How to Build a Better (and Healthier!) Grilled Cheese
Ah, grilled cheese: The aroma of a thick pat (or two) of sizzling butter and a few orange squares of “cheese” melting on white bread conjure up wonderful childhood memories.
But sadly, this version of the American classic isn’t exactly the healthiest way to fuel your body. Thankfully, there are ways to make a healthy grilled cheese sandwich — without sacrificing flavor (or bread or cheese). And the good news is, you don’t have to follow specific healthy grilled cheese recipes to enjoy. Instead, check out our tips and suggestions to concoct your own delicious, more nutritious grilled cheese.
How to Make a Healthier Grilled Cheese
We’ve broken down the various elements, from the bread to the cheese and other delicious add-ins to help you create a healthy and flavorful grilled cheese sandwich.
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1. Choose the right bread
Ditch the traditional white slices in favor of something heartier and healthier: Choose whole-grain breads with short ingredient lists. Look for 100 percent whole-wheat or whole-grain on the label; breads that just say “wheat” don’t necessarily contain all the parts of the wheat kernel and may just be colored to look like whole-wheat bread.
When scanning the nutrition facts label, look for the following (per slice of bread):
- About 100 calories or less
- Less than 200 mg of sodium (Yes! Bread can be high in sodium.)
- At least 1 gram of fiber per 10 grams of carbohydrates (This is the ratio typically found in whole grains.)
- Less than 4 grams of sugar
Here’s a full list of our favorite healthy breads.
2. Get choosey with cheese
If you’re going to eat a grilled cheese, eat a grilled cheese. Rather than suffering through an unsatisfying, non-fat cheese sandwich, go for full-fat cheeses. By choosing a full-flavored cheese, you can get away with using less of it. Check out a ranking of the healthiest cheeses, here.
Pick super flavorful cheeses like smoky Gouda, nutty Gruyere, tangy goat cheese, or sharp cheddar. To get the gooey deliciousness of a traditional grilled cheese, try a cheese combo: Pair a more melty cheese like part-skim or full-fat mozzarella with a stronger, aged cheese for a punch of flavor.
Another way to go easy on the cheese is to shred it first; this will allow you to spread the cheese in a thin, even layer rather than overlapping slices to fully cover the bread.
3. Add flavor with smart spreads
For even more flavor, add a swipe of healthy spreads like pesto, olive tapenade, hummus, guacamole, salsa, avocado dressing, or creamy dill dressing.
For extra healthy bonus points, make your spreads from scratch so you can avoid any preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, and sometimes crazy-high sugar and sodium levels.
If you’re going for a sweet grilled cheese, like one with pear and Brie, a light smear of raw honey can help satisfy your sweet tooth.
4. Don’t forget the fruit, veggies, and herbs
A traditional grilled cheese sammie calls for just bread and cheese (and OK, a wee bit o’ butter), but don’t be afraid to cook outside the bread-and-cheese box: Shake up your sandwich by adding fresh fruit and vegetables.
Pro tip: Slice toppings nice and thin so they meld with the cheese and you’re not stuck with a giant hunk of tomato or apple.
Here are a few of our favorite fruit and veggie toppings:
- Kale (make sure to remove the stems)
- Roasted red peppers
- Jalapeño peppers
Roasted Cauliflower Grilled Cheese
- Nonstick cooking spray
- ¼ medium cauliflower
- ½ medium shallot
- 1 dash ground smoked paprika
- Sea salt (or Himalayan salt) and ground black pepper (to taste; optional)
- 2 slices sprouted whole-grain bread
- 1 tsp. whole-grain dijon mustard
- ½ cup arugula
- 1 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 tsp. olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper; lightly coat with spray. Set aside.
Thinly slice cauliflower and shallot. Arrange cauliflower and shallot slices in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Coat with cooking oil spray, sprinkle with paprika, and season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender. Set aside.
Spread mustard on one slice of bread. Layer cauliflower, shallot, arugula, and cheese; top with remaining slice of bread.
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add sandwich; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip, then cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
The Nutrition Facts box below provides estimated nutritional information for this recipe.
- Get full coverage with your spreads: Make sure when adding any spreads that you cover the entire slice — all the edges. This ensures each bite will be full of flavor.
- Hold the butter: While it may feel like a sin to go butter-less when making a grilled cheese, you can craft a satisfying, flavorful, toasty sandwich with a cooking oil high in omega-3 fatty acids instead. Lightly spray a warm pan with extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, unrefined coconut oil (especially great for sweet grilled cheeses), or another cooking oil of your choice.
- Get the pan warm: Let the skillet or pan heat up before adding your sandwich. This will allow the cheese to start melting more quickly while preventing burning your slices of bread.
- Prevent burning bread: Once you add your sandwich to the pan, pop a lid on top to help melt the cheese without burning the bread.
With a little strategic magic, you can whip up a healthy grilled cheese sandwich that fills you up with all the good stuff, and nixes the unnecessary, not-so-good stuff.