Should You Eat Sandwiches for Supper?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on February 1, 2012 · 0 comments

Sandwiches are the number 1 dinner entrée eaten at home according to a study reported in Progressive Grocer. Americans are into convenience. It’s the driving factor when it comes to food choices. And, nothing is simpler to make or eat than a sandwich. Didn’t most of us grow up on PB&J?

Did you know there was an Earl of Sandwich? It was actually the fourth Earl that is credited with putting food between 2 slices of bread and eating it by holding it with his hands. And so the sandwich was born in England and introduced to the US by the British in the early 1800’s. By the late 1800’s huge meat sandwich on rolls were common American bar food. The British were also the first to name sandwiches by type. Today we all know what we’re getting when we order a club, hoagie, wrap, grinder, po’boy, sloppy joe, sub, or hero. Hot sandwiches weren’t served till the early part of the 1900’s. Sausages became hotdogs, ground meat became hamburgers, and cheese plus bread turned into toasted cheese. The relationship between kids and sandwiches was cemented when sliced, prewrapped bread appeared in the 1920’s. Today, sandwich chains like Quizno’s, Subway, and Panera Bread are one of the fastest growing segments of quick service restaurants.

Sandwiches can be good for you, but they can also be a fat and calorie nightmare. In delis and sandwich chains some have grown so big you can’t fit them in your mouth. So, let’s start with what is a normal sized sandwich? How about 2 slices of bread or an average sized roll plus 2 to 3 ounces of lean protein (3 to 6 slices of thinly sliced meat) or 1/3 cup of salad (tuna, chicken, shrimp) or 2 to 3 tablespoons of nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew). Now let’s construct some healthy options.

Health experts are encouraging us to eat 3 servings of whole grains a day. A sandwich can equal 2. It’s easy to find whole grain breads and it’s getting easier to find whole grain rolls, Italian bread, and hot dog and hamburger buns. What, you never thought of putting a sandwich together on a hot dog bun? They make great “holders” for salad sandwiches.

Stick with lean meat – turkey or chicken breast, ham, and roast beef. Swapping 3 ounces of salami for 3 ounces of lean ham saves 123 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Next, what to spread on the bread? Mayonnaise, at 100 calories a tablespoon, is probably not the best choice. If you like a creamy dressing try swapping mayo for a low-cal or lowfat salad dressing – ranch, blue cheese, even thousand island can add a punch of flavor to perk up your routine sandwich, and save better than half the calories. Salsa, mustard, bruchetta, ketchup, even hummus are other lower calorie, lower fat choices. For garlic lovers, rub toasted bread with a fresh garlic clove and you’ll have no fat garlic bread to build your sandwich on.

To add crunch, color and nutrients pile on veggies. All greens, even  iceberg lettuce, contribute some folic acid and potassium, while romaine and red leaf are strong sources of vitamin A. Add a sliced tomato or fresh pepper rings and the nutrient contribution really adds up. You might even consider a roasted veggie sandwich perked up with spicy salsa or garlic hummus.

If you enjoy salad sandwiches – tuna, shrimp, chicken, salmon, crab, and egg – think about using half mayo and half nonfat plain yogurt as the dressing, or half mayo and half nonfat creamy dressing. You’ll reduce calories and fat and you’ll never miss the extra mayo. To add crunch, lower calories, add nutrients, and allow you a bigger helping be generous with add-ins such as celery, fresh cucumber, chives, radishes, red onions, and peppers.

Go easy on cheese. Regular cheese can quickly pack on calories and saturated fat. Try reduced fat varieties. Or, use grated cheese. It goes further and can be quickly melted while toasting bread. One ounce of cheddar cheese (an average slice) has 115 calories and 9 grams of fat; an ounce of lowfat cheddar has 90 calories and 6 grams of fat. Use 2 tablespoons of lowfat shredded cheddar and you’ll lower the calories to 40 and the fat to 3 grams.

And we cannot forget the PB&J crowd. Peanut butter, though high in fat, contains very little saturated fat and no cholesterol. Experiment with natural, lower fat, and lower sugar varieties. Consider cashew, almond, sunflower or soy butter for a change. Instead of jelly try all fruit spreads or fruit butters. Fresh bananas have long been paired with peanut butter instead of jelly. But, what about dried berries, cranberries, fresh apple or pear slices? Fruit and nuts are a natural pair, only your imagination will limit the choices.

Tonight, when you decide to make a sandwich for supper–experiment–try something new. It’s not just a sandwich, make it a culinary adventure.

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