I have a lovely, wonderful friend named Shannon, with whom I was a roommate in college. One Saturday, when discussing what she was going to eat for lunch, Shannon said she needed to eat "something she could wrap her hands around". This is a sentiment many of us can relate to (I certainly can), and was well put. She knew a fork and knife weren't gonna cut it this time. My husband is also an enthusiastic lover of sandwiches, as are many people, and it's easy to see why....what's not to love about two pieces of bread brimming with all sorts of tasty trimmings that you can deliver by hand right into your own mouth?
So. There's been a lot of me posting my recipes on here lately and lots of talk about bringing lunch to work and making time in the day for a more relaxed, substantial meal. Worry not, this does not mean we aren't showing love to sandwiches. It's simply a matter of re-imagining your standard sandwich, making some small but worthwhile changes, and getting back to the good stuff....and after trying these substitutions and sandwich ideas, I don't think you'll mind.
Let's start with the basics. Most people envision a sandwich to mean bread, some kind of meat, often cheese, *maybe* lettuce and tomato, and some kind of condiment like butter, mayo, mustard, ketchup, etc. Your standard deli sandwich. Now let's take that model and, without getting too fancy or complicated, turn it into a healthier, more wholesome meal.
First of all, swap out the white or flimsy whole wheat bread for some good, hearty, whole grain bread. It's out there; and it's more substantial and better tasting than the alternatives, not to mention much better for your body. When buying bread, read the ingredients to see what is in it: First of all, skip enriched flours, often listed as the first ingredient. "Enriched flour" means the manufacturer added in vitamins and minerals to make up for the fact that the flour was refined in the first place, thus stripping away these natural essential elements from the grain. Sound counter-intuitive, wasteful, and ridiculous? It is. But you don't have to settle for that- look for whole grain flour, simple as that. Next, look at what sugars, additives, and preservatives are in the bread- you want to keep it simple, bread is an old-fashioned ad straight forward food. You want to see that WHOLE GRAIN is the main element. Buying wholegrain bread from a local bakery helps to cut down on the unwanted stuff, but if that's not an option, your grocery store has better choices too. Do the best you can. Look for nutrition labels that show the most fiber, protein, and minerals while STILL having a simple and basic ingredient list. You don't want them just adding THAT stuff in, either. Keep it real. Real food, real simple.
Next, fillings. If you're going to use meat, get the best quality you can. (And if you're not a meat eater, skip to the next paragraph). Organic is always best when it comes to animal food, and even better if you can obtain it from a local source who can assure the quality and safety of the origin of the meat. If that's not an option, look for store brands like Applegate Farms that assure that the meat does not contain any added growth hormones or antibiotics, and in some cases that the animals were raised humanely. When it comes to amount of meat in the sandwich, less is more: when I make sandwiches for my husband or other people who want to eat meat, I use two thin slices. Two. Think that's crazy? Visit somewhere like Europe and see how much meat they put in their sandwiches. When it comes to protein, we do need it- but we don't need a mound like we get in most American sandwiches. Too much meat in proportion to vegetable food in the meal (and overall diet) results in bloating, constipation, and acid inflammation, not to mention worse...so try to make the switch and realize that when it comes to meat, Less Is More. If you're using cheese, same guidelines: organic whenever you can, or at least all natural good quality cheese, and less is more- one thin slice does the job.
So what are you going to do with all that room now that you've trimmed down your meat and cheese portions? Bring in the veggies. Lettuce and tomato are great, but why stop there? And why so little? Step it up! For greens, try arugula, spinach, or watercress (where I studied abroad in Scotland, sliced hard boiled egg with watercress on wholegrain brown bread was a popular sandwich), and add more volume than you used to. If using lettuce, use the darkest green possible. Slice up tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, throw in some sprouts, sliced olives, radishes, avocado, or even a layer of cooked vegetables from your leftovers from the day before- why not? Go to town! You're reinventing the sandwich here, don't be shy. Let the veggies take the stage, and you'll be surprised how filling they can be! Also, especially because you're now using nutrient dense, fiber-full, protein-and-mineral-packing whole grain bread, your sandwich will be more filling and long-term energizing anyway, so you won't miss the larger portions of meat and/or cheese, and you'll be doing your body a favor by following the proportions of animal food to plant food that are best for health, digestion, and metabolism.
So what about the condiments, the icing on the cake? If you're like me, you love love LOVE condiments and sauces of any kind, and sandwiches are no exception. I was once told by an Irish person that is not my husband that the typical American refrigerator contains all condiments and no food. While I disagree about the no food part (or at least I hope/believe that is changing), I do agree that as a culture we have a love for the condiment...and we're not ashamed to show it, nor should we be! So feel free to use that affinity for sauciness to dress up your sandwich a bit, but here again, consider some restructuring. For example, if you're going to use higher fat and calorie condiments like butter or mayonnaise, use organic when you can and only use a little. With condiments, we're going for taste and sometimes texture, not bulk or substance, so we really don't need a lot- they're meant to be used sparingly. Next, make use of lighter options like mustard, vinegar, natural ketchup or barbecue sauce, olive oil, pesto, relish, horseradish, sesame tahini dressing, salsa, and many more to add punch, flavor and moisture. Avocado and tomato are particularly wonderful sandwich ingredients because they function as both filling and condiment- both add moisture, flavor, and texture- one creamy, one juicy. For a sandwich revelation and boost to your health, try swapping out cheese in your sandwiches for sliced avocado sprinkled with a little sea salt. It's creamy, fatty, rich, salty...all the things we want from cheese, but with healthier fat and fiber and protein to boot. Your heart will thank you, and your tummy won't mind a bit.
So that's how to reinvent the "standard" sandwich. Now are you ready to shake it up a little? Try skipping the meat....the vegetarians are already used to this, and know how satisfying meat free sandwiches can be. Try the following options as choices for the main filling: hummus, bean-and-grain burger (not processed soy burger), avocado, tofu, or tempeh. Then follow the steps above to pack the sandwich with filling, nutritious, satisfying veggies. Top with condiment combo of your choice, and voila!
Below are some examples of how this simple sandwich wizardry works, and some non-"typical" sandwich options that anyone can enjoy. Don't be afraid to let these balanced sandwiches become a new, healthier part of your foodscape!
Quality WHOLE GRAIN bread topped with...(remember always to UP the veggie portions!!)
-hummus, avocado, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, mixed green lettuce, and bean sprouts
-bean and grain burger, sliced pickles, arugula, mustard, natural ketchup
-steamed tempeh, sauerkraut, sliced radish, tahini dressing, natural ketchup (kinda like a Rueben!)
-olive tapenade, avocado, sundried tomatoes, drizzle of pesto (less bulky, but more rich....great for a pizza substitute! Also can add spinach or arugula)
-2 slices of any lean meat, spinach leaves, shredded carrot and cabbage, drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.
-Sliced smoked salmon with capers, baby mesclun greens, and raw onion on olive-oiled bread dash of horseradish
-leftover cooked vegetables and beans from another meal thrown into a whole grain wrap, or even wrapped up in a large collard green or lettuce leaf as described in a recipe here
-one sliced hard boiled egg, watercress, sliced cucumber, and toasted pumpkin seeds, light smear of pesto if desired
-almond butter or sunflower seed butter, shredded carrots, raisins, and sliced apples (sound weird? It's awesome. You have the mother of a kid in my 5th grade class to thank for this one....I haven't forgotten!)
The list goes on and on....remember, just have fun with it and experiment. The whole idea of a sandwich is about putting things you like together in new combinations tucked in one handy package, so be bold and don't worry about messing it up...it's only a sandwich!
Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation: email@example.com