School lunch not your thing anymore? Want to make sure your kids are getting nutritious lunches? There’s so many options for lunch boxes today, but some of them are still a little nerdy and not the coolest thing to be carrying around the halls of high school. You need a lunch box that is functional, simple, hassle-free, and cool.
My top recommendations for lunch boxes for teens include Dakine backpacks, bento boxes (and bentgo), and Packit lunch bags. They are cool enough that teens will actually use them, and are simple and hassle-free.
See my recommendations below along with some of the best and easiest lunches for teenagers to bring to school.
Coolest Lunch Boxes for Teenagers
I packed a lunch every day after 6th grade. I had had enough of the mystery meat, jello, and soggy fries in the lunchroom, so I wanted to be in charge of my own lunch. It’s great bringing your own food to school- you can pack whatever you want (or whatever your parents stock in the pantry) and make it healthier, tastier, cheaper, and a lot faster than waiting in line in the lunchroom during your precious lunch break.
Back in my day, it was also a little bit nerdy to bring a lunch to school! Lunch boxes were just not cool back then. They were ugly, clunky, and odd. My awesome mom bought me a new lunch box almost every year to keep trying until we found one I liked for a whole year.
I don’t think we ever found one and I finally gave up and gave in to being a little nerdy. At least I had a good lunch that I liked every day! Worth it.
Today it seems a lot more hip to bring your own packed lunch. Today’s packed lunches aren’t PB&J, an apple, bag of chips, and a cookie, but they are Instagram-worthy homemade sushi rolls, hummus with pitas and cut up veggies, and nut butter protein balls. Talk about different and delicious! Nutrition appears to be a lot more emphasized in homes and families these days and it carries into the lunchroom.
If you pack a lunch front home, you still want a cool case. Bento boxes, brown paper bags, backpacks, purses, what’s your style?
Tips For the Best Lunch Box:
- Functional– You need something that is durable, simple, fits your whole lunch, and keeps it fresh until lunch time.
- Cool– Rock your lunch box like the cool kids.
- Insulated– You need material to keep your food cold enough for the few hours before lunch.
- Size– Something big enough for a lunch for a teenager plus snacks.
- Easy to Clean– You’ll want something you can quickly wipe down.
Best Lunch Boxes for Teenagers- Dietitian Recommended!
If you aren’t into lunch boxes, get a backpack with a built in lunch box insulated zipper compartment. In college I went for a super efficient backpack that had an insulated zipper area where I could keep my lunch.
Check it out- I loved that backpack!! I bought some of my cousins one of these for their high school graduation gifts. This is the best backpack for college, and I know you’ll enjoy it in high school too.
2. Bento Box
These Japanese-style containers are perfect for meal prep for portioning out foods. There are many different styles to choose from. You easily clean them and even put them in the dishwasher and microwave.
The kids Bentgo boxes are super popular, but this Bentgo style is more appropriately-sized for teenagers. I also love this style for any age (click to view examples on Amazon).
The PackIt Lunch Bag comes in 26 colors and styles. This is such a great design for a lunchbox with no separate ice pack needed. You put the entire bag in the freezer overnight and it keeps food cold longer, and you don’t have to worry about food getting soggy or smashed from an ice pack next to your sandwich.
The PackIt lunch bag is collapsible and rolls up small when you are done! Super affordable, simple, and easy to clean. Perfect for all ages.
And some other teen favorites from brands that meet the COOL factor:
How to Pack A Healthy Lunch for School
What Should I Put In My Child’s Lunch Box? Think outside the box instead of the usual PB&J, apple, and cookie. When packing a lunch you’ll want to focus on:
- Healthy grains such as whole wheat bread, tortilla, bagels, rice cakes, pasta, crackers, rice, quinoa, etc.
- Protein such as yogurt, cheese, lunchmeat, hummus, nut butter, hard boiled egg, etc.
- Fruits and Veggies
- A small dessert if needed- dried fruit or some trail mix is also a great option!
- Avoid overly processed and packaged foods.
How to Pack a Green Lunch for Kids– Pre-packaged foods are definitely convenient, but you can pack a zero-waste lunch by following a few simple tips. Pack a reusable water bottle, buy in bulk and then individually package snacks and foods in reusable containers, pack foods your kids actually enjoy, and bring reusable utensils and napkins from home.
What Foods to Avoid in a Child’s Lunch– Some schools have restrictions on foods that may be allergens for other students such as peanut butter and nut products, or even unhealthy foods like candy and soda. You also don’t want to pack foods that are too messy (even teenagers spill pasta sauce on their shirt sometimes), too smelly, etc.
At What Age Should Children Pack Their Own Lunches? Kids should help pack their lunch from the beginning and be involved in the choices. By age 10 kids should be able to pack an appropriate lunch each day mostly by themselves.
I started packing my own lunches in middle school when I had to start getting up a lot earlier. As I got older and more busy in high school with sports, my mom helped me pack my lunch a lot more often.
Which State Has the Best School Lunches? School lunches in the U.S. follow the guidelines set by the NSLP (National School Lunch Program), so most states have similar lunches. It depends on the school district if foods are purchased frozen and then prepared, or cooked from scratch, or some of each etc.
Quality and variety is definitely different across districts and states. Rumor has it that smaller school districts in some rural states have amazing school lunches, and also areas of Colorado (Boulder), New York, Ohio, Minnesota, and California.
What Can I Pack for Lunch Without Refrigeration? If you’re bringing the equivalent of a brown paper bag lunch, you’ll need to pack food that doesn’t need an ice pack. Some great examples are PB&J, peanut butter and banana wraps, muffins, rice cakes with nut butter, cereal, can of tuna and crackers, dried fruits, nuts, jerky, frozen yogurt tubes, and most uncooked fruits and vegetables will last without refrigeration.
You can also freeze some of your foods, such as muffins, beans, sandwiches, or pasta salads, and they will thaw in time for lunch. You’ll want to stay away from dairy foods, meats, poultry, eggs, and anything high in protein and moisture (where bacteria can thrive) etc. that needs to be kept cold.
Is School Lunch Healthy? School lunch has to follow certain guidelines for calories, fat, sodium, whole grains, etc. So in theory, school lunch is healthy as it meets nutritional requirements for kids of certain ages.
However, you’ll still find a lot of pizza, burgers, french fries, etc. in school lunch lines. Lunches from home can include a better variety of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables with less packaged and processed foods.
What Lunch Box Keeps Food Coldest? A lunch box with a built in ice pack is a favorite for keeping food warm. If the food is enclosed by ice in an insulated container, it will stay cold longest. The PackIt Lunch Bag is a favorite for keeping food cold.
What Lunch Box Keeps Food Warm? You can also keep your food warmer by heating it and wrapping it in aluminum foil, adding a hot water bottle to your lunch box, or bringing hot water and adding it to pasta, etc. right before eating.
The OmieBox is a favorite for kids, but might be a little small for teenagers. The Thermos Funtainer Food Jar is perfect for teens and keeps food hot for 5 hours. A great insulated option is also YETI Lunch box.
What Are Good Cold Lunch Ideas? Check out my ideas below. You really can bring almost any leftovers to eat cold (as long as they were cooled properly and you have an ice pack) but the best is pasta, pizza, salads, hummus, tuna, canned food, etc.
What Can I Pack for Lunch Besides Sandwiches? Bored of the same-old PB&J sandwich? Sandwiches are easy to make and pack, but you can change it up with some simple planning ahead. Some other ideas are cheese and crackers with lunchmeat, homemade sushi rolls, tuna and crackers, hard-boiled eggs, pasta salad, meatballs, cold pizza, hummus with crackers and veggies, muffins, cold cereal, wraps, bagel sandwiches, and PB&J with fruit slices instead of jam (such as strawberries).
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Written by Katherine Harmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
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