Build A Better Lunch: The Perfect Sandwich

Build a Better Sandwich with Pretty Healthy

This beaut is turkey, avocado, bell pepper, and just a little mayo.

 This is part of the Build a Better Lunch Series. Read the first post here.

The sandwich, that quintessential lunch food. From comfort foods like grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly, to  the All-American burger, sandwiches are everywhere.

And for good reason–they’re typically easy, no-cook, no-fuss, on the go finger food. Everybody can make a PB&J in their dorm room. Plus, two slices of bread can make a great delivery system for foods from every food group (brie and pears with honey or a patty melt with caramelized onions and mushrooms, anyone?)

Choose the Grain

First, temperature! There are two main domains of sandwiches: hot and cold. There are three phyla divisions* of sandwich in each domain based on the bread/grain. The first is the most classic  The Sliced Bread Division–think: classic PB&J–can be served cold or hot (a classic grilled cheese, for instance). You can also think about these as having crusts on the sides.

Then we have the Submarine Division, with classes Roll (subclass Croissant is categorized here) and Baguette. The unifying characteristic of this clade is that the crust is on the face of this sandwich. Enjoy one  cold, or make a warm pressed panini or toasted croissant sandwich. The last division is Wraps. These are made using flat breads, including tortillas, Lavash, and pita breads. Found in both domains, they can be eaten cold or hot (hello, quesadillas!).

Each option has different strengths–I like sliced bread for peanut butter and jelly and breads with satisfyingly crackling crusts for variations on the turkey-avocado club.

There is a final, oft-forgotten domain of sandwiches stands out from the rest. This is the Open-face Sandwich. With only one slice of bread, it is a good option for those who aren’t crazy about getting too much bread. Remember, building a better lunch comes down to what is better for you, and for some that will take experimentation. For instance, Emmaleigh might find that two servings of grains (also known as two slices of bread) in the middle of the day makes her sleepy during her 2:00 Organic Chemistry lecture. So, she might opt for a single-slice sandwich.

Pick a Protein

After the grain and temperature, classification becomes too tedious, so let’s just talk about things generally. The next part of the sandwich is the protein, and there are tons of options. From hard-boiled (or scrambled) eggs, to tuna, to chicken, to peanut butter, there is something for everyone.

Now, we want to use the correct portion size, which the USDA measures in ounces. One ounce equivalent of protein is one ounce of meat, one egg, a quarter cup of beans  (in your bean and cheese quesadilla), or a tablespoon of peanut butter. We also want eat the correct number of servings. If you recall our example with Adeline, she planned on getting two ounces of protein at lunch. That means she can have two hard-boiled eggs for egg salad, two ounces of turkey breast, or two tablespoons of a nut butter (or a ton of other things, in the correct portions).

Fruit and Vegetable Variety

Fruits and vegetables are super nutritious and can add crunch to your sandwich. You could try adding a corresponding fruit to your jammy sandwiches (for instance, if you are having a nut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, try adding sliced strawberries for more texture, a double-dose of strawberry, and some additional nutrients). Also, sliced pears and apples add a sweet crunch to your sandwich (I recommend broiling ham and brie on one slice of French bread and ultra-thinly sliced apples on the other until the cheese is melty and the apples are just a little soft). For vegetables, a leaf or two of lettuce doesn’t quite do it. You can try adding bell pepper, cucumber, or tomatoes to make up about a cup of veggies. Or you can go the grilled sandwich route and use sautéed vegetables!

Of course, you don’t have to have both fruits and veggies in the sandwich–you could choose to have one of them on the side! Or a little of both–fitting a cup of either on a properly proportioned sandwich can be difficult.

Dairy Decisions

Our last food group is dairy and for most sandwiches, that means cheese. But peanut butter, jelly, and cheese isn’t always a winning combination. And sometimes, you only have cheddar, which wouldn’t be quite as good as mozzarella on this sandwich, so you nix the cheese. That’s okay.

That’s the beauty of the side dish. You can add a cheese stick to your lunch, or a cup of yogurt. A milk box or a pudding snack (in moderation, of course!). You can pair that cheese stick with apple or with carrots (or anything you like). You can bring fruit salad to go with your yogurt. There are a myriad of ways to add build a complete meal starting with a sandwich.

Some Assembly Required

Now that you’ve figured out the building blocks and the kind of sandwich you want to make, it’s time to talk condiments! Honey mustard, mayo, ranch dressing, herb spread–it can all add flavor to your basic sandwich. Some of them can pack quite the caloric punch, but that just means it’s important to account for your splurges. Eat what you like, but aim for healthy moderation.


*Please indulge this silly attempt at biological classification–the Bio student in me knows that there are grievous errors in the cladistics.


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