Cold Sandwich Ideas for Lunch That Aren’t Peanut Butter & Jelly

Sandwiches Six Ways That Aren't PBJ by The Allergy Chef

Today I’m going to be sharing good ideas you can use in your lunches that feature tasty ingredients. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this article, you already have a safe-for-you bread to choose from. If not, I’ve put some gluten free, vegan, and allergy friendly bread options at the end of the article. If you’re looking for sandwiches that aren’t PBJ, you’ve come to the right place.

Cold Sandwich Ideas for Work

As a lunch packing adult, I’d make sure you’re packing sandwiches that will keep your taste buds happy, but also won’t be too messy. For example, I wouldn’t pack sloppy joes for lunch, especially if I need to eat with my hands because there’s nowhere comfy to sit on your lunch break. Instead, I’d pack sandwiches with cold cuts, or a chicken salad sandwich which is easy to hold. Here are some easy sandwich ideas for work:

  • Leftover Turkey Sandwich
  • Caprese Sandwich
  • Veg Mayo Sandwich
  • Egg Sandwich
  • Bacon Sandwich

What Are the Types of Sandwich Filling and Spreads?

There are lots of sauces and condiments on the market that bring so much flavor to your sandwiches. Generally speaking, these ingredients are all pretty versatile. The same is true of most lunch meats and cheeses. Some of the spreads on the list are really for adults given the spice level, but for the most part, these are ingredients the whole family can enjoy.

Protein & Veg:

  • Deli Meats and Cold Cuts
  • Red Peppers (others work too but these are so pretty)
  • Red Onion (pickled will add even more flavor)
  • Pickles
  • Lettuce & Greens

Sauces:

  • Spicy Mayo
  • Tangy BBQ Sauce
  • Sweet BBQ Sauce
  • Thousand Island Dressing
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Spicy Mustard
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Honey Mustard
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
  • Hummus
  • Pesto
  • Aioli
  • Sriracha

Cheeses:

  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Pepper Jack Cheese
  • Gouda Cheese (some varieties are smoked)
  • Cream Cheese (pairs well with fruit spreads and fresh fruit)
  • Swiss Cheese
  • Provolone Cheese
  • Fresh Mozzarella

Cold Sandwich Ideas for School

Assuming we’re talking about kids for a moment, make sure you’re choosing ingredients your child enjoys. When you’re packing a lunch to send to school, you don’t want to introduce loads of new ingredients they might not love. Evenings and weekends are a great time to test out ingredients and hope they find some new favorites you can include in future lunches.

If your kid is a fan of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but can’t take them because it’s a peanut free class/school, we have an article about the different types of spreads and butters you can use in its place. Be sure to have your child sample different options to see what they enjoy most. When sampling, test it out with the jellies and jams you know they enjoy to make sure the flavors blend well.

If you’re wondering what kind of sandwiches are good for kids, here are more kid friendly sandwich ideas:

  • Ham & Cheese Sandwich
  • Turkey & Cheese Sandwich
  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich (great with bacon)
  • Pepperoni & Cheese Sandwich
  • Cream Cheese & Fruit Sandwich

Sandwiches That Aren’t PBJ

For many of us, when we think of a sandwich, our minds go straight to PBJ. Hopefully this article has given you some alternative ideas. Here’s a list of several more sandwiches that aren’t PBJ:

  • Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Sandwich
  • Corned Beef & Veg Sandwich
  • Cuban Sandwich (usually ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard)
  • Cucumber, Tomato, Mayo Sandwich
  • Egg Salad Sandwich
  • Honey Mustard & Bacon Sandwich
  • Italian Sub Sandwich
  • Lobster/Crab Roll
  • Meatball Sub Sandwich
  • Monte Cristo (French Toast bread, ham and cheese filling)
  • Panini
  • Pastrami on Rye Bread
  • Philly Cheesesteak
  • Pulled Pork Sandwich
  • Ranch Chicken Sandwich
  • Ruben (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, rye bread)
  • Sausage, Cheese, and Veg Sandwich
  • Tuna Salad Sandwich
  • Turkey & Cheese Sandwich

If you’d really like to geek out over sandwiches, check out this Wikipedia page on sandwiches, which also links to types of hot dogs, hamburgers, and breads.

Chicken Sandwiches for The Win

Chicken sandwiches, in my opinion, are an excellent choice for school lunches and with good reason. You can create a range of flavor by changing the sauces. The first time, use a salad dressing you love and the next time use a BBQ sauce. If you don’t have safe store-bought sauces, there are lots of easy recipes that will teach you how to make a sauce or dressing.

When I make chicken sandwiches for the kids like this, I use our Easy Shredded Chicken recipe as the base, then mix sauce into a portion of the chicken, and place it in between slices of bread. If you want to feel a little fancy, you could hollow out bread rolls and stuff them instead. I’ll also add, for The Papa, when I make him these types of sandwiches I also add cheese slices.

Elevate Your Ham Sandwich

You can add a range of condiments and toppings to the everyday ham sandwich (or any meat sandwich) to take it to the next level. For example, rather than use iceberg lettuce, use peppery arugula instead. It will create a whole different flavor profile. Add a drizzle of honey or a drizzle of high-quality olive oil with red wine vinegar and suddenly you’ve got a five-star lunch. Homemade pesto is another spread option that will make your sandwich feel fancy. We have a nut free, allergy friendly pesto recipe here on RAISE that pairs well with dairy free parmesan cheese (click HERE for the full recipe).

You can take this idea and apply it to other proteins including rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken, chicken breast, pulled pork, sliced beef, and simple sausage.

Easy Sandwiches for Lunch

In my opinion, the easiest sandwiches for lunch are going to be sandwiches that don’t require any cooking. The more store-bought ingredients you can use, the better. This is where deli meats, sliced cheese, and simple jarred sauces come in handy.

Sandwiches Aren’t Just for Lunch

You’ll hear me say this a lot: you can serve anything anytime and it’s a meal. I think we get so caught up in these traditional ideas of food that we overthink it and stress ourselves out. Sandwiches are great for lunches but they’re also a great breakfast, lunch, dinner, evening snack, and everything else in between. If you have a busy family and need a quick snack on the go, you could pre-pack several sandwiches and have them cut into easy-to-hold shapes.

When the kids were younger and we leaned into sandwiches more, I kept things interesting and healthy by using whole grain bread (or multigrain bread) when I could. I’d also add fresh vegetables to the sandwich (especially tomato slices and lettuce). When it didn’t make sense to add veg to the sandwich, I’d serve it on the side. The kids love having green bell pepper sliced on the side as well as sweet bell peppers on the side.

You can cut your prep time down for the week by using your slow cooker, pressure cooker, or Instant Pot to make a batch of a sandwich filling such as pulled pork.

Vegetarian Sandwich Ideas for School

Up to this point, we’ve shared options that have been pretty meat focused, and that’s not for everyone. Here’s a quick list of vegetarian sandwiches that travel well for work and school:

  • Avocado, Tomato, & Mayo Sandwich
  • Caprese Sandwich
  • Cheese & Grilled Onion Sandwich
  • Cheese & Vegetable Sandwich
  • Cream Cheese & Fruit Sandwich
  • Egg Salad Sandwich
  • Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich
  • Fried Egg Sandwich

Vegan Sandwiches for Kids & Adults

For those who are following a vegan diet by allergy or choice, here’s a quick list of vegan sandwiches. These are great for kids and adults traveling to work and school.

  • Avocado, Tomato, & Mayo Sandwich
  • Caprese Sandwich
  • Cheese & Grilled Onion Sandwich
  • Cream Cheese & Fruit Sandwich
  • Cucumber, Tomato, & Mayo Sandwich
  • Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich
  • Hillary’s Veggie Patty Sandwich
  • Hummus & Tomato Sandwich
  • JUST Egg Scramble Sandwich
  • Peanut/Nut/Seed Butter & Jelly Sandwich
  • Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich
  • Pulled Porque Sandwich

Keep in mind for some of these sandwiches, you’ll need to purchase the vegan version of something such as cheese, mayo, or liquid egg.

How to Keep Sandwiches Fresh Without a Fridge

There are a few things you can do to make sure your sandwich tastes its best when lunch time rolls around. First, the order in which you build the sandwich matters. For example, you don’t want a (wet) tomato in direct contact with the bread. This will create a soggy effect, and make the sandwich feel less fresh.

Make sure you use ripe seasonal fresh produce. When you have produce that tastes fantastic, the end result will be a fresher tasting sandwich. Since we’re on vegetables, make sure your lettuce is crisp. Limp lettuce (and limp vegetables in general) doesn’t convey the taste and sensation of fresh.

Once you’ve built a delicious fresh tasting sandwich, make sure you wrap it properly. If you store it in the fridge on a plate, uncovered, when you transport it and eat it later you won’t be impressed. When you do have your lunch packed up, make sure you use two ice packs: One on the bottom of the lunch box and one on top of all the goods.

Keeping your sandwich cool will also deliver the sensation of eating a fresh sandwich.

How do you Pack a Sandwich for School Lunch?

There are a few ways to pack a sandwich to make sure it’s enjoyable at lunch time. The classic way is to use a baggie. If you’re packing in a brown paper bag, make sure the sandwich is on top so it’s not crushed throughout the day. You should either carry the bag, or make sure school books and binders aren’t crushing the lunch either.

You can place sandwiches into small containers like this one to make sure they aren’t crushed. The upside is that these are a reusable alternative to baggies. The downside is that little kids might throw them away accidentally.

If you’re like us and you enjoy using metal reusable lunch boxes, the good news is that sandwiches travel very well in them. There’s usually a compartment that works for a full sandwich (depending on the size of your bread). Reusable lunchboxes come in a range of sizes, so I’m sure you’ll find one that works for you.

Outside of this, read the above section to learn how to keep sandwiches fresh overnight. You’ll also see how you can keep sandwiches from getting soggy in a lunch box.

What Can You Put on Sandwiches Instead of Meat?

There are a lot of great meat free sandwich options for those who are meat free due to allergy or vegan/vegetarian choices. Vegetables are the obvious choice, but for those who are looking for more, eggs, tofu, and beans are also great additions.

If you’re open to eating commercial meat alternatives, you can purchase a block of vegan “meat” and slice it thin to give you the mouthfeel of a lunch meat sandwich. For another option, you could use a veggie burger patty such as the ones from Hillary’s (one of our fave brands).

Keeping it simple to a grilled cheese sandwich is also a good move, and you can pair said sandwich with a range of soups. More than anything, just remember to use flavourful base ingredients to make sure you enjoy the experience.

Gluten Free Bread Options

If you’re looking for a basic white bread that’s gluten free and allergy friendly, check out Raised Gluten Free. Little Northern Bakehouse also makes a good basic white bread. Be sure to read the ingredients before trying them, as some of you won’t be comfortable with some of the ingredients used.

If you’re a fan of sourdough bread, Bread SRSLY has a sandwich loaf and bread roll option. Some of their breads are also gum free. Everything they sell is gluten free, vegan, and top 8 allergy free. Plus, they ship nationwide. We’ve tried a few other sourdough breads over the years, but this is the one the kids seem to like the most.

Canyon Bakehouse is one of the most popular gluten free bread options on the market. We’ve reviewed their bread along with other gluten free breads too. These reviews might help you when choosing a gluten free, allergy friendly bread.

If you need to make bread at home, RAISE has several bread recipes that will help you make delicious sandwiches. Our gluten free vegan sandwich bread recipe also freeze well.

Related Resources

Nut Butters, Peanut Alternatives, Seed Based Spreads by The Allergy Chef Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Sunflower Seed Butter, and Tahini by The Allergy Chef
Disposable Lunch Ideas by The Allergy Chef Packing Gluten Free, Nut Free, Allergy Friendly Lunches by The Allergy Chef
Food Allergy Help 101: Back to School Food Allergy Help 101: Lunch

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