How to Make a Healthy, Satisfying Sandwich

Veggie sandwich

Getty Images / Sarsmis

A favorite in a child's lunch box, sandwiches are a lunch staple that easily extends to other age groups (and flavors aside from the classic PB&J). Sandwiches can be a nutrient-dense, well-balanced meal that's convenient and delicious.

Satisfying lunches aren't always easy to come by. Here's how to make one with a simple sandwich.

Boost Your Bread Choice

Bread can be part of a nutritious diet—there are many options to choose from, no matter what your dietary preferences are. The right bread choice can make or break your sandwich, so it's important to start strong.

Bri Bell, RD

Switch up your regular sandwich by toasting your bread first or by grilling your sandwich to give it some extra crunch.

— Bri Bell, RD

When picking bread at the store, look at the options available and choose the one that best meets your preferences and needs. Here are some things to consider:

  • 100% whole wheat: This means the first ingredient grain used contains the whole wheat including the bran, endosperm, and germ.
  • Whole grain: This label can be misconstrued as being 100% whole grain, however, the FDA does not recognize or recommend a product being labeled whole grain if it does not contain only whole grains (containing the bran, endosperm, and germ).
  • Spelt: Spelt flour is a type of wheat flour. It contains more protein than wheat and is no more or less healthy than wheat, however, it may contain more zinc and iron than wheat. It also contains gluten and should be labeled as such.
  • Ezekiel: Ezekiel products are made using sprouted grains. Sprouted grains occur when the seed is germinated and sprouts, but is cultivated before leaves are produced. Sprouted grains are considered whole grain because they do contain the bran, germ, and endosperm. Not only do sprouted grains contain high levels of phytochemical and antioxidants, they also have positive effects on cholesterol levels and blood sugar control. Sprouted grain bread products are often stored in the freezer and have an extended shelf-life.
  • Sourdough: Sourdough bread does not use a traditional leavening agent and instead uses a fermented "starter" to leaven the bread. The fermentation process provides a unique flavor to sourdough bread and offers additional health benefits including improves gastrointestinal bacteria, reduces FODMAP activity and IBS symptoms, reduces gluten content, and prevents a high glycemic index (GI) blood sugar response.
  • Rye: Rye bread is made from the rye grain. It differs from whole wheat breads in the bread making process and the final end product. Pure rye breads are dark in color and offer a denser bread with rich flavor. Rye breads are often made using a sourdough starter and thus have similar health benefits to sourdough bread. Plus, rye bread produces a lower insulin and glucose response than wheat bread.

"Use good quality bread that can hold up to your filling without falling apart or getting soggy," notes Christina Iaboni, RD. "Opt for a whole grain bread with at least 2-3 grams of fiber per slice and add lots of fresh veggies liked tomatoes and arugula for more flavor and nutrients."

Are Wraps Better Than Bread?

If you love a wrap, by all means, opt to use that for your sandwich fillings! But if you're choosing a wrap over bread because you think it's better for you, think again. The nutritional value of two slices of bread versus one wrap large enough for your fillings is often "better" from a metrics standpoint.

Load up on Veggies

A great way to add some bulk and flavor to your sandwich is by including lots of fresh or grilled vegetables. Pickled vegetables count, too. Vegetables offer a bit of crunch and increase the nutrition content of the meal.

It's well established that 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. The USDA 2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans get 2 and a half cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits per day. Including them in your sandwich is an easy way to work toward meeting those goals.

Justine Chan MHSc, RD, CDE recommends a variety of vegetables to add some nutritious bulk to your sandwich.

  • Leafy greens
  • Cucumbers
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Zucchini

Prioritize Protein

Including a quality protein source in your sandwich will help make the sandwich more filling and satisfying. Since protein takes more time to digest you'll feel full for longer, adding to the satisfaction of the meal. Additionally, protein is associated with maintaining and building muscle while boosting metabolic health.

Make protein the star of your sandwich by choosing the protein first—think tuna, turkey, chicken breast, eggs, etc. Once you have that nailed down, you can figure out what you'd like to pair with it.

"When making a sandwich using tuna, egg or chicken salad add the lettuce on top of each piece of bread first so the mayo-based salad doesn’t get the bread soggy," suggests Stacy Davis RD LDN.

"Utilize leftover protein to make a delicious and cost-saving sandwich," recommends Mary Dutta RD LD. And for a tasty, plant-powered protein boost, Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN notes to "try marinated, cooked tempeh slices in place of meats or cheese."

Are Deli Meats OK?

Lunch meats are a convenient way to add protein to your menu. Though they sometimes get a bad rap, the biggest concern for health professionals is the sodium content. But low-sodium deli meat does exist—and has a place in a nutritious diet.

When shopping for deli meats, look for the following:

  • Meats without skin or marinades
  • No sodium added
  • Salt-free
  • Reduced-sodium
  • Very-low sodium and low sodium

Be mindful that low-sodium deli meats have a lower shelf-life. For that reason, you may want to buy less more frequently.

Include a Healthy Fat

Healthy fats are a great way to add some moisture, flavor, and nutrition to your sandwich. Mayonnaise isn't the only option when it comes to boosting the fat content of your sandwich. Try mixing it up with avocado, hummus, olive oil, vinaigrette, and cheese!

Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats play a role in cardiovascular health and disease prevention. Replacing saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats is a great way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health concerns.

In the case of sandwiches, Lisa Andrews, Med, RD, LD recommends using hummus or guac for a savory spread in place of the more traditional mayo.

Choose Your Sides

Now that you have a delicious and nutritious sandwich, let's boost your meal with some satisfying sides! Air fryer French fries or homemade sweet potato chips are great choices that provide a robust nutrient profile.

Fruit and vegetables also make delicious sides for any sandwich. Try a side salad, coleslaw, or fresh fruit for a refreshing and crunchy addition to your nutritious and satisfying lunch.

Recommended Sandwich Combos

"When making sandwiches, think protein, healthy fats, and veggies to provide a variety of tasty flavors and help keep you full," suggests Summer Yule, MS, RDN. "One of my favorite sandwich combos to try is turkey, avocado, tomato, romaine, and pesto. So good!"

Recommended Sandwich Combos

Try these combos the next time you make a sandwich:

  • Everything Egg and Cheese: 2 slices of toasted Ezekiel bread topped with 1 slice of cheese, 2 sunny-side-up eggs, and a sprinkling of everything bagel seasoning.
  • Spicy Classic Turkey: 2 slices of toasted whole wheat bread topped with Sriracha mayo, 3 slices of roasted turkey breast, 1 slice of pepper jack cheese, tomato, and lettuce.
  • Veggie Hummus Wrap: 1 whole wheat wrap topped with hummus, sprouts, shaved carrots, and hemp seeds.
  • Fajita Chicken Melt: 1 whole wheat wrap topped with sliced chicken breast, sautéed peppers and onions, and 1 slice of pepper jack cheese (melted). Serve with salsa.

For those with a nostalgic attachment to the classic school lunch, there are some more grown-up options. "Spruce up an old-fashioned PB&J by sprinkling on ground flaxseed! It gives the sandwich a slightly nutty crunch with a punch of fiber and omega-3s," notes KeyVion Miller RDN, LD/N.

A Word From Verywell

Knowing what to eat throughout the day can be confusing, especially with so much misinformation out there. Incorporating a sandwich into your menu is an easy way to create a balanced meal with nutrient-dense ingredients. Talking to a registered dietitian can help you navigate the information and come up with a menu that works for you and your lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sandwiches okay for weight loss?

    Sandwiches are excellent for weight loss. When created with protein, complex high-fiber carbs, healthy fats, and vegetables, sandwiches are a balanced, filling, and satisfying meal that promotes weight loss and maintenance of muscle.

  • What's the best ingredients to add to a sandwich?

    The best ingredients to add to a sandwich are ones that are nutrient-dense, add texture, and provide tons of flavor. Remember to include a protein, high-fiber complex carbohydrate, healthy fat, and veggies.

13 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a Sports and Pediatric Dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine, JennyCraig.com, and more.