The Essential Sandwich

Move over PB&J, here comes the “Essential Sandwich.”

While living in Seattle, looking for an inexpensive lunch, one day, I happened upon an all-in-one tortilla-wrapped wonder, called the “Essential Sandwich”: all the lovely flavors of international favorites — like Indian curried potatoes and lentils, Mediterranean falafel and tzatziki, Cuban beans and rice, and jerk-spiced veggies and beans — wrapped together in a one-handed, complete meal. This style of wrapped sandwich is simple to make at home and a step above the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Start with the protein, like beans, meat or cheese, add a starch or grain, such as rice or potatoes, and build in the flavors and veggies. Wrap up tight like a closed burrito or roll and slice in rounds. Add a side vegetable, like veggie sticks or bagged salad, and a bowl of fruit salad or fruit compote, and lunch is complete. 

Inspired by the Japanese bento box, lunches made with multiple, small, bite-sized dishes are gaining popularity in America. One of my family’s favorite lunches is rice balls rolled in sesame salt, boiled edamame pods, cucumber sticks and melon balls. Each food is packed in its own little container, keeping the favors separate and making for a fun meal experience. Add chopsticks, reusable drink bottle and cute napkin or love note, and your kid will be the envy of the lunchroom. 

Busy week-night dinners can also be simplified with some advance planning. The weekend is a great time to work together with the family and map out the meals for the upcoming week. Write a menu, stock the pantry and, if need be, get some prep work done ahead of time. It helps to keep the menu posted on the fridge door as a reminder. Items that need thawing can be listed on the day prior.  

With the weather cooling down, our bodies crave more hearty dishes, and including seasonal dishes into your meal plan is a nice touch and a welcome change from the summer produce. In season this month are: apples, winter squash, yams, beets, assorted greens, potatoes and broccoli. Incorporating these foods into mealtimes adds interest, flavor and nutrient density. Apples are not only delicious eaten whole, but make a lovely addition to meat dishes, vegetable salads and as a winter compote with cinnamon and star anise. Roasting winter squash caramelizes its sugars, serving up a savory treat at mealtimes. It combines nicely with garlic, rosemary and thyme, and also makes a stunning purée for crackers and sandwich spreads. Yams make a wonderful alternative to traditional oven fries and pair well with winter greens and roasted garlic for a satisfying side dish. Roasted or shaved beets are a nice departure from boiled. Greens, potatoes and broccoli are familiar to most home cooks, but should not be forgotten, as they are nourishing, beautiful additions to dinnertime. To change things up, try a new recipe or cooking method, easily found online or at the library.

In planning for the fall season, don’t forget to prioritize healthy homemade meals into your schedule. With a little organization, and seasonal and international inspiration, mealtimes will become fun, delicious and interesting once again. Your family, wallet and doctor will thank you. 

Melissa Davis is a food writer who lives in Walla Walla. She can be reached at melissadavisfood.com

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