How to Build a Better (and Healthier!) Grilled Cheese
A grilled cheese doesn’t need to be limited to cheat days (or worse, forbidden entirely) — you can enjoy a grown-up, healthy grilled cheese sandwich by making just a few strategic, healthier swaps.
Because the aroma of a thick pat (or two) of sizzling butter and a few orange squares of “cheese” melting on white bread conjures 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 healthier grilled cheese sandwich — without sacrificing flavor (or bread or cheese).
Check out our tips to cook up a delicious, more nutritious grilled cheese.
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% whole wheat or whole grain on the label; breads that just say “wheat” don’t necessary contain all the parts of the wheat kernel and may just be colored to look like whole-wheat bread.
Here’s a full list of our favorite healthy breads.
2. Pick the Cheese Wisely
If you’re going to eat a grilled cheese, eat a grilled cheese. Rather than suffer 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 Fruit and Veggies
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
5. Follow Smart Cooking Tips
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. Here’s how to do it:
- 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.
- 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.