Build a Healthy Lunch: Sandwiches for Kids

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but lunch is an underrated favorite that could be a nutritional powerhouse to help get you through until dinner. Eating lunch gives us energy to power through the rest of the day, keeps our metabolism active and helps us reconnect with others at the table. In celebration of National Sandwich Month, let’s talk sandwiches! Sandwiches are a versatile meal that can be part of a well-balanced, nutritious lunch. Build a healthy lunch by packing a sandwich for lunch this week.

Lunch Break

It’s 12 o’clock somewhere! Lunch is not determined by the time; it is just the midday meal. For some it is a small or medium sized meal, for others it is their largest meal of the day.

National School Lunch Standards

Eating at school? School lunches must meet certain requirements for federal reimbursement. Each lunch tray must have 3 components and one component must be a fruit or vegetable (1). School lunches can make up a third to a half of a child’s nutritional intake for the day! (2). School lunch participation reduces food insecurity, improves dietary intake, positively impacts health and obesity rates, and helps improve the learning environment (2).

Going Out for Lunch

Whether dining in, taking out or getting delivery for lunch, the options, cuisines, and portions are endless. To be healthier, ask for sauces and toppings on the side, more vegetables and choose proteins that are grilled or baked instead of fried. Getting the nutrition information will also help you make informed decisions. If the portions are large, consider saving half for dinner or bringing it for lunch the next day!

Benefits of Packing Lunch

By preparing your own food you control the ingredients, nutrients, portions, and preparation of the food. Eating out frequently can be costly to both your wallet and body. Lastly, packing lunch also saves money and time and you can make sure everything packed is food that is well liked!

Build Your Sandwich

Sandwiches can be a healthy part of a well-balanced eating pattern. There are countless options for sandwiches so let us focus on four basic ideas. Build a healthy lunch by packing a sandwich!

Start with a Healthy Foundation

First, choose a healthy sandwich bread whether that’s whole grain bread, an English muffin, spinach wrap, a whole wheat sub or multi-grain pita pocket. Look for whole grain products with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Since the bread serves as the base of our sandwich, we want to start with a good foundation.

Choose Your Protein

Next, add lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, or tofu. Lean roast beef, canned tuna, cooked beans, nut butters or grilled tempeh are other healthy options. If buying deli meat, buy the low sodium varieties. If buying canned products such as canned tuna, salmon, or chicken, buy them canned in water. A serving of protein is 3 ounces of meat, 2 tablespoons of nut butter or 1 cup of beans.

Add on the Toppings

The best part of the sandwich: toppings! Vegetables add flavor, nutrients, color, and texture to a sandwich. Sliced tomatoes will provide a different taste and texture than sun-dried tomatoes. Consider cabbage slaw instead of iceberg lettuce or sliced cucumber instead of pickles. If you want, add a slice of your favorite low-fat cheese.

Elevate with Spreads and Sauces

For a final touch add a healthy condiment to your sandwich. Mashed avocado, Dijon mustard, vinaigrette, hummus, pesto, or Tzatziki sauce would be great additions to a sandwich or wrap. Be mindful of the serving size, as dressings and condiments are typically 2 tablespoons per serving.

options for building a healthy sandwich and lunch

What’s on the Side?

A sandwich may not be filling on its own so adding something on the side is an effective way to make lunch more fulfilling and incorporate some missing food groups. Build a healthy lunch by adding fruits, vegetables, snacks and a drink to your lunch.


Rounding out your lunch with a piece of fruit is a fantastic way to meet the daily recommendations of fruit plus add more color and variety to your meal. Everyone over the age of three years old, needs at least 1 cup of fruit per day. In general, a serving is 1 cup of fruit or ½ cup of dried fruit. It could be a large banana, 1 cup of applesauce, 8 strawberries or 1 cup crushed pineapples.


Both fruits and vegetables add fiber to your diet which helps keep you full longer. In addition to any vegetables on your sandwich, a small side salad or cut up vegetables with dip will help you meet the daily recommendations for vegetables. Choose dark green or red and orange vegetables more often.

Other Sandwich Sides

Are you feeling a bag of chips or pretzels with your sandwich? That is ok! I love a bag of Baked Lays with my turkey sandwich. Choose baked or lower sodium chips and buy the small snack bag! If you need something sweet after a meal, opt for smaller size sweets.

Don’t Forget a Drink

Finish building your healthy lunch with a drink! Choose a beverage that is low in added sugar such as water or unsweetened lemonade. If you insist on the soda, buy an 8-ounce can instead of the 16- or 20-ounce bottle. For kids try water, milk, or 100% fruit juice. Learn other ways to stay hydrated.

mixed fruit, salad, chips, pretzels and lemonade to have on the side of your sandwich

Sandwiches for Kids

Build your healthy lunch with these simple sandwich recipes!

  • Chicken Salad Pita: Combine cooked chicken, romaine lettuce and reduced fat Caesar vinaigrette dressing in a bowl. Serve filling in a whole wheat or multigrain pita pocket. For a veggie boost, add shredded carrots or diced tomatoes.  
  • Veggie Wraps: Spread homemade guacamole onto a tortilla and layer with vegetables such as carrots, leafy greens, and radishes and low-fat cheese. Try this Cooking Matters recipe here.
  • Ham and Turkey Pinwheels: Spread a mixture of mayo and mustard on a tortilla, then sprinkle with greens such as spinach, romaine lettuce, or arugula. Layer with low-fat deli ham and low-fat deli turkey. Roll tortilla like a burrito and cut in half or pieces to make pinwheels.
  • Turkey Pesto Sandwich: Spread pesto evenly over a two slices of whole grain bread. Layer sliced turkey over pesto. Top with vegetables and low-fat cheese. Try it with this homemade parsley pesto!

Packing Up Your Lunch

After taking the effort to make your child’s sandwich you want to make sure it is stored and transported safely.

Store it Safely

Pack your sandwich and sides in the proper containers. Use reusable containers or bento boxes to hold all components of your lunch. Invest in a good lunch bag that can store all your food safely and efficiently.

Keep it Safe

The time between packing your lunch and eating it is probably a few hours, therefore follow food safety rules to keep your lunch free from foodborne illnesses. Keep cold foods cold by using ice packs and/or placing them in the refrigerator. Keep cold items away from hot items. If you are reheating any items, be sure to reheat to the proper temperature and look out for any cold spots.

Wrapping it up

Lunch should not be a forgotten meal as it re-energizes our body, helps maintain focus and concentration and offers an opportunity for socialization. When building a healthy lunch consider a sandwich. The possibilities for a sandwich are endless! Create your perfect sandwich with a whole grain base, lean proteins, pile on the produce and spread with your favorite dressing or condiment. If the sandwich alone is not satisfying enough, adding fruits, vegetables and other sides helps round out the midday meal. When packing and transporting your lunch be sure to practice good food safety habits. What are you packing for lunch this week?

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