Boarding school kids: how to make healthier tuck box choices

We all want our teenagers to have some home comforts and occasional treats when they are away at boarding school, and tuck boxes are a core part of their life at school. But it’s too easy to head to the shops and stock up on all those sugary treats and crisps that we know our children love. When they are older there’s pressure to go wild online, ordering up multipacks of sweets and energy drinks. Also many kids hate the school food and rely heavily on the contents of their tuckbox for sustenance. Luckily there are healthier options out there. So how can we give our children yummy and nutritious snacks, without succumbing to a bulging box of junk food?

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What effect does sugar have on teens?

Most pre-packaged snacks are also classified as “ultra-processed” foods, which means that they contain a high number of synthetic ingredients which the body can struggle to metabolise. They tend to contain excessive sugar, artificial sugars, preservatives and emulsifiers, all of which are now known to be associated with driving modern health conditions ranging from metabolic issues like type 1 and type 2 diabetes to acne, hormone trouble, poor concentration and even anxiety and depression.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) include most crisps, biscuits, cereals, pot noodles, pastries, sweetened and diet fizzy drinks, cordials as well as sweets and chocolate bars. The home-made equivalents tend to be naturally healthier, mainly because they are made without the troublesome synthetic ingredients. A healthy diet equals 20% or less ultra-processed foods.

The government is also now recommending that teenagers limit their intake to 30g of added sugar per day which is the equivalent to four and a half-heaped teaspoons of sugar or seven sugar lumps. This sounds a reasonable amount until you realise that a single Jaffa cake has 5.4g of sugar, a 500ml bottle of Lucozade Sport has 18g, a chocolate muffin can be 24g, a can of coke contains 35g, and a 140g bag of Haribo Tangfastics has a whopping 70g!

Any of these consumed on top of a bowl of cereal at breakfast, pudding at lunch and a piece of cake at tea-time is going to tip a teen right over their daily allowance. It is fine to consume more sugar on some days, and that is perfectly normal for teens, but it is important for this not to become a habit.

Healthier options for tuck boxes

During teenage years, nutrient requirements are at an all-time high, especially for boys and they need plenty of zinc, calcium, iron and omega-3. Rapid growth spurts, intense sport, and staying up late at night to revise leaves many youngsters ravenous and regularly reaching for their tuck box. Many youngsters also prefer snacking to eating meals, particularly school food, so it is even more important that we give them healthy snacks.

Here is some guidance on healthier snacks that are popular amongst many teenagers that are also nut free. This is not meant to be a “perfect” list but one that teens tend to like, not be too embarrassed to have in their tuck box and that have a good enough shelf life. These can be easily stored in tuck boxes and last for weeks, or at least until the next exeat weekend or when you next pay them a visit:

  • Seeded oatcakes
  • Multigrain crackers
  • Spelt crispbreads and crackers
  • Rye crispbreads
  • Cheese straws
  • Buckwheat crackers
  • Dark chocolate rice cakes
  • Ready salted corn chips
  • Toasted seeds
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Dried fruit: mango, apricots, prunes, dates figs and apple rings
  • Seaweed thins
  • Beef jerky
  • Biltong
  • Lentil crisps
  • Quinoa crisps
  • Vegetable crisps
  • Granola
  • Porridge pots
  • Muesli
  • Tinned or packet soup
  • Baked beans

Most boarding houses have fridges, so if you live reasonably near the school (or are an overseas student with a delivery option) these snacks are a good healthy option:

  • Fresh fruit including berries
  • Dips like hummus and guacamole
  • Carrots, cucumber, radishes and cherry tomatoes
  • Cream cheese
  • Cheese slices
  • Falafel
  • Coconut chunks
  • Fresh soups
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Spanish omelette
  • Ham slices (nitrite free)
  • Wholemeal wraps
  • Seeded pitta breads
  • Home-made cake and biscuits


Of course, all hungry teens are going to reach for sugary treats at times and will head back to school with a few of their favourite snacks in the tuck box. But it is all about moderation. It is about finding other yummy things that are more nourishing to your teenager’s brain and bodies; crowding out the less healthy stuff with healthier choices. I hope my guidance will help you find a good balance.

For further nutrition support for your teen or tween, please get in touch with our clinical team for a one-to-one consultation.

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