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Swap out these ingredients to make your child’s sandwich healthier

By Natalie Leustek, RD, LD, CDE

Sandwiches are a school lunchbox staple: quick, portable, and delicious. However, they tend to be made with ingredients that are low in fiber and high in sugar and salt, making them less nutritious.

Take the humble PB&J, for example. Made on white bread and with regular jam, this nearly fiber-free, sweet combination has the potential to cause your child’s blood sugar to quickly rise then fall, leaving them low on energy.

However, a handful of simple swaps can amp up the nutritional content of any sandwich and give your student fuel for the rest of the school day.

Here’s what to do:

Swap 1: Use whole-wheat or whole-grain bread instead of white bread. These breads typically have twice as much fiber, which will help your child feel full and keep their blood sugar from spiking.

Swap 2: Substitute thinly sliced fruit for jelly. Apples and bananas pair particularly well with nut butters, and have more fiber and less sugar. You can also get creative: Try fresh plums or blueberries, or dried raisins or apricots.

Swap 3: Slice up chicken from last night’s dinner and use that instead of deli meats, which can be overly processed and high in salt. If you do need the convenience of cold cuts, look for low-sodium options.

Swap 4: Replace condiments that offer little nutrition, like mayo, with those that give a boost in nutrition while adding moisture and flavor.  Some options are hummus, mustard, smashed avocado, Greek yogurt, or a light salad dressing.

Swap 5: Pile on spinach rather than lettuce. Spinach has about three times more calcium and iron, and four times more folate. It also contains carotenoids, which may help protect long-term eye health.

With these easy changes, you’re on your way to packing sandwiches that nourish young bodies while still pleasing picky palates.


Natalie Leustek is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Vancouver Clinic.