How to Make Super Sandwiches Without Deli Meats

Any why you shouldn't be eating processed meat anyway.

peanut butter and jam
Peanut butter and jam sandwiches.

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As any non-vegetarian parent knows, deli meats can feel like a lifesaver. They make it easy to whip up a last-minute school lunch. Slather some mustard on bread, add some ham and cheese, sneak in a piece of lettuce, and your kid is set for the day. But in reality, deli meats are not that great, despite their "quick fix" façade. Here are some reasons why you might want to reconsider your lunch game. 

Deli meats are prone to listeria, as yet another recent outbreak in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts proves. So far ten people have fallen ill and one has died, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning, blaming Italian-style deli meats. This is the same reason why pregnant women are told not to eat deli meats.

Unless you're buying high-end, artisanal charcuterie, raised by small-scale farmers hand-feeding their heritage pigs chestnuts and organic apples (I'm not sure if such a scenario exists, but it sounds idyllic), deli meats drive demand for industrially produced meat. This is linked to a complex chain of practices that are generally awful for the planet, from greenhouse gas emissions, fecal waste, and water contamination, to animal cruelty.

Deli meats are not even good for you. They're a form of processed meat whose consumption was deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organization in 2015. Dr. Nigel Brockton, director at the American Institute for Cancer Research, told the New York Times, "We see a 4 percent increase in the risk of cancer even at 15 grams a day, which is a single slice of ham on a sandwich."

What to Use Instead

So, what should a tired, busy parent use in place of deli meats? As a mother to three chronically hungry young children, I can assure you that great alternatives do exist. While they might not be as fast as slapping ham onto bread, they can be almost as fast if you do some prep before the start of the school week. 

Eggs. Cook hardboiled eggs and mash them up into a batch of egg salad to make sandwiches throughout the week. Put a fried egg in a bun with cheese, lettuce, and tomato, or scoop scrambled eggs into a tortilla with black beans, salsa, and cheese.

Felafel. You can buy quick felafel mixes that just require water (or make your own from scratch with dried chickpeas). Fry up a batch in the morning or night before, and insert into a pita with fillings like tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Nut Butter. Nothing beats an old fashioned peanut butter and banana or jam sandwich. If your kid's school is nut-free, try Wow Butter (made from soy) or sunflower butter.

Cream Cheese. Slather cream cheese onto bread and you've got a great lunch. Add some spinach, pickles, sprouts for crunch. My kids like herb and garlic cream cheese. I like to make a homemade blend of plain cream cheese and feta (1:1 ratio), whipped in the blender, for a satisfying spread.

Halloumi. Grilled or pan-fried halloumi is heavenly. Once you've had it, you'll always want it. Slip it into a pita or roll, along with some vegetables, for a chewy, salty filling. (Regular grilled cheese also works; my kids don't complain if their sandwiches are cold.)

Roasted Vegetables. If your child is an adventurous eater, you might be able to convince them that roasted red peppers, eggplant, and zucchini with cheese are a tasty combination.

Hummus. Hummus is the most famous of the bean/legume spreads, but you can make delicious spreads from most beans. Add lots of olive oil, garlic, and seasonings. Add pickled vegetables, lettuce, crunchy sprouts, and cheese. 

Veggie Burger. Make a black bean or lentil patty, put it in a bun, add avocado slices, tomato, and whatever other toppings you'd use on a burger. 

Tofu Banh Mi. Dredge tofu in cornstarch and fry till crispy. Pack into a roll with shredded carrots, cucumber, mayo, Sriracha, and cilantro.

Leftover (Good) Meat. If you buy high-quality, free-range meat to eat for main meals, you can turn the leftovers into great sandwich or wrap fillings.

Happy lunch-making!