Building a better sandwich: Add variety

Does the mention of a sandwich conjure up images of bologna and mustard on white bread? It may be the mainstay of brown-bag lunches, but packable sandwiches needn’t be boring or a nutritional disaster. Try these ideas:

Breads: Enriched and whole-grain breads are low in fat, while providing energy, vitamins and iron. For extra dietary fiber, choose whole-grain wheat bread, rye, multi-grain, healthy oatmeal or bran bread. When choosing grain products, keep in mind:

Crackers, biscuits and some muffins can be high in fat or sodium. Check labels.

Many breads come in a variety of sizes. Snack-size pumpernickel, a tortilla or small pita pockets may be good choices for youngsters.

Breads stale faster if stored in the refrigerator. Keep them frozen, then toast for instant use. Packed lunches are less of a risk for food poisoning if sandwiches are made with frozen bread slices (they help keep fillings cool longer).

Fillings: Try these ideas for lower fat and sodium:

Flaked, cooked fish or water-packed tuna mixed with chopped vegetables and plain, low-fat yogurt or mayonnaise.

Chopped poultry with mandarin oranges, alfalfa sprouts and a low-fat dressing.

Mashed, cooked dry beans flavored with onion, parsley and garlic.

Add-ons: Try these spreads and additions for moistness, flavor and variety. Pack them separately to avoid soggy sandwiches.

Diced apples, pears or grapes.

Sliced cucumber, zucchini, onion or tomatoes; spinach leaves, lettuce or other salad greens (even fresh basil).

Shredded carrots or cheese.

Flavored mustards, reduced-calorie salad dressings, plain low-fat yogurt.

Packing a school lunch: A national survey has shown that children who buy a hot lunch at school generally have a more nutritious meal than children who take food from home. To make the lunch you pack tempting as well as more nutritious:

Let kids shop for and make their own sandwiches.

Whole fruit may be enjoyed by older children, but pear and apple slices are more appealing to young children. Treat cut sides of fruit with citrus juice to help prevent browning. Prune plums are smaller and less drippy than regular plums. Cut in half and remove the pit to eliminate any chance of a child choking on it.

Pack cookies or cupcakes that supply vitamins or minerals, too, such as pumpkin cupcakes, fig bars and oatmeal-applesauce cookies.

Include one of your child’s favorite foods even if it tends to contain a little more sugar, sodium or fat than you think she or he needs. You can make up for the indulgence by serving more nutritious meals and snacks at other times of the day. Nutritious food that is left uneaten is certainly not a health benefit.

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