School-aged and Teens

Healthy eating is key to success at school. 

  • There’s a clear link between good nutrition and academic performance.
  • A well-fueled child is more likely to have positive behaviours and relationships both in and outside the classroom.
  • Healthy snacks and lunches at school help kids meet their overall daily needs for nutrients and energy.  

Many children consume one-third to one-half of their overall calories at school.  Yet about 25 per cent of the calories children consume throughout the day come from foods with poor nutritional value, such as pop, sweets and high fat or salty snacks. 

Help your children eat well at school by encouraging healthy snacks and lunches. 
Here’s how:

  • Encourage kids to help plan and prepare their own healthy snacks and lunches
    • Asking for their input increases the chances they will actually eat them.  Be sure to stock the kitchen with healthy choices they like from all the Food Groups – that will make the decision easier.
    • Teach them that a healthy snack should cover two food groups and a healthy lunch should include foods from three or four food groups.
  • Focus on the food groups they may not be getting enough of – for most kids that’s Vegetables and Fruit and Milk and Alternatives.
    • Encourage fruit for snacks and a vegetable and fruit with their lunch
    • Pack milk, water or 100% fruit juice as a beverage.
    • Include yogurt or cheese cubes as snacks.
    • If your school does not have a school milk program, request it. 
  • Limit commercially prepared snack foods – many are higher in fat, salt or sugar
    • Read food labels and choose snack foods that are lower in fat, salt and sugar
    • Try some new snack ideas – bake some healthy muffins or  breads on the weekend and freeze for the week ahead.
  • Lobby your school counsel for healthier foods sold at school
    • While most provinces have or are in the process of changing school food policies in favour of healthy options, some schools have been slow to respond.  Speak with teachers, the principal and other parents to help create a healthier school environment.
  • Set guidelines on cafeteria and fast food  lunches
    • Secondary students in particular are faced with a lot of food choices.  Most have cafeterias in their schools, but many students also wander off school property to purchase fast food lunches.  Consider setting limits on how many ‘bought lunches they are allowed to have each week, and encourage homemade lunches more often. 

Refuel with these Healthy Snack Ideas
(aim for 2 food groups)

  • A container with dry whole grain cereal mixed with dried blueberries, apricots or raisons
  • Whole grain crackers or baby carrots with hummus
  • Yogurt and graham wafers
  • Popcorn, plain or flavoured with parmesan cheese or paprika (not for children under 5)
  • Multigrain pretzels and orange wedges
  • Cheese string and an apple
  • Whole wheat fig cookies and plain applesauce
  • Baked corn chips and salsa
  • Banana bread and sliced cheese

Have healthy snacks available at home for the hungry after-school crowd. 
Choose your snacks wisely:

Choose these healthier foods

instead of…         

Whole-grain crackers, muffins and breads Doughnuts or danishes
Fresh or dried fruit Fruit leathers
100% fruit or vegetable juice or lower-fat plain milk Fruit drinks or pop
Plain, low-fat popcorn Buttered or sugar-coated popcorn
Baked tortilla chips Potato chips or cheesies
Whole-grain or oatmeal granola bars (check ingredient list and Nutrition Facts Table for best choices) Chocolate bars
Lower-salt or unsalted pretzels Regular pretzels
Veggies and low fat dip Potato chips and dip
Trail mix with whole-grain cereal, nuts and seeds Chocolate covered nuts or candy                            

** Adapted from:  Eat Well. Live Longer.  Simple steps to making healthy choices.  The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

Healthy School Lunch Ideas – Thinking outside of the box

Ask kids to add to these main course ideas so their lunch contains all four food groups.

  • For sandwiches:
    • use a variety of whole grain breads such as English muffins, bagels, mini pitas, tortillas, rye bread
    • try some new flavours by using roasted peppers, red onions or shredded cheese as toppings, and hummus, tzatziki, chutney or salsa for sandwich spreads
    • mix up the filling – instead of ham, turkey or roast beef, try egg salad with chopped celery, tuna with apple, salmon with green onion or hummus with grated zucchini and carrots
    • instead of a traditional sandwich – try a lettuce wrap.  Send cubed chicken salad and washed Boston lettuce leaves in a separate containers.   Your child can make her own wrap.
  • Step out of the sandwich routine and try leftover soups, casseroles, chili or pasta in a thermos.
  • Pack a hard cooked egg or a leftover cold chicken leg with a small mixed salad
  • Pack a divided container with cut-up chicken, cubes of cheese, crackers, and slices of vegetables and fruit.

Here are some sample lunch ideas to get them started:

Day 1

Chicken wrap

  • shredded lettuce, green or red pepper strips, shredded cheese and leftover chicken with creamy salad dressing, all rolled up in a whole grain tortilla

Melon wedges

Day 2

Whole grain mini pitas filled with salmon, tuna or hummus

Cucumber slices with dip
100% fruit juice


Day 3

Leftover beef stir fry and brown rice

  • with peppers, sliced carrots and mushrooms

Kiwi – sliced in half for scooping


Day 4

Homemade lunch kit

  • chunks of ham, cubed cheese  carrot sticks and tzaziki packed in a container with separate compartments

Whole grain crackers
100 % fruit juice
Yogurt with fresh cut-up fruit

Physical Activity and Healthy Eating Go Hand-in-Hand

Encouraging physical activity is just as important to a growing body as healthy food choices.  This is especially true as kids become teens  – when they tend to lose interest in
playing outside or team sports like soccer.   Physical activity should be fun, not a chore.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle by:

  • Being a good role model.  If kids see you enjoying physical activities, they are more likely to view it as a normal part of healthy living.
  • Turn off the TV.  Instead of watching TV together after dinner, why not go for a walk?  It’s a great way to get some physical activity and an opportunity to talk with your teen.
  • Try some new activities.  Maybe this is the time to try something new together: golf, cycling, paddling, tennis, playing catch, jogging, skiing or just a brisk walk.