Healthy Sandwich Ideas That Rivals Your Favorite Deli Order

Boost your brown bag experience by using these healthy—and delicious—ideas to build a satisfying sandwich at home.

Healthy sandwiches do exist and absolutely can be part of a well-balanced, nutritious lunch. Here we'll walk you through how to make a healthy sandwich at home, starting with the foundation (bread) and moving on to all the healthy things to put on a sandwich, including healthy sandwich spreads, cheeses, veggies, healthy sandwich meat, and more. (By the way, while we're talking about healthy sandwich ideas to make at home, you can use the same nutrition tips and tricks to order a nutritious nosh while eating at a restaurant or ordering takeout.)

bread, meat, cheese and condiments for sandwich on wooden cutting board
Blaine Moats

The Ultimate Formula for How to Make a Healthy Sandwich

Wondering, "what is a healthy sandwich to make?" You have countless options. Starting from the base up, use this four-part formula to make a healthy sandwich. Read on and prepare to master the handheld meal that can cure a variety of cravings! (If you want a preview, here are 24 healthy sandwich recipes.)

Step 1: Choose a Healthy Sandwich Bread

Start with a whole grain bread product, such as bread, pita, English muffin, bagel, or tortilla (aka wrap). Good choices have at least three grams of fiber per serving. Seek out brands with at least five grams of fiber per serving, such as Dave's Killer Bread 21 Whole Grains and Seeds ($6, Target), to get you well on your way to the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.

Test Kitchen Tip: All whole wheat products are whole grain, but not all whole grains are whole wheat. So, look for the words "whole grain" near the top of the ingredients list, not just "whole wheat." This will expand your options since whole grains can be made with any hearty grain, like barley, buckwheat, sorghum, oats, and more.

Step 2: Add Healthy Sandwich Meat or Other Lean Proteins

Good sandwich choices include sliced deli or rotisserie chicken, turkey, ham, lean roast beef, canned salmon or tuna, nut butter, grilled tempeh or tofu, smashed cooked beans, and reduced-fat cheese. Unsure about serving size? Aim for three ounces of meat, two tablespoons of nut butter, a cup of beans, or one or two ounces of cheese.

Test Kitchen Tip: Check the sodium in prepackaged and deli-fresh meats; most products run high. Cut the sodium by slicing meat you have roasted at home or by asking your butcher or deli counter pro for lower-sodium meats.

Step 3: Pile on the Produce

Veggies add nutrients, freshness, and flavor. Any mix of roasted veggies, fresh tomatoes, fresh greens (the darker, the better), sliced red onion, sliced cucumbers, and sliced peppers are all excellent choices. On the fruit side, amp up the healthy fats with avocado wedges or add antioxidants to a nut butter sandwich with thinly sliced apples, pears, strawberries, or smashed raspberries.

Step 4: Add Flavor with Healthy Sandwich Spreads and Sauces

Condiments don't need to be high in calories, fat, carbs, or sugar to be high in flavor. Healthy sandwich spreads will give your sandwich the hint of zing it needs. Choose one or choose a few of the following:

  • Yellow mustard
  • Whole grain Dijon mustard
  • Honey mustard
  • Low-sugar barbecue sauce
  • Vinaigrette dressing
  • Hummus
  • Tzatziki sauce

5 Tips to Build a Better Lean Sandwich

Now that you know how to make a healthy sandwich the traditional way consider these nutrition and healthy sandwich ideas that put a twist on the classic to cut even more calories.

  • Try open-faced. Skip the second slice of bread, half of the bagel, or the top of the English muffin to cut 50 to 100 calories from your sandwich calorie tally. Bonus: You can stack it even higher with veggies when you eat it fork-and-knife style.
  • Go green. To slash even more calories and carbs, try a lettuce leaf—butter lettuce, romaine, and iceberg all work wonderfully—in place of the bread, pita, or tortilla as the base for your protein and toppings.
  • Stack it all atop a salad. You also can build a bed of greens and any variety of veggies you love and pile all of your sandwich fixings on top for a high-fiber, low-calorie, wildly satisfying meal that will sneak several produce servings into one meal.
  • Put an egg on it. To add six grams of protein to your lean sandwich, slip in a fried egg or sliced hard-boiled egg. (In case you need a refresher, here's everything you need to know about all the ways to cook eggs.)
  • Add creative flavor boosters. Sneak in even more kick for very few calories with kitchen staples like olives, capers, pickles, pickled onions, or sun-dried tomatoes.

So now that you know the basic tenets of making a healthy sandwich, you can DIY a new one every day. (Sorry, PB&J, you've had your day!) Get creative, add a piece of fruit and a high-protein snack as a side, and you'll score a lot of nutrition and satisfaction all at once.

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