When it comes to brown-bagging your midday meal, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a sandwich. But it’s easy to get stuck in rut and miss out on some nutritional powerhouses—or worse, choose foods that are loaded with calories.
These healthy hacks for sandwiches will help you enjoy a more nutritious, satisfying lunch and save calories to boot.
Load up on vegetables. Upgrade from the usual iceberg lettuce by swapping in arugula, baby spinach or other dark, leafy greens. Tomato slices are great in season, but try mixing it up with something different like roasted pepper, eggplant, or zucchini. Thinly sliced radishes, grated carrots, or beets are great ways to add a little crunch while enjoying a nutritional boost. Caramelized onion can also add a delicious depth of flavor.
Pick your protein. Turkey is great, but it gets old quickly. Most deli meats are very high in sodium, so choose a low-sodium or no-salt-added variety and add seasoning with your other fillings. For a change of pace, try roasted or pulled chicken, which is easy to make in a slow cooker at home.
Tuna, egg, and chicken salads are classic sandwich fillings, but the mayo can pack in a surprising amount of calories and fat. Try making your own with Greek yogurt or a combination of half-yogurt and half-mayo to trim off some excess calories. You’ll also give yourself a boost of protein and calcium.
For a sweeter taste, there’s nothing wrong with good old peanut butter, but you could also try almond, cashew, walnut, or hazelnut butter for a change of pace. Just be mindful to choose a variety without added sugar and keep serving size to two tablespoons.
Meat-free eaters can try tofu or other meat alternatives, but check the label: Many meat alternatives are highly processed and packed with sodium, as well as a bunch of hard-to pronounce additives that aren’t doing your body any favors. For a more natural option, try a nut or lentil pate-type-spread.
Choose condiments wisely. Mayonnaise, butter, and “special sauce” can tack on a ton of extra calories and saturated fat. Lighter options like mustard or hummus can provide a kick without pushing you overboard. Go easy with dressings or try a quick dash of vinegar to give you a flavor boost without weighing you down.
Go for the grain. Whole grain bread will give you more nutritional bang for your buck than white or rye, packing in more fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals like iron and magnesium per serving. Just keep portions sizes realistic: A one-ounce serving of bread is about the size of a CD. If you’re too young to remember CDs, the size of your palm is a good indicator.
Try open-faced. There’s no rule against using a knife and fork. Top a slice of your favorite bread with whatever toppings call out to you. One of my favorite combinations is avocado topped with smoked salmon. Another favorite is baba ganoush (eggplant dip); roasted eggplant, pepper, and zucchini slices; or a sliced hard-boiled egg on top with a sprinkle of goat cheese.
Wrap it up. Carbs are not the enemy, but if you’re trying to make room for a carb-rich side such as whole grain crackers, beans, or fruit, you can skip the bread and wrap your sandwich in lettuce leaves or collard greens. Another idea: cut a bell pepper in half and remove seeds, then top each half with whatever sandwich fillings you like.
Pick one high-calorie add-on. Little extras add up quickly. To keep calories in check without feeling like you’re deprived yourself, pick one high-calorie add-on to enjoy. Think: avocado or cheese or mayo—not all at once.