Lunchbox Treats – Twenty Ideas for Sandwich Fillings
If ever my children have a finicky food preference, it will be outed the moment it is placed between two slices of bread. It is a morning – or evening, depending on how busy the day is – endurance test in many households and is often enough to defeat most parents.
No wonder we resort to the constant default position of Vegemite, or peanut butter, or Just Tomato Please, stuffed between white bread, crusts removed. We send our children off to school, ever hopeful that this, today, will be the day they eat it all up.
What follows has been gleaned from friends, my days in playgroup, some happy days spent volunteering in school canteens and some ideas forums around the world. If it helps you at all, please know that you are not alone – around the world in the lead up to the start of a new school year, parents scout for recipe ideas, praying that this will be the year it changes.
Not everyone who eats sandwiches is of school age of course, so this list of twenty sandwich ideas is big and meaty enough for blokes to take to work and dainty enough for pernickety kindy palates. Somewhere in this lot, there might be a combination that leads children away from their constant request of Devon with Tomato Sauce Cut Into Triangles Please.
We can but hope.
In the meantime, please add your own suggestions in the comments below.
(This is not exhaustive – next week will feature a post on suitable filling ideas for pita breads and wraps)
- ROAST VEGETABLES Perfect for using up last night’s leftovers, this is so good I’ve roasted vegetables on their own just for lunches. Use vegetables like roast potato, pumpkin, carrots and kumera and use Turkish bread or foccacia for a meal that will stick to your ribs. If you want something lighter you can use zucchini, eggplant, capsicum and tomatoes which should all be thinly sliced, tossed in oil and a squirt of white wine vinegar and baked in a 170°C oven for about 45 mins to an hour. Top the bread, add some fetta or hommous, some onion jam and a squirt of lemon juice and it’s heaven.
- TURKEY, CRANBERRY SAUCE AND CREAM CHEESE Popular – and pricey – in sandwich bars around the country, this is easy to make at home and uses up the dregs of the Christmas cranberry sauce to boot. Use shaved turkey slices from the deli for the budget option, or use some diced chicken. Best eaten on Turkish bread or in fluffy round rolls. To mix things up a bit add some cream cheese to the cranberry sauce and cover the inside of the bread with some seeded mustard then add thinly sliced turkey, the cranberry sauce mixture, some optional slivers of camembert (or brie, or mozzarella if you really want a whopper meal) and a leaf of lettuce.
- SALMON AND CREAM CHEESE Not for the faint of heart, it is nevertheless one of the most popular combinations around the world. While I don’t recommend it just before you head into a job interview it is so delicious I could happily snack on this combination more than any other. You can use smoked salmon slices if you’re flush, but a tin of salmon works well. Remove the skin and bones if you can, then add a squeeze of lemon juice, a spoonful or two of mayonnaise, some dill, chives, a teaspoon of horseradish cream, a tablespoon of finely chopped capers and, if you dare, a small amount of garlic. Spread a roll or bread with some cream cheese, add the salmon mayo mixture and then top with some cucumber.
- BLT It is a Universal law that Bacon Goes With Everything. When children turn their noses up at your gourmet offerings, use this as your secret weapon. Essentially, nothing bad can or should ever be said about bacon. Ever. You can put it in up-market sourdough, but really, the softer and nastier the bread, the better. It shouldn’t work, but it does. For a good BLT you need fresh bread, bacon, a soft leaf lettuce such as mignonette, mayonnaise, tomato, salt and pepper. It’s essential that your bacon is cooked until it’s crunchy and crisp. Don’t be surprised if the lettuce leaf comes home in the lunchbox, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
- CHICKEN AND SWEET POTATO A good way to use up leftover roast chicken or barbecued chook, this can also be made with ham or salami. Multigrain or Soy Linseed bread works well for this. Combine 1 cup of cooked sweet potato, ½ cup ricotta or cottage cheese and 1 tbsp chopped chives in a bowl. Spread over bread and top with shredded chicken and sliced cucumber.
- SILVERSIDE AND SPINACH Sliced silverside (corned beef) is a cheap buy in most delis and really benefits from a much-needed sandwich makeover. This is great on a bagel, or in a hamburger bun. Combine ½ a cup of spreadable cream cheese with ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Spread over the bun and top with slices of silverside, baby spinach leaves then slices of bread.
- HAM AND CHEESE By far the most popular combination in my house, the question becomes one of which cheese works best. While hard cheeses remain a perennial favourite, consider cottage cheese or ricotta for a more subtle flavour pairing. It jazzes up even the cheapest shaved ham. Mix ¼ cup cottage cheese with 2 tsp chopped fresh basil. Spread over a slice of bread, then top with shaved honey ham. Spread the top slice of bread with some avocado mashed with fresh lemon juice and place on top of the ham.
- VEGETARIAN Really, you are limited only by your imagination, but for me, it begins with babaghanoush and ends with hommous, each slapped onto hearty slices of wholemeal bread. Top with tabouli, sliced Lebanese cucumber, some tomato, even some oven-roasted beetroot and some sliced avocado, and top with bread.
- TURKEY AND PESTO Sliced turkey is popular because it’s cheap but it suffers from drying out or for being too strong a flavour for delicate souls. The answer is to hit the big flavours with even bigger flavours, which is where pesto is so good. Spread slices of bread with bought pesto, or use up last night’s pesto (store it in a jar topped with a thin film of olive oil to stop it from discolouring). Top with shaved turkey, sliced Lebanese cucumber, snow pea sprouts and buttered slices of bread. Try a scraping of olive tapenade as an alternative to pesto.
- GRATED APPLE, CHEESE AND SALAD CREAM A while ago we discussed english salad cream as the unknown hero in potato salads. If you love the zesty lemony zing of salad cream rather than bland-tasting mayonnaise, try grating a Granny Smith apple (keep the skin on) and add it with ¼ cup grated cheddar or tasty cheese to 2 tbsp salad cream. Nice on bagels or soft bread rolls, but especially good on dark rye bread.
- GRATED APPLE AND PEANUT BUTTER I want to hate this combination, but really, it’s irresistible. You can grate apple directly onto the peanut butter if you want, but it’s also pretty tasty mixed through the paste before spreading onto bread. If you can, toss the apple briefly in a squirt of lemon juice, before mixing it through or adding it directly onto sandwiches, to make it a little more appealing by lunchtime. It would be a fun addition down the centre of a hot dog roll.
- PEANUT BUTTER AND MASHED BANANA Surprisingly popular with out without the addition of honey, this to me is the thin end of the wedge for breaking a dependence on just one type of sandwich filling. When you’re five years old and in a new classroom, a meal of this sandwich would be pretty awesome. While it’s perhaps not something that could then be eaten throughout the following thirteen years of school, it still gets a regular outing in this house, most notably when the children are feeling poorly and want comfort food. A valuable ally in your lunchbox arsenal.
- FISH FINGERS AND TOMATO SAUCE Oh come now. If your mum had made you this for school lunches you would have eaten it everyday. If you want to assuage your guilt about this offering, you could combine them with mayonnaise and lettuce leaves instead but really, just serve it the way God intended – slap grilled or oven-baked fish fingers onto lightly toasted white bread and try not to add too much tomato sauce (it drips onto school uniforms) . They also taste amazing on hot toast for afternoon tea, as my independent teenagers gleefully showed me one day when I sprung them making a god-awful mess in the kitchen.
- EGG, AVOCADO AND LETTUCE Popular with children and adults alike, some people avoid eating it in the workplace because they are in close quarters and don’t wish to offend. That said, it’s a favourite with children, mainly because the soft texture appeals and it is fairly bland. Hard boil one or two eggs for about 4 sandwiches, mash them up with some salt and pepper, add some mayo and blend well. Spread across wholemeal or multigrain bread, add slices of avocado and some shredded lettuce.
- EGG, BACON AND TOMATO There is nothing more synonymous with cold starts at a footy field on a Saturday morning than a bacon and egg roll hot off the barbecue, but why should it be just on a Saturday morning? Mash hard-boiled eggs with mayo, salt and pepper and spread across a soft bap. Top with some crisp fried bacon and sliced tomatoes and you have a sandwich that might just not make it home.
- AVOCADO, MANGO CHUTNEY AND CASHEWS Avocado has a nasty habit of turning brown quickly and it’s common to see people packing an avocado separately in their lunchbox and then slicing it onto their sandwich right at the last moment. To avoid this hassle, you can squeeze a slurp of lemon juice over the avocado as you lay it over fresh brown bread, then combine equal amounts of mango chutney and cream cheese or ricotta with some freshly roasted cashews – even salted cashews are good in this combination – and top the avocado mash. Ah-Maze-Zing.
- CARROT, SULTANAS AND CHEESE Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. This was one of the top performers in my school canteen days and with good reason. It’s sweet, succulent, and it doesn’t taste like carrots. Combine one small grated carrot with ¼ cup grated tasty cheese, a handful of sultanas and 2 tbsp mayonnaise and pile the lot onto soft white bread or in a mountain bread wrap.
- CREAM CHEESE, ONION JAM AND TOMATO Consistently one of the most popular relishes ever published on this blog, onion jam only suffers for the fact that you can never make enough at one time. Not just a suitable dance partner for big fat steaks, onion jam adds a sweetness and piquancy to all sorts of sandwich fillings including pastrami, ham and salami. That said, when you smear some softened cream cheese on a roll, and top with onion jam, some sliced tomatoes, a handful of baby spinach leaves and lick of seeded mustard, it’s pretty hard to stop smiling.
- PEANUT BUTTER, CUCUMBER AND BEAN SPROUTS It might trouble the man of the house to eat this, but your Year 9 teenage girl who announces she is now a vegetarian will love it. Substitute bean sprouts for alfalfa or pea sprouts. She will also love the combination of ½ cup of ricotta or cottage cheese mixed with 2 tablespoons of chopped dried apricots and 2 tablespoons of sultanas. Not the two fillings together you understand.
- TUNA, CREAM CHEESE AND CHILLI There are whole movie scenes dedicated to the ongoing love affair Americans have with tuna and mayo but in this country we don’t think so highly of it. Sure it will give you stinky breath and opening a can or two at your office desk is NOT the way to impress the Temp, but sometimes you have to live dangerously. Tuna mixed with mayonnaise and a handful of chopped gherkins or dill pickles are without peer as a topping for cracker breads and other hardened wafer breads we enjoy at work, but it’s all too easy to go with a pre-mixed flavouring such as lemon and pepper or chilli and lime. Instead, try this - mix sandwich tuna with a couple of spoonfuls of softened cream cheese and a tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce and top with a slice of tomato.