By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Need lunch sandwich ideas, including sandwich ideas for work? Get the scoop on the best sandwich fillings, including healthy sandwich fillings!
No doubt you're making lots of extra meals these days, with the whole family home for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. If you're looking for nutritious sandwiches for work or healthy sandwiches for kids, you're in luck. Here are lots of healthy sandwich ideas (including easy sandwiches for lunch and quick sandwich recipes for dinner), plus the sandwich fillings ideas that are actually healthy!
I still remember the best sandwich I've ever had. It was years ago, in 2009 in Salzburg, Austria. I was with my British friend Sam on a summer day. The two of us stopped at a small deli that didn’t sell pre-made sandwiches—because everything was made to order.
I requested a vegetarian sandwich and let the shopkeeper determine what that meant. What I ended up with made my tastebuds sing: a freshly baked baguette stuffed with homemade mozzarella and fresh sun-dried tomatoes.
Perhaps this meal stands out because I don’t eat sandwiches super often. When I do, I want them to be delicious, with unexpected flavors meshed together. It seems that no road trip is complete without a sandwich stop, and I love the sandwiches that my local bodega puts together.
Did you know that on any given day, about half of Americans are eating a sandwich? Indeed, a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that almost half of Americans eat sandwiches in an average day. That's a lot of sandwiches!
Use the tips that follow, including a list of the tastiest sandwich fillings, to make a healthier sandwich that you'll no doubt love.
Why Making a Healthier Sandwich is Important
Everyone loves a good sandwich (and fresh-out-of-the-oven bread!), which is why I often get asked, "Can you eat sandwiches and lose weight?" and "Are sandwiches healthy?"
The answer to both: yes! You just need to make a few simple swaps. Instead of stacking your 'wich with fried chicken and smothering it with cheese, use these ideas to build a handheld meal that tastes good and is good for you. Promise, these sandwich ideas will make your co-workers who are eating day-old subs jealous.
Whether you're crafting a sandwich at home or ordering one at the deli counter, research in Public Health emphasizes why sandwich eaters should make smart choices about what they eat between the bread.
Here goes: About a fourth of daily calories and a third of total fat, saturated fat, and sodium intake comes from sandwiches. This is a lot. And in the study, having a sandwich was linked with a daily increase of 99 daily calories, 6.8 grams of fat, and 268 milligrams of sodium—as well as a small decrease in vegetable and fiber intake.
So you can see why making a healthier sandwich is so important. And thankfully, it's really not all that difficult to accomplish. All you need is a little knowhow, which I'm about to give you.
Tips to Make a Healthy Sandwich
There’s really nothing like biting into a sandwich, especially when it contains a delicious combination of ingredients! I’m pretty partial to both traditional sandwiches, as well as open-faced ones.
Here are lunch ideas to make your sammies healthier. Prep a sandwich that’s friendly to your healthy-eating plan by making simple changes, such as:
- Choose an open-faced sandwich or a lighter bread.
- Load your sandwich with veggies, such as spinach, red onion, and tomato.
- Use low-calorie condiments, such as mustard or Sriracha. Skip higher-calorie ones like mayo or French dip.
- Sprinkle on low-calorie flavor, like oregano and freshly ground black pepper.
- Skip the cheese (even the blue cheese!), or choose low- or no-fat options.
- Opt for lean proteins, such as turkey breast or salmon.
- Pick hot sandwiches that are toasted, rather than prepared Panini style. At restaurants and delis, Paninis tend to be basted with oil or butter to help with the grilling.
- Pair a sandwich with a salad or veggie-based soup to help make the meal more filling.
The Best Healthy Sandwich Fillings
Here are some of my favorite healthy sandwich ingredients to recommend for adding in between the bread. These are some of the top sandwich fillings for saving calories and making your sandwich healthier.
Ask for Lots of Veggies
I like to pile my sandwich high with veggies. Seriously, those sandwich makers at Subway always give me the "is this sandwich really going to close with all these veggies?" look.
I love adding spinach, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, red onion, mushrooms, and other vegetables to my sandwiches, such as in my breakfast Panini. Even if you're not making a sandwich at home, you can ask for veggies to be added to your sandwich. For example, McDonald's charges just $.50 to add some tomato slices to an egg sandwich.
Embrace Low-Cal Condiments
Spread on mustard, hummus, or a yogurt-based spread. These condiments are wonderfully creamy and contain a lot less calories than mayo. A teaspoon of Maille Old-Style Mustard, for example, is packed with flavor but only contains 10 calories. Sriracha is another great low-calorie flavor addition.
Use Low-Sodium Sandwich Fillings
When it comes to cold fillings for sandwiches, deli meat is often a go-to and can make the list of good sandwich fillings. So yes, there is a such thing as healthy sandwich meat. You may just need to make a few swaps.
Consider utilizing lower-sodium ingredients. For instance, swap deli meat for grilled chicken breast. You can even make chicken salad sandwiches if you don't go overboard on the mayo or if you use avocado or even mustard instead. A turkey sandwich is also a healthy choice. You might love steak sandwiches, but these are the leaner choices!
Add Fat in Moderation
Healthy fat like avocado, olives, and olive oil are delicious on a sandwich. And they offer heart-healthy fats that help keep you fuller for longer. But choose just one to include! That means about a third of an avocado, about 10 sliced olives, or two to three teaspoons of olive oil.
How to Make a Low-Sodium Sandwich
When it comes to the best sandwiches, these don't have to be high in sodium. In the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study, study authors found that sandwich consumption makes up a huge chunk of your daily sodium allowance.
This sodium allowance is no more than 2,300 milligrams daily for most Americans and less than 1,500 milligrams daily for people ages 51 and older or people who are African-American or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. And typical sandwich intake makes up 21% of the typical woman's daily sodium allowance and 39% of a man's, per the study.
Of course, you can absolutely create a lower-sodium sandwich. Just consider making swaps for lower-sodium ingredients. Try these, recommended in another study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
- Have cooked, fresh meat, not deli meat: Save 463 mg per 2 ounces .
- Have sardines, not anchovies: Save 953 milligrams per 1 ounce.
- Have whole-wheat bread, not rye bread: Save 95 milligrams per 2 slices.
- Have low-sodium cheese, not natural cheese: Save 341 milligrams per 2 slices.
- Have cooked, fresh hot peppers, not canned hot peppers: Save 853 milligrams per pepper.
More Easy Changes for Healthy Sandwiches
When you're packing up healthy sandwiches for work, use the above easy sandwich fillings list for endless sandwich creations. Then try these swaps to make your 'which even more nutritious.
Have an Open-Faced Sandwich
Save calories by using just one slice of bread as a base. This tweak will cut at least 80 calories from your meal! You can also choose to use a lighter bread with less calories, such as Dave's Killer Bread 21 Grains Thin-Sliced.
Sprinkle on Low-Calorie Spices
Many extremely flavorful spices and herbs add a ton of flavor for almost no calories. These include oregano, freshly ground black pepper, and garlic. You can go with either fresh or dried varieties, as both types add a big flavor punch.
Opt for Lean Proteins
Better-for-you proteins include turkey breast, salmon, and even tofu. It may be difficult to skip the cheese, but if you have protein in your sandwich already you don't really need it. If you feel like you can't give up the cheese, swap in a slice or two for your healthy fat such as avocado.
Choose Toasted Over Panini Style
At least, do this at a restaurant or at the deli counter! Panini sandwiches tend to be basted with oil or butter to help with the grilling at most restaurants. Even if you're ordering a grilled or toasted sandwich, it's a good idea to ask about how it's prepped and to request that minimal oil or butter be used.
Pick a Healthy Pairing
Make a Healthier Burger
Burgers are a staple at summer cookouts, but they aren't exactly considered a health food. So what can you do to make your burgers more nutritious? I like mixing vegetables into my bean burger patties and serving them with a colorful salad on the side. Looking for more simple tricks? I gathered a few tips and tricks in my FoxNews.com article!
Healthy Sandwiches to Try
Whip these up, using the ideas for sandwich fillings that we've just talked about!
- Cream cheese and cucumber sandwich
- Tuna salad sandwich
- Chickpea salad sandwich
- Flatbread breakfast Panini
- Grilled cheese sandwich
- Banh mi sandwich
- Chicken sandwich
- Turkey club sandwich
- Open-faced hummus sandwich
- Roast beef and caramelized onion sandwich
- Slow cooker beef sandwich
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich
- Lean roast beef sandwiches
- Ham and cheese sandwich (with low-sodium cheese)
This article was updated in June 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
- Sandwiches Are Major Contributors of Sodium in the Diets of American Adults: Results from What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2010, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Sandwich Consumption in Relation to Daily Dietary Intake and Diet Quality Among US Adults, Public Health
- Modeling Dietary Patterns to Assess Sodium Recommendations for Nutrient Adequacy, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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I'd love to hear from you! Which of these healthy sandwich recipes are you going to try first? Do you have any healthy sandwich lunch box ideas to add to this list?
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