What’s for Lunch? Building the perfect sandwich

I KNOW.

SHOULD THIS EVEN BE A BLOG POST?

We all know that taking a lunch to work is a good idea. It saves money, it helps you keep from making unhealthy food choices because you’re hungry and Whataburger is RIGHT THERE, and if you plan ahead, you can get a week’s worth of lunches knocked out in just a few hours.

OR.

You can be a regular person and just take a sandwich, like you did when you were in school.

But I’m not talking about your squishy “wheat” bread/bologna/yellow mustard situation that got smashed inside its fold-over sandwich bag in the bottom of your backpack that you paired with a mealy apple and a milk from the lunch line. No, no, no. Do you still eat Spaghettios? Do you still drink from juice boxes? (These don’t count.) No. You don’t. Because you are an adult person who has a teensy smidge of dignity and you deserve a quality sammich.

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So where to start?

Well, you wouldn’t start a new book in the middle, would you? No, because you’d have no idea what was happening and there’d be nothing to ( … wait for it … ) HOLD THE STORY TOGETHER. (See? I made it work.)

BREAD.

So yes, I’m going to acknowledge that now everyone can eat regular bread. But there have been so many advances in GF/DF/Vegan/holistic/soy-free/sprouted/nut-free/made by nuns bread science that if you really want good bread–regardless of your dietary needs–you can get your paws on some.

My BFF’s daughter is vegan, and she recently introduced me to Dave’s Killer Bread. (No, it’s not bread for killers. I mean, I guess killers could eat it, I don’t know their lives, but maybe they should look into therapy before they think about the quality of their sandwiches. Or maybe that’s what drives them to kill. Again, I’m not intimately familiar with how a killer’s brain works. But I digress.) (There was also much discussion about what Dave did to go to prison for 15 years. The consensus was that it must have been pretty bad, according to the American justice system, anyway. But I digress again.)

So Dave’s Killer Bread. Good if you’re vegan (or not). And also a cool company to support.

For gluten-free, Udi’s has one of the best available. (If there’s one you love, please leave it in the comments.)

For regular bread, I really like a European-style one, kind of crusty, with an airy crumb, like this one from Trader Joe’s.

In any case, quality bread is a MUST.

FILLINGS.

Meat. Now we get to the meat (ha, see what I did there?) of the matter. You can go with lunchmeat–again, no judgment, you’re eating it–but if you do, buy quality lunchmeat. The best is the kind the store cooks in-house. If that’s not an option, choose a good one without a ton of sodium. Do NOT, under any circumstances, get the creepy horrible lunchmeat that my husband and I both loved as children.

No meat. There have been huge advances in veggie burger technology in the last decade. In college all we had were Gardenburgers, which were fine, but kids these days have so many more options than we did. I personally am not a fan of fake lunchmeat or bacon options–I can’t believe that much soy and red dye #3 can be good for you–but if that’s your jam, do it to it.

Cheese. Quality cheese is also important. Again, if no foods with a face are how you roll, I’m into it. There are some really nice non-dairy cheeses out there that are seriously tasty.

But if you are a dairy person: put back those individually wrapped slices of American. Do it. DOOO IIIIIT.

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Here’s where you can get really creative, even if you decided to go with turkey or ham or whatever. Walk away from the prepackaged cheese section and go to the fancy cheese section. I’ll wait.

OK. Now look at all of the options you have! There’s brie, there’s gouda, there’s Boursin… choose one of these and you’re on your way to having a lunch that your co-workers will consider stealing.

CONDIMENTS. 

Mustard. I have no issue with yellow mustard. If I’m making a Cuban sandwich, that is what I use. But the world of mustard is so rich! You’re really cheating yourself if you don’t splash out from time to time. I don’t even really eat mustard and I have literally 7 different kinds in my fridge right now: yellow (see?), whole-grain, steakhouse, honey, dijon, spicy white wine, spicy brown, and Polish-style.

Mayonnaise. I love mayonnaise. You can be grossed out, I don’t care. I love it and may favorite is Duke’s. It costs more and I know that but I will pay for it because I love it. Sometimes I might use wasabi mayo. But mostly just the Duke’s.

We’re a DIY Dijonnaise family at my house; you may disagree. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. The mayo cuts the mustard’s pungency, and the mustard helps to balance the mayo’s richness. They are perfect partners, kids. Like Tina & Amy. Fish & chips. Like, uh, two other things that go together.

OTHER STUFF.

Lettuce/Tomato/Pickle/Onion/etc. This is one area where i’m not going to be too bossy. (“For a change.”–The World) I will say this: Choose quality and use what’s in season.
Tomatoes are not good in January, unless you live in Australia and I don’t even know if they grow tomatoes there. (Of course they do. I’m just kidding. I knew that.)
Lettuce, whatever. My husband likes Romaine on his sandwiches, but I like good old Iceberg. I know there’s zero nutrition. It’s a texture thing. Leaf, spinach, arugula, let your freak flag fly.
Pickles. Again, up to you. My husband is a Claussen classic dill guy. I like an Israeli pickle or a cornichon. But we don’t let it get in the way of our relationship.
Onions, I love ’em, but if I eat them raw they give me the worst heartburn of my life. (Aging is a wonderful thing.) But if you can have them without experiencing excruciating chest pain 2-4 hours later, it’s all you.

Let’s talk about other stuff you could add, whether you make ’em or buy ’em:

Great, you’re saying. This whole post gave me no real constructive information other than general “buy good stuff” directives. Au contraire, mes amis! This is where you are rewarded for your persistence in trying to find valuable content by reading this far!

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Here are a few sandwich combinations that I think you might like. Give them a shot. And maybe if you’re feeling something that isn’t here that you might think others will like, leave a note in the comments. It’s all about community, people. Think about it. Is there a salad you enjoy? Or a taco or a pasta dish? Could you slap the ingredients on some bread and turn it into a sandwich? That’s cooking, people.

Now, I’m leaving bread selection up to you. Because you’re a reasonably intelligent human who can make these choices, right? I have faith in you.

  • Turkey or ham/honey mustard/brie/apple/arugula
  • Roast beef/horseradish/mayo/havarti/tomato
  • Chicken or turkey/dried cranberries/whole grain mustard/spinach
  • Roasted veggies/hummus/feta crumbles
  • Tomato/mozzarella/pesto/bacon (optional)
  • Boiled egg/ham/butter (Seriously–do not scoff. I lived on these in Germany. You have to have good butter and good bread for this one.)
  • Pork loin (leftovers! Or ham)/roasted pineapple/mayo/jalapeno
  • Tuna fish/red onion/corn/carrots/romaine
  • Corned beef/pickled beets/horseradish/mayo/shredded cabbage
  • Avocado/tomato/spinach/walnuts
  • Fish sticks/mayo/cabbage/chipotle Tabasco
  • Roast beef/roasted peppers and mushrooms/mayo/Provolone
  • Pulled pork/broccoli rabe/provolone (Do you guys know about DiNic’s? Holy cow that’s a good sandwich.)
  • Peanut butter/bacon/banana (Heck, if it was good enough for Elvis…)
  • Grilled chicken/Boursin/peaches/pesto

There you go. That’s three weeks’ worth of lunches right there. You are welcome.

And for more inspiration:

Buzzfeed: 31 Work Sandwiches That Don’t Suck

Epicurious: 10 Great Veggie Burgers 

NY Times: A Field Guide to the American Sandwich (this one is pretty fun)

Serious Eats: A veritable treasure trove of sandwich options!

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