If the culinary world were a popularity contest, the first-place prize wouldn’t be snagged by posh kale or cronuts—the winner would be the humble sandwich. What other recipe can be dressed up or down, comes in flavors from basic to gourmet, and is often ready in less than five minutes? Plus, portable meals make healthy eating much easier in our busy world! No wonder Americans eat an average 200 sandwiches each year.
That said, not every handheld comes with stellar health perks (we’re looking at you, donut sandwich!). To help navigate the sand-scape, we rounded up 29 nutritious bites to fit every persona, whether you’re in the mood for a collard wrap, jonesin’ for a gooey grilled cheese, in need of breakfast on the go, or simply looking for a sweet dessert.
It’s said that California knows how to party, and this handheld clearly embodies that maxim. A triple-decker threat, three slices of bread are layered with bacon, avocado, fresh mozzarella, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, and pesto—it’s precisely engineered to make taste buds go wild. You could lessen the number of decks to cut down on carbohydrates, but why deprive yourself?
The deli icon gets a meatless makeover in this recipe. Tamari and maple syrup-blackened tempeh are stacked between avocado, tomatoes, and traditional sauerkraut—a great source of gut-healthy probiotics. Instead of the usual Russian dressing (which can be a little heavy on the fat), this recipe features a lighter, vegan version made with tahini.
Looking for a way to squeeze in your veggies without chowing down on salad? This sandwich packs in sprouts, carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers, plus creamy hummus and crumbled feta.
Thanksgiving only comes once per year, but who says you can’t enjoy its glory over and over? Shredded turkey mixes with celery, green onions, crunchy walnuts, and cranberry sauce (of course) for a sandwich that brings the holiday back no matter what time of year it is. Don’t have that special bird? Sub in chicken for equally good eats.
Tuna salad is a trusty lunchtime friend, but if you’re looking for some novelty, replace the fish with chickpeas for an equally satisfying base. The high-fiber beans have no problem mingling with the usual add-ins like red onion and celery. This recipe replaces mayo with olive oil, making the sandwich an even better-for-you lunch choice.
Wraps and Pockets
If you can’t fund a trip to Greece, this pita taco is basically the next best thing (at least for your taste buds). The standard Mediterranean superstars—cucumber, tomato, olive, onion, and Feta—are tossed in a homemade tzatziki sauce and sandwich by doughy pita. And the whole thing comes together in just 15 minutes!
Here’s a meatless spin on a game-day staple. In this recipe, hearty tempeh—a soy-based meat substitute high in protein—is coated in a homemade spicy buffalo sauce and mixed with Spanish rice, bell peppers, and kale. Serve in a tortilla or flatbread and save some of the hot sauce for later... it tastes great with carrots or celery.
Garlic-roasted cauliflower and spicy baked tofu come together to make a savory and filling combo in these vegetarian wraps. Avocado, tomato sauce (or fresh diced tomatoes), and plenty of spices add a kick, and kind of remind us of a Chipotle burrito... we won't say no to that.
Strawberries and balsamic go together like peanut butter and jelly... and while we usually love them in salad form, they're great in a wrap too. Diced grilled chicken breasts add a protein punch, pecans add some crunch, and crumbly feta gives the wrap a tangy flavor.
Whether you’re looking to spice up a picnic or your lunch bag, these grab-and-go pita pockets are super easy and savory. Hearty chicken provides protein, while tomatoes and cucumbers add nutrients and crunch. Topped with a creamy tzatziki sauce made from feta, Greek yogurt, and olive oil, it all comes together in a soft pita.
Mexican food is a tough cuisine to make vegan, but it is possible to go meat free without sacrificing flavor. The lentil walnut “meat” in this recipe is so good at immitating beef that you won’t even remember it’s gone. Placed atop a bed of crunchy romaine and layered with onions and bell peppers, this may become your new Taco Tuesday favorite.
We love us some quinoa, but if fatigue has set in with the seed, bulgur—a close relative—is equally healthy and delicious, and packs in more fiber than pretty much any other grain. Bulgur's tender, chewy texture makes it a great add-in for salad, soups, or in this case, rolls. A cinch to assemble, these rolls are filled with lentils, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, and refreshing mint.
The star of many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes for centuries, the chickpea is one of those ingredients that tastes good pretty much any way you prepare it. Here, it meshes with a spicy, homemade curry sauce; carrots; celery; parsley; and raisins for a delicious combo that’s crunchy, sweet, and savory. The best part? The wraps keep for days, so you can whip up a batch on Sunday and check dinner off the to-do list for days to come.
The trendy and surprisingly high in calcium collard leaf is the wrapper for these vegan, Asian-inspired rolls. Stuffed with red cabbage, bell pepper, bean sprouts, and scallions, they’re loaded with fiber and crunch. The creamy, zesty ginger dressing adds a kick of flavor plus potentially cold-busting properties, making the wrap a great winter dish for lunch or dinner. Try adding quinoa for an extra dose of protein.
Panini and Grilled Cheese
When we want to load up on greens, grilled cheese isn’t the food that typically comes to mind. But this take on the ooey-gooey fave changes all that. First, there’s the insanely good homemade pesto featuring parsley, lemon, and garlic—hello, flavorful antioxidants! Then there’s spinach, zucchini, and sprouts for more greens, plus buttery avocado and two types of cheese. All of that melty, creamy goodness is squeezed between two grilled slices of bread. Heaven? Quite possibly.
After roasting until tender, beets are cooked in sherry wine before cozying up to a thick layer of goat cheese and arugula.
Hummus isn’t the only party dip to smear in a sandwich! Spinach; artichoke hearts; and a mixture of mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and provolone are blended together for a rich spread that tastes even better between bread than it does on chips. Swap Greek yogurt for sour cream and you've got a toasty lunch that's way healthier than a standard grilled cheese.
In the mood for a creamy broccoli cheddar soup but lacking the time to baby-sit a pot? This sandwich is sure to satisfy the craving without all the fuss, and with a lot less cream. Broccoli rabe is paired with roasted red peppers and provolone for a quick and delicious alternative made from minimal, wholesome ingredients.
Canned tuna can feel a little uninspired, but there are many innovative ways to climb out of a tuna salad rut. The capers, oregano, and lemon juice in this recipe give the fish a tangy, salty twist, and the lycopene-rich tomatoes add juicy flavor and a pop of color. Top with provolone and behold your new go-to recipe for a quick lunch.
Tossing raw veggies into a grilled cheese is a-OK, but cooking them first makes the flavors that much richer—and it only takes a few minutes to caramelize onions, wilt spinach, and sauté balsamic portobellos. Trust us, it will make this sandwich taste that much better. Feel free to mix and match the produce to your liking, but don’t skip the cheese or the guac.
There's nothing like an egg and cheese sandwich to start the day (or to enjoy anytime), and this one has loads of colorful veggies for even more flavor and nutrients. Mash avocado with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and smear on rosemary foccacia (or your bread of choice). Spread the other slice with pesto, and layer with egg, spinach, sundried tomatoes, feta, and melted mozzarella for a loaded morning bite.
Quesadilla for breakfast? Don’t mind if we do! Banana and strawberries provide filling fiber, while protein-rich peanut butter binds it all together. Feel free to sub in any fruit you have on hand—or experiment with different nut butters—for a quick meal that’s truly grab and go.
When you’re looking to power up in the morning, turn to this recipe that's anything but wimpy—or time-consuming. A soft poached egg provides six grams of protein plus choline, an essential nutrient that plays a role in everything from cell membranes to nerve and muscle function. The sliced lox contributes heart-healthy omega-3s, and after adding a bed of arugula and spreading some avocado, lunch won’t cross your mind for hours.
PB-and-B gets dressed up in this easy French toast recipe that will bring you back to your playground days. Spread almond butter and banana slices on whole-grain bread, and soak the sandwich in an egg, cinnamon, almond milk, and vanilla mixture. Maple syrup and fresh berry slices add an extra dose of sweet goodness, though the toasts are delightful all by themselves.
With all the variations out there, it’s impossible to get sick of avocado toast. But if you’re worried, try this recipe—after all, the morning superstar is a great source of healthy fats and provides a slew of vitamins. Putting the sandwich together is as easy as mashing avocado with chickpeas and finishing the combo off with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Feel free to garnish with sprouts, tomatoes, or chives for an extra flavor boost.
Antioxidant-packed blueberries aren’t just for pancakes and summer desserts. In this rendition, the berries are tossed with balsamic vinegar, laced with sugar, and sautéed to a jam-like consistency. The spread is smeared onto sourdough and topped with Havarti and spinach for the perfect blend of sweet and tart flavor.
Figs probably aren't the first fruit you think of when dreaming up desserts, but their super-sweet taste and tender texture make them ideal for this sweet and savory open-faced sandwich. With a supporting cast of rosemary and goat cheese, you'll feel like you're eating at a super-fancy restaurant, minus the hefty price tag.
It may seem scandalous to mess with classic apple pie, but trust us, this recipe will only increase your love for the American treat. Sliced apples find a cushion between Brie, brown sugar, and cinnamon spinkled bread. Want to #treatyoself? Add a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream. It's a dessert, after all.
Too cold for a bonfire? This grilled treat is the next best way to recreate the campsite favorite. A giant marshmallow is optimal, but you could also use fluff or a handful of the little guys. Instead of a packaged cocoa spread, we recommending using a square of dark chocolate for a blast of antioxidants and free-radical busting flavonoids. Who said you can’t create a healthy dessert?
Originally published December 2014. Updated January 2017.