Ah, September. Along with cooler temperatures and falling leaves comes school schedules, school books... and of course, school lunches! As a mom and nutritionist, I always get questions about how to pack healthy, nutritious lunches for both kids and adults. Sandwiches are a lunch box staple, but they can get pretty boring day after day after day, especially if you're always relying on that old standby, PB&J.
I like to think of the basic lunch sandwich as a canvas just waiting for a little creativity. Try crazy combos of ingredients, buy a different brand of bread, or even look at the menus of places like Panera to inspire you to break outside of the toasted-white-bread-with-mustard-and-roast-beef you've been eating since elementary school. For kids, cutting into fun shapes or coming up with fun names like "Superhero's Strawberry and Cream Cheese Sandwich" makes opening up the lunch box exciting every afternoon. Here's a few more tips on how you can spice up your sandwich routine:
For the bread: I always recommend that my clients look for whole-grain bread that is ideally under 80 calories per slice. You can also use gluten-free breads or wraps. I also like to use low-calorie wraps or extra-large lettuce leaves to save some calories, as well.
For the spread: I love to get inventive with the spreads I use in my sandwiches, as it's another way to add both flavor and nutrients. An herbed paste, after all, is way more flavorful than boring old low-fat mayo! Some of my favorites: hummus, pesto, bean dip, olive tapenade, Greek yogurt, pureed veggies flavored with lemon or lime juice, cream cheese mixed with fresh dill, mashed avocado or guacamole, mango or apple chutney... the list goes on!
For the main ingredient: Personally, I always love a classic turkey sandwich, which is easy to keep under 300 calories if you add lettuce, tomato and good bread. But don't feel limited to lunch meats or peanut butter... there's endless combinations of healthy ingredients you can enjoy between slices of bread. It's easy to roast a chicken breast and have chicken meat for a week's worth or lunches. Veggies and fruits (like eggplant, zucchini or even apples and plums) are also easy to roast to bring out some really deep flavor. Other ingredients to try: salmon, seasoned baked tofu, hard-boiled eggs, white beans, and more. If you love tuna or egg salad, sub Greek yogurt instead of mayo to add a bit of protein and cut down on empty calories.
For recipes, here are two delicious and healthy sandwiches that me and my family are enjoying this fall.
Lunchbox Turkey, Hummus and Roasted Red Pepper Pinwheels
4 La Tortilla Factory White Whole Wheat Mini Tortilla
4 Tbsp hummus
12 slices of low-sodium turkey breast
1 whole jarred roasted red bell pepper, sliced into strips
Lay one tortilla flat on a work surface. Carefully spread 1 Tablespoon of hummus on the tortilla leaving a 1-inch border. Place three slices of turkey on top of the hummus, overlapping them if necessary. Spread three strips of roasted red pepper along the edge of the tortilla closest to you and gently roll the tortilla and its fillings away from you into a cigar shape. Repeat with remaining ingredients and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Remove the tortillas from the refrigerator and slice in half. Then, slice each half in half so that you have four bite-sized pinwheels. Store in a resealable plastic or glass container for easiest transportation.
Italian Tuna and Olive Tapenade sandwiches
10 oz jarred Italian tuna packed in olive oil, drained
3 Tablespoons fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, minced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons mayonnaise or veganaise
1 to-go pack of Pearl's Black Pitted Olives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
2 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 slices whole grain bread, brushed with olive oil, grilled (or toasted) and rubbed with a garlic clove
Flake the tuna into the bowl of a food processor fitted with its steel blade and add the parsley, lemon zest and juice, garlic, olives, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes. Pulse until mixture is chunky but starting to combine. Add the olive oil, mayonnaise and pepper and pulse again until combined. Remove the blade and cover the bowl of the food processor with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. When ready to eat, spread the tuna mixture onto the bread and serve.