Crazy days and busy schedules might make eating in the middle of the day more of a challenge. Teenagers that are busy during the day often get distracted and end up eating lunch really late or skipping it all together! Making lunch a priority may take some extra planning and preparation, it is worth it.
It is not a good idea for teenagers to not eat lunch. Skipping lunch can negatively affect mood, energy levels, athletic performance, appetite regulation, and more! Eating anything is better than eating nothing, but teenagers should do their best to eat a healthy, well-balanced lunch every day.
Read on for more information about the negative effects of skipping lunch, what nutrients should be included at lunchtime, and meal ideas for teenagers that are quick and easy to prepare!
Why Some Teens Skip Lunch at School
There could be a number of reasons why teenagers skip lunch while at school. Here are a few common reasons.
- The school lunch doesn’t look good
- They don’t have lunch money
- They forgot to pack lunch or didn’t have time to pack a lunch
- They were busy finishing homework or an assignment during their lunch
- They are unable to leave school campus to get food
- They don’t have enough time to eat their lunch
- They get distracted by friends
- They don’t feel hungry
- They are trying to lose weight or are afraid of gaining weight
School can be tough, and prioritizing lunch might be a bit of a sacrifice! If you don’t usually eat lunch while you are at school, try and narrow down the reason or reasons why. Then you can start figuring out ways to deal with the challenges.
Here are some tips for overcoming some of these challenges!
- Check the menu for school lunch ahead of time and pack your lunch on days that it doesn’t sound appealing.
- Keep extra money in your locker at school or ask to borrow money if you need to.
- Pack lunches ahead of time so that you don’t have to worry about it in the morning when you are rushing to get out the door.
- Set a reminder on your phone or put a sticky note on your mirror that reminds you to grab your lunch!
- If you know you have to work during lunch, bring more snack foods that you can easily munch on while you work.
- Keep snacks available in your backpack or locker in case something comes up and you aren’t able to leave campus to get lunch.
- Start eating your lunch right away so that you will still have time to finish, even with distractions that come up.
- If you don’t feel hungry at lunch, still eat something that sounds good, even if it is small. Your body will get used to eating at lunch time and eventually will start giving you hunger cues again!
- Skipping meals is never a healthy option for weight control. If you are concerned about your weight, feel like you need to skip meals to lose weight, or are afraid of gaining weight, reach out for help! Talking to a dietitian and a therapist can be a great place to start. They can help you be the healthiest and happiest version of yourself!
Negative Effects of Skipping Lunch for Teens
You might wonder why skipping lunch is so bad. In fact, a lot of times, teenagers that are used to skipping lunch don’t even recognize how much better they could feel if they did eat. Their bodies have adjusted to a less than ideal situation and it may take some time to get their body used to eating lunch again.
There are many negative effects of skipping lunch. Here are a few of the more common ones.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling tired and sleepy in the afternoon
- Lower overall energy levels
- Trouble sleeping at night
- Low blood sugar
- Overeating at night
- Dysregulated appetite
- Out of whack hormone levels
- Increased stress and anxiety
Think about it, your body is working really hard during the day, so it needs energy to support that. If you don’t eat your big meal until dinnertime, your body is probably not getting enough energy when it really needs it, during the day!
Teenagers should pay attention to how eating a healthy lunch makes them feel. When they are able to recognize the benefits, they will be more likely to make eating lunch a priority.
Nutrients for teens to Include at Lunch
So what does a healthy lunch even look like? One of the most important things to understand when you are planning any meal or snack is that you need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Carbohydrates will provide your body with a boost of energy while protein and fat help you feel satisfied and make that energy last longer. Protein and fat are also important for repairing and strengthening cells in your body and vitamin absorption!
When making lunch, I usually will include a starch (like bread, crackers, pretzels, bagel, rice, pasta, etc.), a protein (peanut butter, deli meat, chicken, cheese, nuts, etc.), a fruit, and a vegetable. This helps me get a nice balance of nutrients and makes me feel satisfied and energized!
It is also important to include lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber at lunch. These will come naturally as you add different food groups and colors to your plate.
For example, whole grains are a great source of fiber, while citrus fruits will have lots of Vitamin C, and dairy will have calcium! Green leafy vegetables are a good source of iron, and orange vegetables are a good source of Vitamin A.
Each food has a unique nutrient makeup that can benefit the body. Aim for variety in the foods that you eat so that you get as many nutrients as you can!
Lunch can include fun foods too! In addition to a nutrient-rich lunch, sometimes you might add a yummy treat like a cookie, chips, or candy. Remember that your meal should be enjoyable as well as nutritious so it is important that teenagers don’t feel like certain foods are off limits.
If treats and less healthy foods are demonized and made “off-limits” it can actually lead to overeating those foods later on, as well as disordered eating.
Healthy Quick Lunch Ideas
Your lunch does not have to look perfect. Sometimes throwing a bunch of snacks together is the best you can do and that is alright! Even though teenagers should strive to regularly eat healthy lunches, they should remember that eating something is better than eating nothing.
If you struggle with knowing what to grab for a quick lunch, here are a few suggestions! See if any of these sound good to you.
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich with carrots and hummus
- Leftovers from dinner with some additional fruit
- Crackers, cheese, grapes, peppers and ranch dressing
- Salad topped with chicken, fruit, nuts, and dressing with a roll on the side
- Greek yogurt with berries and hummus, and crackers and celery with hummus
- Tuna salad with pita chips, an apple, and a side salad
- Ham and cheese sandwich, tortilla chips and salsa and guacamole, and strawberries
- Fruit smoothie made with greek yogurt and a handful of spinach, with a bagel and cream cheese
- Cottage cheese with crackers, veggie straws, and cherries
- Trail mix, granola bar, apple slices with almond butter, and sugar snap peas
- Pizza with a side salad and sliced pineapple
- Quesadilla made with chicken and cheese, eaten with salsa and sour cream. Have a pear or another piece of fruit with it!
Tips for Teenagers Packing Their Own Lunch
Packing a lunch doesn’t have to be a dreaded chore. Teenagers are old enough to be highly involved in packing their lunches. In fact, they might enjoy getting to pick out what they will eat! Here are a few tips for teenagers packing a lunch.
- Pack your lunch the night before so the morning is not so stressful!
- Keep ice packs frozen and ready to go in case you want to take something cold.
- Cut up fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the week. You can even go ahead and portion them out so they are ready to grab-and-go.
- If you are planning on taking leftovers for lunch, go ahead and package some away when you are cleaning up dinner to save some time and effort.
- Prepare things in advance. If you are making a sandwich, go ahead and make a few and freeze the others for future lunches.
- Make a list of lunch options and put it on the fridge or in the pantry. Then you can just pick different things on the list without having to put too much brain power into it!
Eating lunch is so important for teenagers because it can give them the boost of energy that they need in the middle of the day. Eating lunch can help to stabilize their blood sugars and hormone levels and keep them feeling good throughout the rest of the day.
If you struggle to eat lunch, find a reason to make it a priority. Recognize the benefits that come from eating regularly and balanced throughout the day and focus on those for motivation!
Determine what is keeping you from eating a good lunch and then work to overcome those barriers. Refer to some of the tips above to help make things a little easier!
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