Healthier Sandwiches: 5 Simple Steps

by Lauren M. Koch, RDN

It’s the king of the cafeteria, the lady of the lunchbox, and the savior of rushed mothers everywhere. It’s the almighty sandwich. I assume that if you’re reading this, it means they are in regular rotation in your family lunches, too. Here are my top five tips for sending your loved ones on their way with the healthiest versions possible:

  1. Use whole wheat bread. Bread gets so little respect these days with the prevalence of low-carb diets, keto and paleo diets, gluten-free diets, and every diet in between. But, when selected carefully, bread can do more than just hold your sandwich together. Whole grains contain higher levels of fiber, protein, and micronutrients including vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than white breads do. So, not only do they help meet those nutrient needs but they also provide the energy necessary to push through that early afternoon snooze-fest. Make sure to look for the term “whole grain”, or “whole wheat” as the first ingredient listed in products like bread, rolls, wraps, bagels, or flatbreads used to make sandwiches. Even gluten-free can be whole grain! Check out my favorite from Canyon Bakehouse.

    Photo of a sandwich from above
    Yes, that is whole wheat, gluten-free bread!
  2. Choose condiments carefully. They seem so innocent, but condiments can pack a punch in all the wrong places when taken for granted. Something like mayonnaise contains almost 100 calories per tablespoon and 10 grams of fat. Combined with zero protein or other significant nutritional value, mayo-based condiments aren’t the best addition. Better choices to liven up that wrap include creamy hummus, avocado, or tahini, which include the beneficial fat alongside fiber and other micronutrients.
  3. Add color. Let’s be honest. It can definitely be a challenge to get vegetables into kids. To get close to that daily recommendation of 5-7 servings of produce, you really have to make a point of including them in every meal. When it comes to sandwiches, you can actually pack more in there than you think! Try layering some shaved cucumber or carrot, tomato slices, sprouts, or lettuce greens. Don’t be deterred if, at first, your child refuses or picks them out. Sometimes it takes several exposures to a new food before a child will consider giving it a go.
  4. Clean up your protein choices. One of the most well-documented health risks related to diet comes from consuming too much processed meat. This includes items like hot dogs, salami, sausage, canned meat, and most deli meats. The World Health Organization classifies processed meats as a Class 1 risk, meaning definitely ‘carcinogenic to humans’. This same category includes other cancer-causing items like tobacco, alcohol, and plutonium. Eating just 50 grams of processed meats daily (the equivalent of less than 2 slices of bacon) has been linked to an 18% increase in cancer risk. So, in short, those daily ham sandwiches are probably not the safest choice for the kids. What’s a mom to do? Try using fresh chicken or turkey breast that you bake yourself, pick up a rotisserie chicken & slice it up, or broil/pan-fry a fish fillet. Other popular lunch choices are grilled cheese, tuna salad, or egg salad (bonus: it’s super easy to add extra hidden veggies into these!). Mix in some plant-based proteins like tofu, peanut & other nut butters, or even patties made with black beans or chickpeas. See, not as hard as you thought! Check out what I used to make this sandwich a nutrition all-star below!photo of a sandwich labeled with healthy ingredients
  5. BONUS: Choose a nutritious sidekick. Move over potato chips, make room for something a bit more nutritious. Like adding vegetables to a sandwich, choosing plants as an accompaniment is a helpful way to meet those daily needs. You can stick with the traditional apple or orange, or get more adventurous by packing edamame, veggies sticks with hummus or dressing to dip, a thermos of vegetable soup, or even a cup of cucumber & tomato salad. Think of it this way: use the side dish as another opportunity to provide valuable nutrition, versus just a filler of space in their lunchbox.

End Notes.

I hear your concerns. I realize that some of your kids will turn up their noses at whole wheat bread, pick out every bit of green, and completely disregard that unsweetened applesauce you sent. New things are not always welcome, and that’s ok. Sometimes all you can do is provide the exposure, make it the new normal, and wait for something to stick. For more tips on encouraging your kids to try new foods, look for the photo below on my Instagram. In the caption, I suggest some ways to gently encourage kids to explore foods. Contact me for more!

Photo of a child enjoying a sweet
Look for *this photo* in my Instagram feed for more tips on encouraging picky eaters to try new foods! Find a link above in ‘End Notes’.




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