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3 Healthy Lunch Box Ideas and More Tips

YMCA of Greater Kansas City
April 8, 2021
Healthy Lunch Ideas

Want to pack a school lunch for your child that you both can agree on? The Y is here to help with some ideas for healthy, tasty and kid-friendly midday meals.

Savanah Standifer, Senior Director of Program Development for YMCA Youth Development Services, is trained in the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. The standards are based on years of research with key partners, and are one way the Y is helping youth develop healthy habits.

Standifer pulled together these yummy lunches that provide lots of flavor - and lots of nutrients, too.


  • Turkey wrap with spinach and swiss cheese, popcorn, red grapes and cucumber slices. Use a whole wheat tortilla, which offers more nutrients than a white flour tortilla. Fill with sliced roasted turkey, several leaves of spinach and a slice of swiss cheese. Choose a white cheese made with 1 percent milkfat, such as swiss or mozzarella, which is a healthier alternative to cheddar. Slice the wrap into bite-sized pieces for easy and fun eating. For the popcorn, try the low-cal, lightly salted kind without butter that you can buy in a large bag and put into single servings in plastic snack bags. The grapes and cucumber slices provide colorful fruit and veggie options.


  • Bean and cheese quesadilla, avocado, lime and strawberry slices. Beans provide an excellent source of protein and fiber - just be sure to get low-sodium and fat-free canned refried beans. Black beans are another option. Choose white cheese, such as mozzarella, made with 1 percent milk for a healthier option. Spread the beans and cheese in half of a wheat tortilla, and then fold the other half of the tortilla over to cover the beans and cheese. Warm the quesadilla in the oven or microwave before school. Wrap it in foil to keep it warm for lunch. Or serve cool if your child prefers. Sliced fruits, versus whole, can make it more likely your child will eat them.


  • Whole-wheat bagel chicken sandwich, cottage cheese with pineapple slices, and baby carrots. Try mini bagels to make it easier for younger children to eat. Fill with sliced roasted chicken and a slice of white cheese. Stock the pantry with canned or sliced pineapple in 100 percent juice, and make a tasty combo by adding it to cottage cheese made with 1 percent milkfat. Rather than buying single serving bags of carrots, buy the large bag and repackage into single servings to save money.

Drink water with each meal, and keep some of that summer fun by adding fresh fruit for extra flavor, such as slices of strawberries, lime, blueberries and oranges. Another healthy beverage option is 1 percent milk.


Want to get creative on your own? Download the standards that the Y follows in our programs and recommends to families. 

The standards include:

  • Provide a fruit or vegetable - fresh, frozen, dried or canned in their own juice
  • Offer whole grains - such as whole wheat bread or whole wheat tortillas
  • No fried foods
  • No foods with transfat
  • Watch the sugar - the first three ingredients shouldn’t be sugar, and there should be less than 8 grams of sugar total

Unsure where to start? Standifer said try just one thing, such as including a fruit or vegetable at every meal.

“Starting with one new habit is much more manageable than trying to include all at once,” she said. “Then you’ll be more likely to be successful before you try to make another change.”

Also, include your kids in the process.

“Giving them an opportunity to make choices and help pack the lunches helps them learn to make healthy choices for themselves and increases the likelihood that they’ll actually eat their lunch,” she said.