Fuelling Your Tween

fuel your tween

Tween-hood. The age between 10 and 12, a time of hormones, mood swings, school stress, and child-like fun. At any age, it’s essential to ensure our children are properly fuelled for school, sports, and all the activities… for their balance and your sanity. After many years of making school lunches though, you might be feeling the need for fresh ideas that are simple, but healthier than all those packets that seem so convenient. The reality is that lunchboxes don’t have to be the same old humble sandwich. Extra dinner can be made that can be taken for lunch, or teach your child to cook and make some meals in advance. No need to live up to unrealistic expectations, but how about trying one new idea a week? Read on for the important macronutrients your tween needs, and how to fuel up their lunchbox.


Our tweens need protein for growth and repair, immune function, and hormone production, especially during a time of rapid physical and emotional changes. Good sources of protein include meat, lentils and beans, eggs, protein powder, tofu. Children under 18 years should consume 0.9gm of protein per kilogram (kg) of their body weight over the day. For example, a 40-kg child should eat 38 gm of protein over the day.

Easy lunch time additions:

  •  1/3 of a chicken breast contains 13 gm – add to a salad, wrap or sandwich.
  • ½ cup of beef mince contains 25gm – use leftovers from last night's bolognase.
  • A can of tuna contains 48 gm – try on wholegrain crackers or in a salad.
  • A ½ cup of split lentils has 7.5 gm – try in a salad or as part of a homemade vege burger
  • A ½ cup of kidney beans has 7.5gm – use through salads or try making vegetarian tacos!
  • A tablespoon of peanut butter has 5 gm – add peanut butter to vege sticks for a delicious snack

Healthy Wraps

Carbohydrates and Fibre:

Carbohydrates and fibre can be found in wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, lentils and beans. Aim for 50% of each meal to be carbohydrates, preferably vegetable based or whole grain.

Easy lunch time additions:

  • Wholegrain wraps – these come in a variety of flavours!
  • Whole grain bread
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Beans and lentils
  • Banana
  • Quinoa
  • Couscous
  • Brown Rice
  • Salad greens


Fat is essential for healthy brain function, hormone production, and help to keep blood sugar levels stable. Fat should make up 25%-35% of each meal. Healthy fats include avocado, salmon, olive oil, and nuts and seeds.

Easy lunch time additions:

  • Avocado – add in salads, wraps or sandwiches, spread on wholegrain crackers, or even try 1/2 an avocado blended up in your child’s favourite smoothie for an extra creamy texture and added nutrition.
  • Salmon and other oily fish – add to salads, wraps or sandwiches.
  • Olive oil or olives – dress salads with olive oil or pack some olives for a healthy snack.
  • Nuts and seeds – almonds, cashew nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are all great snack additions. They are great on their own, or try sprinkling over salads or making your own homemade trail mix with a mix of nuts, seeds and some dried fruit.

healthy nuts and seeds

Watch Out for Sugar!

Ready to go, pre-packaged food is often are high in anti-nutrients that can deplete the body. Those muesli bars that sound healthy and natural, filled with oats and nuts can be hiding the same amount of sugar as a chocolate bar! Most of us wouldn’t let our children eat a chocolate bar or two each day, but muesli bars appear so filling, handy, and healthy. If you can’t escape the packaged muesli bars, look for one that contains less than 4 gm (1 tsp) of sugar in each serving. It can be a challenge some days, but as much as possible, keep sugar intake below 6 teaspoons of added sugars (not including fruit) per day.

Sneaky sugars can be found in cereals, sauces, and yoghurts. To give you an idea:
– a typical cup sized serving of cereal aimed at your teen contains 9.6 gm or 2.5 tsp of sugar
– tomato sauce can contain just under a teaspoon of sugar per 10ml of sauce
– a pottle of yoghurt can contain 4 teaspoons of sugar.

Some Easy Swaps:

Fruit Yoghurt Pottle > Unsweetened yoghurt with frozen or fresh fruit (saves on single use plastic too!)
Muesli bars > Homemade muesli bars or bliss balls (try Lena’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls recipe in our Free Spring Recipe e-Book!)
Sandwich with White Bread > Wholemeal wrap filled with salad greens, avocado, pesto, hummus, and some protein OR a fresh salad with protein and left-over roast vegetables
Flavoured Rice Crackers > Nuts and seeds (try Lena’s Tamari Roasted Nuts and Seeds recipe) OR try vege sticks with hummus or peanut butter.

What are some easy and healthy lunch box additions your tween enjoys? Share them with us on Facebook or on Instagram @HealthPostNZ.

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