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What are the best lunches for teen athletes to maximize their athletic performance?  Many young athletes need upwards of 2500 to 4000 Calories per day, or more if they are trying to gain mass.  Lets explore how a teen athlete can pack and eat enough to fuel their athletic performance during a busy school day, before they head out to practice.  If you are tired of sandwiches and looking for new lunch ideas, keep reading for the top lunches for teen athletes.

Timing Snacks and Lunches in High School

High school athletes have the unique challenge of needing to eat more often during growth spurts, yet they don’t get breaks between classes.  Most high school teachers are flexible about students having discrete snacks during class.

  • All athletes should plan to take snacks to class, in order to make sure they are eating every 3 hours.
  • High school lunch breaks can vary from 11:30am to 11:50pm, which can create long gaps between meals, snacks and practice.  I often find that students with an early lunch break will skip the morning snack and students with a late lunch break will skip their afternoon snack.
  • Ideally, all athletes plan to have both a morning snack and afternoon snack so they are eating every 3 hours.

What about Breakfast?

We know that athletes perform better in afternoon practices when they have breakfast as well as lunch beforehand.  Check out my list of 18 high protein breakfast ideas to boost your athlete’s mood, focus, learning and athletic performance.

Tips for Packing Athlete Lunches

Whether you still pack your teenager’s lunches or they are doing it on their own, it can be a chore to pack lunches.  Here are some practical tips for packing athlete lunches to turn frantic stress into an easy routine when you pack the best lunches for teen athletes.

  1. Plan lunches for the week and write a list.
  2. Grocery shop with your list.
  3. Put out the lunch containers the night before. Have everyone put their clean and empty lunch containers, lunch bag and water bottle on the counter the night before.  This saves you rummaging around their school bags to fish out the dirty thermos that you need.  If you can make emptying and cleaning their lunch bag a part of their daily routine when they get home, it really reduces the frantic scramble later.
  4. Pack lunches ahead of time.  Mornings can be so chaotic, that we are practically throwing toast across the kitchen at our kids! It is hard to make decisions and put a lunch together while we are all scrambling to get out the door with school bags and sports gear.  We know the lunch will be healthier, better and easier to make if we make it ahead of time.  If you prefer to make lunches in the morning, try doing it before you shower and you have the kitchen to yourself.

Best Lunches for Teen Athletes

If you have a long day with long practices after school, you need to pack enough to fuel you throughout the day. How do we ensure our child is getting the right foods to fuel their performance and their growth?  Here is a simple rule of thumb that will ensure your athlete has all the nutrition they need for their development.

An Athlete Lunch Bag Includes 4-5 Foods:

lunch containers with sandwich, fruit, nuts, juice bottle

  1. Fruit

  2. Vegetables

  3. Main (includes protein and grains)

  4. Fat e.g yogurt, cheese, nuts and seeds, hummus, nut butter

  5. Extra snacks*

Examples of Athlete Lunches Include:

  1. Pita + hummus + air fried chicken + bell peppers + cantaloupe
  2. Tortellini salad + pineapple + snap peas + yogurt cup
  3. Chicken salad wrap + oranges + carrots + nuts
  4. Turkey cheese sliders + grapes + tomatoes + apple crumble + yogurt

Pack Extra Snacks in Athlete Lunch Bag on Long Days*

You may need to pack extra food to fuel your afternoon practice.  Depending on when your athlete comes home from school, you may need to pack extra snacks for before and after practice. If they have a practice from 4-6pm, include a 3pm pre-practice snack and a 6pm recovery snack.  For these long days, we need to consider what food is easy to pack, carry and will last the whole day.

Water Bottle, too

Young athletes need to drink 1-2 litres of water, juice or milk a day plus an extra 2 cups for every hour of training per day.  That means they should fill their water bottle 2-3 times per day.  Yes the fluid from juice, milk and smoothies counts towards their fluid intake too.  We don’t count high sugar drinks like pop, energy drinks or preworkouts because they do not have a hydrating effect.

Tips for Long Days

  • Freeze it. Take a frozen chocolate milk, smoothie, overnight oats or yogurt parfait, and it will have melted and be chilled by afternoon practice.
  • For more on how milk and chocolate milk can help athlete growth and strength, see this article on What Milk is Best for Young Athletes.

Pre practice snacks

  • Snacks before practice should be high in carbs like yogurt parfait, banana bread, overnight oats, muffin or energy balls. sport snacks include yogurt parfait, banana bread, overnight oats, banana muffin, energy balls

Post practice Recovery snacks

  • Recovery snacks should have mostly carbs with a little protein such as peanut butter toast, banana with milk or chocolate milk, smoothie, yogurt, cereal, granola bar or a sandwich.
  • Athletes need to have a recovery snack within 30 minutes of every training session, so packing a snack to have after practice is key.

recovery snacks include toast and peanut butter, banana, milk, chocolate milk and fruit smoothie

Fast Snacks for Teen Athletes

Homemade Snacks:

  • Homemade muffins or banana bread
  • Overnight oats jars
  • Shaker cup for protein shake
  • Homemade pizza
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Apple crumble with greek yogurt
  • No bake energy balls

Fast Snacks:

  • Pita + hummus
  • Whole grain crackers + guacamole
  • Veggies + tzatziki
  • Fruit + yogurt
  • Whole grain Cereal + milk
  • Celery + peanut butter

fast snacks include whole grain cereal, apples and peanut butter, hummus with vegetables and pita bread and yogurt parfait.

Convenience Items:

  • Instant oatmeal in cups
  • Chicken vegetable wontons
  • Frozen burritos
  • Frozen egg bites
  • Fruit sauce cups
  • Premade Smoothies
  • Guacamole cups
  • Tzatziki dip
  • Hummus cups


Easy Athlete Lunch Ideas Printable

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Best Lunches for Teen Athletes

Variety is Key

Everyone gets tired of sandwiches at some point, so we can all use some fresh lunch ideas. Whether you still pack your kids’ lunches or they are doing it on their own, click here for a printable Grocery List and Lunch and Snack Ideas for young athletes.

Not a Sandwich, Sandwich Ideas:

  • Chicken quesadilla
  • Chicken caesar salad wrap
  • Bean and turkey burrito
  • Grilled steak melt sandwich
  • Turkey and avocado sliders
  • Bagel + cream cheese + candied salmon
  • Meatball sub
  • Veggie hummus wrap

Bento Lunch Ideas:

  • Hard boiled eggs + Triscuits + tomatoes + cheese
  • Pita bread + Olives + hummus + peppers
  • Celery + peanut butter + raisins + pretzels + snap peas
  • Turkey bites + sweet potato rounds + carrots + tzatziki
  • Avocado + candied salmon + flatbread + cucumber
  • Airfried chicken strips + tzaziki + carrots + pita chips

Meal Prep in Bulk for Hungry Teens:

  • Shepherd’s pie with sweet potato
  • Taco bowl: rice, pibil, beans, salsa, lettuce, peppers, cheese
  • Orzo salad with broccoli, carrots, tofu or beans
  • Airfried breaded chicken fillets
  • Pasta salad mediterranean style with olives, cheese, basil, spinach, veggie sausage
  • Cold tortellini, pasta, vegetable salad
  • Chili + cornbread
  • Meatball Alphabet soup
  • Fried rice with edamame, chicken and vegetables

Take the Sport Nutrition Course for Parents.

Get practical tools and tips that will make packing lunches and snacks for your young athlete a breeze.  Learn what snacks to have in the hours and minutes before a game and what snacks are best after practices and games. Get simple fueling strategies to help your athlete build muscle and perform their best.  Includes exclusive lists of best sport snacks, recovery snacks and meal plans for your youth athlete.


Sport Nutrition Course for Parents