variety of flavours, so there's one for everybody. I tended to avoid very sugary bars such as Rice Krispies Square, Cocopops etc. and went more for the oaty, wholegrain options.
3. Yogurt: Yoghurt is another great option for lunch. They come in a variety of sizes, types and flavours depending on your mood. When packing yoghurts however I'd advise double checking that you have a spoon with you, because many I time I have forgotten to bring one and that results in having to drink your way through the yoghurt.. which isn't ideal.
4. Vegetables: I've already mentioned fruit, but another option is veg! Once again there are a lot of options when it comes to eating vegetables for lunch. I love having raw carrot sticks with some humus for lunch. Any time I'd bring this to school I'd end up sharing with everyone. When I was a child I wasn't a huge fan of salads, but as I got into my teenage years I began to enjoy the odd Caesar. For those who enjoy salads I'd highly recommend them. Once again you can make them yourself, or buy them pre-packaged. You can even buy little containers and put your dressing in, so you can pour it fresh over your salad before tucking into it.
5. Popcorn/ Rice cakes: My school had a healthy eating policy as I previously mentioned, but they allow us to bring popcorn into school, and even sold it in the canteen. Popcorn and rice cakes contain very little fat and calories, but are very filling, making them ideal for packed lunches, if you can get some with low salt, even better. They can be quite messy, but who cares.
6. Treats: Now I'm all for healthy food, but sometimes, it's nice to bring in some treats. I bring in slices of cake, buns, apple pie, brownies or cookies sometimes, and they always go down a treat! My friends would always flock to me if I brought some into school, so I'd always bring more than I wanted. An odd treat isn't going to hurt anyone. As my Gran Pauline used to say, "a little of what you fancy does you good", and right she was.
For my lunch I usually would have a sandwich, but I did like to mix and match the breads and fillings:
You could have -
- Brown/White/Batch Bread/ Wholegrain/ Wholemeal/ Chia Seed etc
- Bread Rolls
- Tortilla Wraps
- Pita Bread
- Toasted bread
...and in these I mix some fillings including:
- Meat (ham, bacon, beef, chicken, tuna, lamb, turkey etc.)
- Lettuce, spinach, rocket
- Onion (I prefer red onion)
- Sauces (Ketchup, Mayonaise, Salad Cream, Cajun/ Tikki, Salsa etc.)
- Eggs (Hard boiled), egg mayonaise
... anything you want really, this is completely up to you. I'd mix it up everyday and try new things.
Pasta: When I'm not in the mood for a sandwich, then I make some pasta. I really like just a plain tomato sauce with pieces of chicken, but mix it up and make it your own. You can make carbonara, pasta bake, tuna casserole, bolognese, lasagne etc. etc. There are a load of pre-made options that you can also get in any good supermarket or garage that are relatively cheap.
Spaghetti/ Beans: Another option for those cold days (that we get a lot of here in Ireland) would be beans or spaghetti in a flask. The flask will lock in the heat and give you a bowl to eat out of. Don't forget to pack some bread, butter and a fork, otherwise it's not a very viable lunch. My favourite brand of spaghetti and beans would be Heinz, but there are loads of great brands to choose from.
When it comes to lunches, really there is no reason to be worried or stressed about it. Have a sit down with your children and make a list of what they love to eat. Try to make lunches simple, fun and colourful (and healthy of course). Good luck!
Thanks for reading this article and I hope it helps you find out cool, fun, new ways to enjoy lunch! Leave a comment telling me your favourite things for lunch and what your favourite item on my list is!