In the wake of the last decade’s low-carb and gluten-free confusion, the old standby for quick meals, picnics, and packed lunches—the sandwich—fell out of favor and ended up filed under “foods to avoid” in many kitchens. The bummer of it is that sandwiches are not only tasty, but especially easy to make since most fall into the assembled-not-cooked category. While it’s true that a super-sized, fully loaded sandwich from a chain could run you close to 1,000 calories, over 40 grams of fat, and almost 100 grams of carbohydrates, in its simplest form the sandwich is not only convenient, but very healthy.
“I truly believe sandwiches can be your best friend if they are done right,” says Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, founder of Bestowed.com. "They can provide you with complete nutrition in a balanced meal, because you can incorporate all of the food groups.” She recommends aiming for around 300 calories and to include whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables and/or fruits.
Once you have that formula down pat, the sandwich is a perfect portion-controlled meal. “Sandwiches can be a better option than a salad bar,” Bauer says. “Salads are often packed with ingredients that add up and are rarely under 300 calories.” Plus, most salads lack the whole-grain component, which packs additional fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Here are 5 sandwich combinations perfect for your healthy no-cook meal rotation.
- Filling Vegwich
How to: Spread 2 Tbsp hummus on a 100-calorie whole-wheat sandwich thin. Add cucumber, lettuce, tomato.
Why it’s better: Hummus adds a smooth creamy texture and some filling protein without the saturated fats in mayo and cheese. “Make sure you’re choosing 100% whole wheat, whole-grain, or rye bread,” Bauer says. “You want the highest amount of fiber for the lowest amount of calories that you can find.” The first ingredient of your bread should be a whole grain—not “enriched flour.” “Some good options are Arnold 100% whole wheat sandwich thins or 100-calorie English muffins, Ozery Bakery Morning Rounds, or Ezekiel sprouted bread.”
- Light Tuna Melt
How to: Mix chunk light tuna (in water) with low-fat mayo or Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with 1% cheese and melt in microwave on a 100-calorie whole-wheat sandwich thin. Or try our Tuna Salad with Mint and Walnuts recipe.
Why it’s better: “People don’t realize how many calories tuna salad and chicken salad can contain,” Bauer says. “To avoid this pitfall, make your own with low-fat mayo and just enough to coat the tuna or chicken.” Better yet, use Greek yogurt for a little more protein.
- Go-To Turkey Wrap
How to: Pile thinly sliced turkey with spicy mustard, avocado, cucumber, tomato, on a 100-calorie whole-wheat wrap and roll.
Why it’s better: “Wraps are deceiving because they are thin, but some wraps can pack around 300 calories alone, and that’s before you add everything you want inside,” Bauer says. She recommends 100-calorie whole wheat La Tortilla Factory wraps and warns against the fat, cholesterol, and calories in condiments like pesto, mayo, and ranch. “Swap your honey mustard for spicy mustard to leave out unwanted sugar, while keeping flavor,” she recommends. “Other good condiment options are hot sauce or red vinegar.”
- No-Guilt Cheeseburger
How to: Toast or broil a healthy veggie burger like Dr. Praeger’s brand on a whole-wheat sandwich thin with a slice of 1% cheese. Pile high with fresh veggies and serve.
Why it’s better: You’ll skip all the saturated fat in a beef burger and get more vitamins and minerals from the extra veggies. “If you’re going to add cheese, limit yourself to one slice, and make it low fat,” Bauer says. “You can also leave out the cheese and add avocado instead for a healthier fat source that contains Vitamin E and antioxidants.”
- Hearty Chicken Parmwich
How to: Lightly coat a low-fat chicken cutlet in grated parmesan cheese and bake in the oven. Serve on a whole-wheat sandwich thin with a couple tablespoons of a healthy marinara sauce.
Why it’s better: When you want a hearty meal, lean chicken is a good way to go and you’ll save a lot of fat and calories by going baked not fried. And 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese is only 22 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. For vegetarian-friendly option, try our Zucchini Parm Sub recipe.