Updated March 29, 2023
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 McDougall Newsletter and has been updated in March 2023.
My most memorable experience with ordering a sandwich happened one day after a radio interview in Detroit. My Dad and I went to the first-floor deli in the Fisher Building. After ordering a whole wheat bread sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mustard, I asked for the bill. The response was, “We’ve never sold a sandwich without meat – no charge.” I have never been so lucky again, but I have found many great sandwiches as I have traveled around the country and in my own hometown.
No matter where you live, you can always find sandwiches. They are in supermarkets, delis, restaurants and sold by street-side vendors. The most dedicated are submarine sandwich shops, like Subway, Port of Subs or Togos. Our youngest son, Craig, is convinced that the supermarket delis make the freshest and best veggie sandwiches – he now gets them at the Nugget Market in Davis, California. Another popular national (except California) “sandwich-oriented” restaurant is Panera Bread – a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options for sandwiches and soups are on the menu. Get menus and locations online at www.panerabread.com. Schlotzsky’s Delis are all over the USA – they serve vegetarian sandwiches and wraps to order and several vegetarian low-fat soups daily.
Sandwich orders are very basic: bread and vegetables, with a little sauce. Start by ordering the kind of bread that you want; in general, the whole grain, dark rye, and sourdough varieties are your healthier choice. Next, decide on the “insides.” Vegetable options include tomatoes, avocados (remember this is a high-fat option), onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, pepperoncini, black olives, pickles, sprouts, and lettuce. Sometimes there will be more exotic choices, like artichoke hearts, shredded carrots, mushrooms, hummus, roasted zucchini, roasted eggplant, and roasted peppers (the roasted vegetables are usually higher in fat because they are brushed with olive oil). Make sure you remember to add, “No cheese of any kind.” Also, tell them to skip the mayonnaise and the olive oil dressing. Your choice of dressings is limited to mustard, and maybe, if you’re lucky, a low-fat salad dressing.
Look for a place that caters to the health-conscious consumer. Here is the sandwich menu from the Washington Deli, 1990 K Street NW, Washington, DC. (Tell them to leave off the cheese and any added oils.)
Veggie Lovers Sandwich: Grilled red peppers, zucchini, squash, baby spinach, sprouts and hummus served on a variety of pita pockets, tortilla wraps, bread, and rolls.
Greek Sandwich: Cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, leaf lettuce, feta cheese and yogurt sauce served on pita pockets and tortilla wraps.
Mexican Wrap: Diced tomatoes, guacamole, grilled red and green peppers, grilled onions, and salsa in assorted tortilla wraps.
Falafel Sandwich: Falafel, hummus, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and hot peppers (optional) served on pita pockets and tortilla wraps.
Tofu Burgers (or Lentil Burgers or Portobello Burgers): Tofu (or Lentil or Portobello) burger, grilled veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc.), tahini/mustard/chutney/vegenaise as dressing.
BBQ Seitan Wrap: BBQ Seitan, lettuce, diced tomatoes and grilled onions in a tortilla wrap.
Burgers and Hot Dogs
These days most restaurants offer “veggie burgers” on their menu. Unfortunately, most contain dairy (cheese) and eggs. For example, one very popular item with restaurants is the Gardenburger made by Gardenburger, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, which contains dairy and egg whites. Even if the restaurant makes their own “veggie burgers,” you still need to ask about the ingredients.
Burger King recently introduced a burger made from grains, vegetables (no soy), and spices called the “BK Veggie.” It does contain some oil (and I’ve been told it is grilled on the same grill as their beef burgers – what risks could this bring along with the taste of the real thing?). The burgers are made to order, so ask for the right toppings, like onions, pickles and tomatoes; and maybe some ketchup and mustard. Each patty is 120 calories with 4 grams of fat (30% fat). The bun is 160 calories and 4 grams of fat (17% fat). No trans-fats are used.
Chili’s (Grill and Bar – Family Restaurant) also serves a black bean veggie burger, which does contain some egg whites. In very small print under their list of regular burgers on the menu, you will find the option “Black bean burger substituted upon request.” Be sure to tell them no cheese and no mayo. Ask for mustard, ketchup, pickles, onions and lettuce, instead.
All across the East Coast, lower Midwest and California you will find a chain called “Great Wraps.” Here you can get hot tortillas and hot pita wraps made vegetarian. They serve a “Portobello mushroom wrap” and a “veggie and cheese wrap.” Order it without cheese or dairy-based sauces. There are also many other chains and independent shops that make pita bread sandwiches and wraps. Be forewarned that most of these wraps have a considerable amount of fat in the tortilla shell and if you have the option of a “low-fat” shell you will save many calories of unwanted fat. Pita bread usually will save many calories of unwanted fat. Pita bread is usually the healthier choice.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
No question about it, the traditional P & J sandwich is high fat and sugar, but it can be made healthier by leaving off the butter – and this may be the best you can do when trying to order for a child on the road or at home. Ask for “natural” peanut butter, rather than the varieties made with hydrogenated oils.
Pack and Go
Don’t overlook the simple idea of packing king your own homemade sandwiches in a brown bag or cooler for work or play for a simple and inexpensive meal. To avoid the “soggy sandwich” problem, pack the tomatoes and any other juicy vegetables in small plastic bags and add them to the sandwich just before you eat it. Start with a bean-based sandwich spread or homemade veggie burger between healthy sliced bread or buns and take along assorted toppings to add later.