Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published September 03, 2010, 12:00 AM

Lunch sandwiches don’t have to be boring

“Are you having a squashed sandwich again today, Julie?” one of my lunch buddies teased me years ago when I was a college student. “What shape will it be today?” someone else added with a laugh.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Are you having a squashed sandwich again today, Julie?” one of my lunch buddies teased me years ago when I was a college student.

“What shape will it be today?” someone else added with a laugh.

Most days, my sandwich looked like an unusual sculpture. Since I didn’t have time to go back to my apartment, I usually made a peanut butter sandwich, put it in a plastic sandwich bag and popped it in my backpack along with an apple and a granola bar.

I guess carrying a lunch box wasn’t “cool.”

Along with my lunch, I also had textbooks, notebooks and binders in my backpack. Generally I tucked my flute and some music in my backpack, too, because I had band rehearsal after classes.

My sandwich didn’t stand a chance with that company in my backpack.

Even though my sandwich was quite misshapen by lunch time, the nutrition was still there. Peanut butter is nonperishable and a good source of protein.

However, my lunches were boring but quite economical.

As I dropped my three kids at three different schools last week, I watched hoards of kids walking into elementary, middle school and high school carrying backpacks. Many kids were carrying lunch boxes. I couldn’t help but wonder what was in their lunch boxes.

Lunches don’t have to be monotonous, and sandwiches can remain safe and retain their shape with the right container.

Consider making and freezing sandwiches ahead of time, whether you are preparing food for yourself or for children. Try varying the type of bread and fillings you use. Don’t go overboard with your sandwich-making assembly line, though. You will want to use up your frozen sandwiches within one to three months of making them.

Some foods do not freeze well. Although you may like veggies, such as tomato slices, cucumber slices or lettuce on your sandwiches, none of these ingredients freeze well. Because of their high water content, they quickly become limp, waterlogged and develop an oxidized flavor during frozen storage.

Maybe you like egg salad sandwiches. Unfortunately, egg salad does not freeze well because hard-cooked egg whites usually become tough or rubbery during frozen storage.

Mayonnaise and sour cream usually separate during frozen storage, but salad dressing such as Miracle Whip tends to stand up better to freezing.

How about some peanut butter sandwiches? Peanut butter sandwiches freeze well, but leave the jelly off the sandwich because it will soak into the bread.

Other sandwich fillings that freeze well include canned fish (such as tuna or salmon), roasted turkey, chicken or roast beef. Hard and semi-hard cheese, such as Swiss and cheddar cheese, freeze fairly well, but they may become crumbly as a result of freezing. If you like cheese on your sandwich, consider grating it or using shredded cheese.

You may want to lightly butter the bread prior to adding the filling. The butter serves as a barrier between the filling and the bread and helps prevent sogginess.

When packing a lunch for work or school, use an insulated lunch bag or box. If refrigeration is not available, you can use a frozen gel pack or frozen juice box to keep your food chilled. If you carry your lunch in a brown paper bag, food safety experts recommend tossing the bags after use. Bacteria can live and grow on food that spills on the lunch bag.

Here’s a quick and easy recipe from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service. It doesn’t freeze well, but you could use cooked, frozen chicken. If you do not have a refrigerator at your destination, use a frozen gel pack and an insulated lunch bag to keep your sandwich cool and safe.

Chicken Salad

2½ cups cooked, diced chicken breast (such as leftover grilled chicken)

½ cup chopped celery

¼ cup chopped onion

2 Tbsp. pickle relish

½ cup light mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use this to make chicken sandwiches; try stuffing a whole-wheat pita pocket with salad and lettuce. Make a pasta salad by mixing it with two cups of cooked pasta shells or serve in hollowed-out tomatoes.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of carbohydrate and 200 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.