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Published on September 26, 2012

Pack a Better Sandwich

By Rachel Pinos
Dietitian, Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Students have been back in school for a little over a month now and we are all getting pretty well settled in our back-to-school routines. One of those routines is packing lunch boxes and at the cornerstone of every lunch box is a sandwich. In fact, a survey done by the consumer research group NPD Group found that 74% of all bagged lunches for school include a sandwich.

Sandwiches are popular in lunchboxes for good reasons. A sandwich is convenient, versatile and can provide good quality nutrition. The bases of a healthy sandwich should be whole grain and lean protein. Adding healthy toppings is another way to sneak in more nutrition. Start with these basics, add a little creativity and willingness to try new combinations and your kids will be packing (and eating) a nutrient-filled and tasty lunch!

Choose Whole Grains

  • Have your child help pick his/her favorite-tasting whole grain bread.
  • Pack a whole grain pita pocket with the fixings on the side. Try shredded turkey and carrots with lettuce. Pack a light salad dressing as topping.
  • Put your favorite sandwich ingredients into a whole wheat tortilla and roll it up for a change of pace. Light veggie cream cheese or light Laughing Cow cheese are great tortilla spreads.
  • Use cookie cutters to make shapes in the bread and pack few mini-sandwiches.
  • Make “cracker sandwiches” with whole grain crackers, different cheeses and veggies packed separately so your child can assemble at lunch time.
  • Use mini whole grain bagels or deli flats to make great sandwiches.

Go for Lean Protein

  • Choose lean lunchmeat that is lower in sodium when possible.
  • Combine peanut butter and bananas, apple slices, dried apples, raisins or apricots.
  • Try almond or sunflower butters as a great butter alternative to peanut butter. Try topping the butter with slivered almonds and dried cranberries.
  • Use hummus as a spread or throw chickpeas into your pita pocket.
  • Make salad sandwiches with hard-boiled eggs or low-sodium canned tuna.
  • Turn leftovers into a sandwich - use chicken breast or meatloaf, and serve with a side of BBQ sauce.

Top Your Sandwich with Taste and Nutrition

  • Top your sandwich with a variety of veggies! Cucumber, lettuce, tomato, sliced peppers, grated carrot, baby spinach, pickles - the options are endless.
  • Use avocado or hummus as your spread instead of butter or mayonnaise.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to slice cucumber, carrots and zucchini into thin ribbons for sandwich fillings.
  • Try fruit toppings on spreads and in salad sandwiches. Golden raisins, sliced grapes or apple slices work wonderfully in chicken salad sandwiches.

Try to get your kids involved in choosing, preparing and packing their own sack lunch. This makes them feel like part of the team and motivates them to eat what they pack and not throw any away. Take this opportunity to teach your kids how to balance less nutritious foods with more nutrient-rich choices by packing only a small portion of the “treat”, packing only one treat per day and balancing treats with other healthy foods. With a little planning, you and your child can enjoy a creative, delicious and healthy lunch every day.