As parents, we talk a lot about tips to get kids to pack their own school lunches. But the truth is, even teens can struggle a bit when it comes to picking up just one more responsibility. Especially if they’re always used to us doing it for them.

(Guilty as charged. But my kids are getting way better!)

So I talked to celebrity teen chef Josh Reisner for his own tips, from a teen, for other teens. You may best know him as the 10-year-old who was a fan-favorite finalist in the second season of Master Chef Junior. But now he’s 16, cooking up a storm, and showcasing all his delicious projects on his Instagram feed, @ChefJoshR.


Chef Josh: A teen offering his own tips to help teens pack their own lunches

All photos via Chef Josh Reisner on Instagram

How to get a teen to pack their own lunch: Tips from a teen, for teens

By Josh Reisner, A.K.A. Chef Josh

Right now, I’m at the beginning of my junior year in high school and like every kid, I’m balancing homework, school projects, friends and extracurriculars — all while pursuing my passion of being a chef and building my future restaurant empire.

No matter how busy your own kid is, it’s good to remember that lunch is probably their favorite period of the day. It definitely is for me! I get a break from class, I get to catch up with friends or get a head start on school work, and of course…FOOD!

While most schools have plenty of food options available, I’ve noticed that more and more of my classmates are packing their own lunches for school. It can range from simple PB & J to deluxe meals to uh…just a granola bar. (That’s not really lunch!) But I get it. Most teens are packing their own lunches and they may not be excited to spend that time in the kitchen like I do, but I really believe that everyone my age should at least know how to pack their own lunch — if not make a homemade Peruvian ceviche, or a homemade lobster cooked with smoked shallots and salted kombucha, corn and nori fritters in a purple olive emulsion.

(You should save those for dinner, anyway!)

So I’m sharing some key tips for teens who want to — and should — take on the challenge of preparing their own school lunches this year. Whether they want to or not. Hopefully they do!

My top tips

1. Get a cool carrier. Brown bags serve their purpose, but lunch boxes and bags have come a long way. From cool designs to throwback retro options, copping a cool new lunch box that shows off your teen’s’ style and interests may even make them want to bring their own lunch to school.

I suggest using bento-style containers, since you can pack multiple foods in one container but see them separate. Good ones are leak-proof and generally dishwasher safe. And with teens, the less dishes to wash after school, the better.

Superfood salad idea from PlanetBox eco-friendly bentos
Superfood salad idea via PlanetBox eco-friendly bentos

2. Use eco-friendly accessories. A lot of kids at my school are really committed to being more environmentally friendly with their lunch supplies, which is really cool to see. Especially because a lot of lunch items like plastic utensils, straws, and single-use brown bags are wasteful.

I always pack reusable metal utensils, which are compact and easy to throw back into your backpack after lunch, and I carry a metal straw for drinks too. My generation is very concerned about environmental impact and waste, so if you can help your teen pick out these lunch supplies, they’ll probably be really grateful — and more likely to use them.

3.  Plan and prep ahead. Parents usually prepare big-batch dishes over the weekend to be able to pack for lunches for the week ahead, but I think it’s even more important for teens to practice this habit if they’re going to be in charge of their own lunches! Look, I admit I’m not a morning person, and don’t know many kids my age who are. So having a lunch that’s convenient to grab while running out the door is a massive plus.

Tips to help teens pack their own lunches, from 16 year old chef and Master Chef Junior finalist, Josh Reisner

4. Start simple: Rice is nice. If you’re a teen who’s still developing your kitchen skills, the idea of making something for lunch every day may seem overwhelming, but don’t worry! Learn to make a few basics that are simple and make a great base for meals. Like rice.

You can try long grain rice, brown rice, or any variety you like. All rice is extremely versatile and holds up well when paired with dry ingredients, like vegetables or grilled chicken, or pair it with a a wet sauce like my own personal lunch favorite, Japanese curry. It’s also a good way to get out of a sandwich rut.

Speaking of which, if your kids want to experiment with an ingredient not typically on the family meal plan, maybe make an effort to add a few new things to the weekly shopping list. Or better yet — have your kids pick it up themselves. Learning how to shop and pick out your own meats and produce is a really big deal.

5. Leftovers FTW. I prepare a lot of tasty, hearty dinners for my family using chicken thighs, flank steak, brisket or pork shoulder, so I like to steal all the leftovers for myself to use in my school lunch the next day. Plus, they pair well with rice! While your teen may not be a serious chef, they can still make use of dinner leftovers and even help you with the meal planning with lunch in mind.

As for me, I always try to pack a protein and other substantial foods to keep me going during a busy day of classes and afternoon activities and it’s probably a good idea for other teens too.

6. Rewards work. Maybe reward your teen with something small but meaningful after a full week of making their own lunches. It’s pretty good inspiration for them to keep doing it.

Vanilla and matcha swirl soft serve from Chacha Matcha in NYC: Nice treat at the end of the week!

Josh is a fan of NYC’s Chatcha Matcha and their vanilla-matcha swirl soft serve

So there you have it. When it comes to preparing your own lunch every day, you have to start somewhere. I say. commit to building good lunch habits now. Before you know it, your teen’s lunches will be the envy of the cafeteria!


About Chef Josh

Teen chef Josh Reisner downs a Sunny D while he cooks
With a passion for great cooking before he even learned how to walk, 16-year old chef Josh Reisner started his career in the kitchen at 5 years old in his hometown of Forest Hills, New York, and went on to become a Top 8 finalist on MasterChef Junior when he was just 10. When he’s not balancing life as a rising culinary star with the rigors of high school, Josh strives to inspire the next generation of home cooks, and to foster an appreciation of delicious, healthy foods from around the world. Josh is also currently serving as a spokesperson for SunnyD, which celebrates being boldly original, a mantra that Josh follows in his personal life and in the kitchen. Kids love SunnyD’s bold flavors, from Tangy Original to new Watermelon and Lemonade, which are great for lunch boxes, as you probably know.

Thanks to Chef Josh for sharing his tips with us! Will our kids start making all our family dinners next? One can only hope!