The very first time I stepped into a New York deli to ask for a sandwich, I was overwhelmed. I'd recently moved to the U.S. from England, and was unschooled in the art of buying a deli sandwich. Sure, we have sandwich bars in the U.K., but they were nothing like ones here.
The choice of breads, meats, cheeses, salads, and dressings was astounding. Yet, the irony of being faced with all these options to consider was that I had all of about five seconds to make my decision before the impatient guy behind the counter would yell "Next!"
But what also struck me about about these amazing sandwich places was the sheer size of the sandwich I ended up with. You see, a ham and cheese sandwich in England comprises a slice of ham and a slice of cheese on buttered white bread, possibly with a little mustard or some Branston Pickle -- a spicy chopped vegetable relish.
But that was it. Skimpy but adequate.
My New York deli sandwich had literally an inch to an inch and a half of ham and cheese, was slathered in mayo, and served with a mound of chips and a dill pickle -- I wasn't thrilled to find that my bread was made soggy by pickle juice.
But this behemoth of a sandwich was likely a day's worth of calories in one fell swoop. Even a half sandwich was too much. So I would remove most of the ham and cheese, which was a terrible waste.
I decided that it would be cheaper and healthier for me if I made my own sandwiches. Here are the basics of making healthier sandwiches.
Start with whole grain bread or rolls instead of white bread. Be careful, though, because bread that may be labeled "wheat" bread and looks brown may actually be white bread made brown by molasses or caramel coloring.
The first ingredient on the label should say "whole wheat" or "whole grain." It's not enough for the package to simply state "made with whole grain." Another clue is to look at the amount of fiber. Whole grain bread should have at least 2-3 grams of fiber per slice. And if possible, look for bread that has only 1-2 grams of sugar per slice at most.
Personally, I find many breads taste too sweet.
A nutritious sandwich should have some protein. You really don't need mounds of cheese or meat to fulfill that requirement. Three ounces is all you need at most. Healthy options include a hard boiled egg, half a can of tuna, three slices of low-sodium nitrite-free sliced turkey or ham. Roasted chicken and salmon are excellent, flavorful options.
Of course, peanut butter can be a healthy option, especially the natural variety that has no sugar or salt added.
Avoid bologna, roast beef, pastrami, liverwurst; these are higher in fat and calories.
Add volume to your sandwich not through extra meat and cheese, but through vegetables. This is also a great way to add texture as well as extra nutrition to your lunch It's good rule of thumbe when building a healthier salad, too. Lettuce is the obvious green, but instead of choosing shredded pale iceberg lettuce, which adds little in terms of nutritional value, opt for darker, leafier varieties from romaine to baby spinach.
Once you've picked your greens, add veggie items such as sliced red onions, sweet bell peppers, shredded carrots, a little sliced avocado, tomatoes, and cucumber.
Don't forget fruit: for example, sliced apples and pears go well with strong cheese and also with chicken. I like bananas in my peanut butter sandwiches (see photo).
Go easy on the mayo. A little is fine, and arguably better than low fat mayos and dressings, which may contain more sugar and sodium than their regular counterparts. Homemade mayonnaise is divine. Mustard is a low calorie condiment, of course. Mash a little avocado and spread on your bread, or spread a couple of tablespoons of hummus. These both contain healthy fats, but neither is low calorie, so don't overdo it.
If you like pickles, the vinegar adds a nice tart flavor to a sandwich. I like banana peppers for this.