Older kids really need balanced nutrition to get them through their often-lengthy school days. Along with a rigorous academic schedule, most teenage students also require extra energy to maintain the demanding extra-curricular requirements of athletics, the arts or after-school employment. But just because they’re older, middle schoolers and high schoolers can still be finicky — and they are most definitely short on dining time. Foods need to be nutritious and delicious, as well as easy to eat.

The good news is, because older students often have more sophisticated palettes, there’s a lot of room for creativity in their lunches, making it easily possible to present healthy selections that appeal to even the toughest teen tastes.

Make the Gourmet Grade

Traditional turkey and cheese just tastes better on artisan bread, and the denser textures of these breads often makes them more satisfying to bigger appetites. Try whole grain slices or sourdough rolls from the bakery instead of the bread aisle; or wrap up flavorful combinations like chicken, bacon and avocado burrito-style in a whole grain wrap. Tuna and chicken salad are other interesting options. Spread the bread with garlic or chipotle mayo, hummus or pesto before adding veggies like lettuce, tomato or spinach leaves.

Pack a Protein Box

Recreate the prepackaged protein boxes teens typically see at their favorite coffee shop, by packing a divided container with a hardboiled egg, hummus or nut butter, whole grain pretzel sticks or pita triangles, organic cheese cubes and raisins. Snack size bags filled with sliced cucumbers, red peppers or cucumber rounds add vitamins and fiber.

The Big Dipper

Just because they’re older, doesn’t mean teens don’t like to dunk crunchy veggies or whole grain crackers in delicious dips like greek yogurt, salsa, guacamole, hummus or tzatziki. Fruit can be dipped or topped with yogurt or cottage and other soft cheeses. Apple slices dipped in peanut butter and then in granola mean teens can double dip in a flavorful way.

Special Dietary Considerations

This close to adulthood, many older students are often on special training programs or have become aware of food allergies. If your big kid is dairy or gluten-free, or watching refined carbs for training or dietary purposes, “sandwich” combos can easily be rolled in lettuce wraps and a variety of GF bread and cracker choices are readily available. Just make sure to up the fiber and dairy content in other areas of the diet by including plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, nuts and seeds.
Lastly, because so many older students stay after school for tutoring, practice or clubs, it’s often smart to pack a “middle meal” or afternoon snack — additional nutrition to carry them through their extended afternoon until dinnertime.