When I was a kid, my school lunch was predictable. A ham and cheese sandwich on “brown” bread, a juice box, and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. Sandwiches are such a basic lunch staple, that we can easily fall into a rut with them, making the same thing over and over. When I started living on my own, I soon realized that changing up the basic ingredients can pour life (and flavour) back into a packed lunch.
Making and taking lunch for work and school is worth the investment of time, energy and money.
- It’s far cheaper to buy food in grocery stores than it is to eat out every day. Save your restaurant budget for a few higher quality, chef made meals with friends rather than frequent processed fast food.
- You can use up leftovers from dinners, reducing both food waste and your grocery bill.
- Lunch can be a whole lot healthier, as you’re in full control of what you’re putting in your mouth, and not relying on processed, pre-packaged corporate “food”.
- Take a step towards a lower waste lifestyle when you can buy quality, reusable containers that keep the food fresher, and look cute to boot!
Below, I’ll take you through strategies to change up each of the 5 key parts of a sandwich; the bread, the protein, the cheese, the veggies and the spread.
Listen to your body as you experiment with different meal options for your work day, each of us is different. Did you want to take a nap after lunch, or did you get right back into the day with energy? Your food should fuel you, not weigh you down.
Invest in containers you’re proud to show off, and they’ll be more likely to stick around and make it home after the day. Build a routine into after school chats to make sure you don’t find nasty surprises after the weekend; who did you talk to at lunch today? And where’s your container?
Now, to explore the world of sandwiches in our low carb era!
1. Change up the bread.
Whether you’re embracing gluten-free eating, a low-carb lifestyle, or think bread is the best thing since sliced… bread, switching up the base of the sandwich can have a big effect on both the flavour and how full you’ll get.
At the end of the day, the bread is a way to transport the goodness inside, so any replacement should serve the same purpose.
If you have a big appetite, try whole grains, rustic breads, and hearty rolls. For a lighter lunch, tortilla or pita wraps put the focus on the filling, but keep it contained so you can still eat with your hands.
Reusable snack bags come in washable fabric and dishwasher safe silicone, or for the larger sandwiches, Abeego will keep the bread fresh all day!
These days, Glen and I skip the bread entirely, and wrap it all up in a lettuce leaf. These also roll up great in an Abeego, but make sure you eat it that day! Rice paper and nori are some other options if you don’t have the room for big lettuce leaves in your lunch box. Watch out if you’re trying it for the first time though; Nori can get soggy and chewy if it’s in contact with the rest of the wrap for long. This is a perfect use for a layered lunch box, so you can pack the nori separately to keep it fresh and crisp until break time.
2. Change up the protein.
For meat eaters, the protein for a sandwich or wrap can seem easy to figure out, but when we’re racing through the grocery store on a busy day we tend to grab the same old packet of ham. There are wide varieties of deli meats, with a range of nutritional value. Take the time to stop and browse, and ask at the deli counter about the label to see if there are added sugars.
Better yet, make your own lunch meats and slice up leftover roasts or sausages from dinner to make yummy sandwiches. We’ll often roast an extra chicken or two, knowing we’ll be pulling the extra for lunches and easy future dinners. We portion the meat into a silicone muffin tray to make “chunks of pulled chicken” that we can freeze and keep in a larger container, ready for the next caesar salad.
Eggs are a great protein source for lunch, and can be boiled up and sliced, which tastes surprisingly different from when they’re chopped up with mayonnaise for egg salad. Left-over omelette or frittata tastes great on a fresh bun the next day, you can bake them in a low, wide muffin top pan to grab quickly for a morning meal on an english muffin.
Old classics such as tuna or salmon can be used, or go for some European flare with pate. This list could go forever…
How about going meatless? PB & J is an old classic, but with all the new nut (and seed) butters on the market, you can switch up the basic peanuts for something a little different. And it doesn’t have to be paired with sugar filled jam or honey. Unsweetened nut butters can go well with fresh fruit or veggies. We’ll chat some more about other healthy spreads that pack a punch below!
3. Change up the veggies.
We tend to think of sandwich veggies as being lettuce and tomato, but a little creativity can take your lunch from hum-drum to gourmet.
The ubiquitous iceberg has a good crunch, but can be a bit bland. There are a wide variety of salad greens available, and many have different flavours and textures. Arugula, also known as “rocket”, has become popular because it has a bit of a peppery taste. Spinach or kale sprouts add a healthy vitamin boost. These are actually really easy to grow at home, especially in a basic hydroponics setup, so you can just cut fresh salad leaves when you need them, even all winter long. My friend actually has a salad wall in his dining room, where several shelves are filled with fresh greens and grow lamps. He grows enough to feed 4 adults salads with 2 meals a day!
Depending on your bread (keep thinking about sogginess…), add cucumber, slices of bell pepper (or hot peppers for a kick), beetroot for a sweeter taste (fresh or pickled), heirloom tomatoes, red onion, or dill pickles. Shred a carrot with your veggie peeler, for a crisp, sweet crunch. Coleslaw or fermented vegetables are quick to add as well.
For a different flavour profile, try roasting veggies to use on sandwiches. Eggplant and zucchini can both be seasoned and grilled to make a satisfying sandwich topping, and no food list in 2019 would be complete without a mention of avocado for some fat content.
By keeping the veggies separate until it’s time to eat, you can keep the bread from absorbing their juices and getting soggy or mushy. Use a layered lunch box or Bento box to bring all the bits separate and assemble at lunch, or be sure to put the green leaves between the mushier ingredients and the bread to keep things fresh.
4. Change up the cheese.
Growing up in the 80s, I thought there were basically 3 types of cheese; mild, medium and old cheddar. Then I discovered “swiss” cheese and fell in love. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Switzerland alone is home to at least 450 different kinds of cheese! It’s really a bit ridiculous just how many varieties there are in the world. And the only ones you should avoid are the kind that come individually wrapped in plastic.
It can be hard in smaller communities to really branch out, but Revelstoke is lucky to have Le Marche and their Green Cheese program. You may be surprised at what’s available!
Spreadable cheese works great instead of butter on your bread. Try a soft brie in a grilled cheese instead of cheddar. Go crazy and try a Norwegian carmelized goat’s milk cheese on your crispy bread. That one may take some getting used to.
And of course there are lots of non-dairy options these days, too. Besides the types available in stores, with a little practice, cashews can be used to create vegan cheese at home.
5. Change up the spread.
Think beyond the typical mustard or mayo choice, and turn a great sandwich into an extraordinary one. Whip up a quick Vinaigrette dressing to sprinkle on your veggies and give them a bit of a zing (click here to see our post from this spring on how to make your own dressings and dips). Or whip up an aioli with lots of garlic. Just make sure you don’t have to be too close to anyone that afternoon!
Chutneys or jams can really bring out the flavour of meats or cheeses. Guacamole can give a sandwich a boost, especially if your avocados aren’t at their peak. Think of your favourite sauces for other foods, and give them a try on your sandwiches.
Making a spread with beans or legumes is easy, delicious, and a great plant based protein boost. Seasoned, pre-cooked tofu can also give your sandwich an interesting flavour. Or try tempeh if you are looking for a gut-friendly idea. Because tempeh is fermented, it can be easier on the digestive tract.
Those roasted eggplants and zucchini left over from burger night? Also great as a spread. Blend them up with an immersion blender for a great spread or dip you don’t need to feel guilty about!
Depending on your carrying device and how long between prep and lunch, consider keeping the spread in a condiment container so that it doesn’t soggify your base and ruin your creation. For the typical 3-4 hours between time at home and breaking for lunch, you don’t need to worry too much, but if you’re on a long train shift, that’s a different story.
Your packed meals keep you fuelled through a long day away from home. Do it right, and your brain will be ready to learn, your attitude will be more positive, and your body will perform the way it needs to to get the job done. Plan ahead and treat yourself like pillar of the community you are!
Join us this Saturday morning at the Revelstoke Farmers Market for a tour of our meals to go containers. Glen, our Resident Health Coach, will be with me sharing a ton of ideas for Keto and Paleo friendly foods to fill them!