Sandwiches are a great lunch staple in the all-American diet. They’re delicious, filling, and super easy to make. While sandwiches can certainly be healthy, Jessica Tosto, MS., R.D., clinical coordinator, Nutrition and Dietetics College of Health Professions at Pace University, explains that they can also be a hidden source of excess sodium, nitrates, preservatives, saturated fat, and even sugar.
“As long as you know which ingredients to look out for, sandwiches can be a healthy addition to your children’s lunch[es],” she says. The most important thing is to choose the right bread. She recommends opting for whole wheat or whole grain versions. Next, check the ingredient list. “If sugar or high-fructose corn syrup are in the first three ingredients, you may want to consider a different brand,” she says.
Another common sandwich staple is deli meat. “Unfortunately, in the past few years, processed meats, including deli meats like turkey, ham, roast beef, and bologna have been deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organization (WHO), meaning [that] they can cause cancer,” says Tosto. The good news is that there are still plenty of non-deli meat ingredients that you can use to make healthy sandwiches for your child’s lunch. Here are some of the best sandwich recipes for easy, back-to-school lunches.
Hummus and Avocado
Plant-based sandwich combos are all the rage right now—and for good reason. Not only does research show health benefits of a plant-based diet for adults, but a recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that children who eat plant-based diets experience weight loss, lowered blood pressure, and improved cholesterol. “Combining hummus, which is made from chickpeas, a legume full of protein and fiber, with avocados, which have monounsaturated fats that keep you full, is great for kids,” says Paige Bente, a registered dietitian. “The best part, though, is [that] you can load this sandwich with at least one serving of veggies, if not two!”
2 tablespoons hummus
2 tablespoons avocado
2 slices whole grain bread (or a whole grain pita/lavash)
½ cup sliced cucumber
½ cup red bell pepper
1 cup baby spinach
- Add hummus and avocado to two slices of whole grain bread (or a whole grain pita/lavash is great here, too!).
- Add sliced cucumber, red bell pepper, and baby spinach.
Yes, bacon, lettuce, and tomato! Before you knock this one and deem it unhealthy, know this: Nitrate-free bacon that’s also reduced sodium isn’t all that unhealthy, especially if it’s turkey bacon! “With fewer grams of fat and more protein than its pork counterpart, I’d be willing to bet most people wouldn’t notice the swap!” says Bente. “As for the bread, opt for sourdough, which uses a starter that ferments the sugars in the flour that leads to some health benefits, such as reducing phytate levels (a compound that inhibits proper nutrient absorption), higher antioxidant, and folate levels. Plus, it’s [a] more easily digestible and absorbable grain, and, for some, a more palatable whole grain bread!”
4 pieces of nitrate/nitrite-free bacon (ideally turkey bacon)
2 pieces sourdough bread
2 pieces of lettuce
- Toast two slices of sourdough and lightly spread them with mayonnaise (try to keep this to the bare minimum, we already have the bacon!).
- Add two strips of bacon to each slice of toast, then lettuce on each slice, then to one slice add your tomatoes and carefully place the other slice with the lettuce facing in, on top. This traps the tomatoes and their juices in the middle of the sandwich, again avoiding soggy bread!
Tuna’s a favorite among kiddos, which is great, since it’s high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, especially when the mayo is subbed in for avocado, which provides plenty of energy and brain food. Although, Tosto notes that this shouldn’t be a daily lunch since it does contain mercury. She recommends serving it no more than one to two times per week, especially if your child consumes other sources of fish during the week, as well.
1 can chunky, white tuna in water (not oil)
1-2 tablespoons avocado
2 tablespoons diced celery
2 pieces whole grain bread
1 piece lettuce
2 slices tomato
- Mix canned tuna with mashed avocado.
- Once mixed well, add in diced celery for some crunch and added vitamins.
- Serve on whole grain bread with crisp lettuce and tomato slices.
“This is a great way to change up your sandwich routine and add some ingredients [that] you don’t typically see in a ‘regular’ sandwich,” says Tosto. She recommends using whole grain tortillas for added fiber and, for protein, shredded chicken or mashed black beans.
½ cup shredded chicken
2 tablespoons mashed black beans
¼ teaspoon chili powder
Sauteed onions and peppers
1 whole grain tortilla
Sprinkle of Mexican cheese
- On a hot pan, combine and saute your ingredients (except for the cheese and tortilla).
- Remove them from the pan and add them to the top of your tortilla.
- Sprinkle on the cheese.
- Close the tortilla, press down and hold for 30 seconds.
- Remove and serve.