Pimp my lunch: tuna melt

Many of you have wanted to know what I eat at home for lunch. Well, here’s a home lunch I had this week. I love tuna melts (1/2 can chunk light tuna with real mayo, extra sharp cheddar, thin sandwich bread) and a yogurt, and an apricot. I’m not taking pictures of all of my lunches, but the occasional few… My husband laughed when I took a picture of the hospital breakfast the other morning and said, “Old habits die hard.” Too true.

The problem I see with this lunch is the pitiful lack of veggies. Normally I have fresh spinach on hand (I prefer spinach over lettuce) and I would have put them inside the melt. But this weekend we ended up running out of time at the grocery store and I didn’t get there until today to restock our (organic) spinach. So my sandwich lacked veggies. I welcome thoughts on how I could improve this lunch. Normally I eat apples instead of apricots, but we ran out of the staples and since I’m off now, we knew I could shop this week. Everything has been bought since I ate this! Today I ate soup and sardines but I didn’t think to take a shot of it…
Anyone have any insight into why real sandwiches aren’t served at least as much as hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets at school? Most of America is eating sandwiches for lunch. I consider them a staple. Am I wrong? Why does every school lunch seem to be hot? Can we eat the occasional cold sandwich at school?

Yesterday I participated in an interview with Andy Bellatti. We’ve tweeted a lot (Twitter) and so we finally got a chance to chat. To listen to our discussion, visit his blog.

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85 thoughts on “Pimp my lunch: tuna melt

  1. I had a tuna melt from our work cafeteria run by Sodexho. The new cafeteria lists nutritional information on a placard near the food. It's cool.

    I had to laugh at some of the comments. Keep the fat, eat low fat, eat greek, no artificial sweeteners and my favorite; get used to the taste of xxx.

    Honestly, I have tried for years to like Greek yogurt and I find it gross. I try to eat regular yogurt when I can because the low fat is not as good and has more weird ingredients. I'd say to improve this: try making your own mayo, switch to organic chicken (I just read a NYT article on tuna after lunch) and add some cut up veggies.

    We all have our preferences on less fat, more "real" fat, less ingredients, less flavor. Go with what YOU like. Honestly, other than eating real foods; the rest is all fad.

  2. I officially retitled the post "pimp my lunch" because your suggestions take my bland lunch and make it flashy!

  3. I'm surprised no one has suggested you make your own mayo yet!

    No, I'm not being sarcastic. I don't buy mayo anymore. I make it myself. The only ingredients are one egg yolk (I get my eggs from a local farmer I know and trust them for raw eating), lemon juice, EV olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. It comes out bright yellow and doesn't taste the same as Hellman's (tastes like lemon and evoo), but I've gotten a taste for it now. It's also really easy to make in a food processor in small batches that get used up long before it goes bad.

    Ok, but I realize this is a bit "advanced", so if I were to buy mayo at the store I would look for a kind that only listed those basic ingredients (vegetable oil, egg, vinegar or other acid, and maybe some seasonings) and not any other weird chemicals.

    I think at least knowing how something is made helps you buy it if you don't feel like making it yourself. That way you know what's supposed to be on the ingredients list and what are the extra chemical additives.

    I also second the thing about the yogurt. The yogurt I buy is a plain, full fat, organic kind that comes in a hefty glass jar. I put my own flavorings in, and when it's used up, I wash out the jar and reuse it like a mason jar. (Or you could make your own yogurt, I haven't tried that yet, but I've heard it's easy to do.)

  4. My school does serve sandwiches for lunch. They have ham subs on the regular menu, as well as tuna boats, and occasionally turkey. They offer grilled cheese with tomato soup, and have PBJ/almond butter sandwiches which they keep in reserve. They also make their food onsite and use real trays, but still use plastic silverware in the lower schools because they have tried real silverware and it merely gets thrown out.

  5. Only because you asked…

    1) Echoing everyone else: buy local, seasonal fruits and veggies whenever possible.

    2) Try a brown or spicy mustard instead of mayo in the tuna.

    3) Look for white cheddar, aka cheddar in its natural form. The orange color is an additive with absolutely no purpose. I live in Vermont (land of cheese) and all our cheddar is white here.

    4) Large tubs of yogurt are great, but you can have even less environmental impact with a yogurt maker that makes yogurt in reusable containers. It's a surprisingly easy process, even if you are a working parent. We've been making yogurt for 11 years and sweeten it with maple syrup or homemade jam. Donvier makes a great yogurt maker that only costs $50. Ours is still working all these years later.

  6. Is there high fructose corn syrup in those sandwich thins? I've seen the ads a lot lately…

  7. Amanda commented that nobody suggested making their own mayo – just when I wanted to comment that nobody seems to be making their own yoghurt. It's so easy, way more nutritious and costs no more than the milk it's made with – and a tablespoon or so of yoghurt for the starter.

    There are many good tutorials available online. I wrote up my simple method a while back too, though my photography is not as visually appealing as some of the others…


  8. "Pimp my lunch" would be a great regular feature during the summer!

    I never loved tuna, but I just discovered that you can substitute mashed chickpeas for tuna in a sandwich and it turns out uncannily similar. I know it sounds weird, but it's delicious and healthy, and it doesn't involve destructive fishing practices. Not sure how a chickpea melt would taste, though.

  9. No wonder no one knows how or what to eat anymore. Just read the comments. So many conflicting opinions. Fats good, fats bad; unsat fats good and sat fats bad; sat fats good too!; yay carbs, boo carbs.


    Is anyone here an RD? If not, some of you should go see one.

  10. Tuna is great with mashed avocado instead of mayonnaise. It's creamy, but healthier.

    The yogurt is easy to make at home: cheaper, and sugar free.

    I'd say you're missing something green: maybe a little salad?

  11. I don't know if it has been mentioned, but I don't eat Yoplait yogurt because it has been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. (yuck!) I get greek yogurt that is unsweetened and I sweeten it with honey.

  12. All of our schools….elementary thru high school…have cold sandwiches as a lunch choice every day as well as a chef salad. Guess I should count us as lucky, huh? They also have subs on the regular menu once a month or so.

  13. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! for all of these fabulous comments. I have read every single one (of course since I moderate), but anyway wow. So many good ideas!

    When I make chicken salad, I jazz it up with raisins and almonds, but I never really thought about doing the same with tuna.

    So I'm going to do more "pimp my lunch" posts. Thanks so much for participating!

  14. LOVE Pimp My lunch Idea — can some of us readers participate too, once in a while, with our own lunch pictures? This might be an interesting thing to do with a classroom of kids! Once a week you could show them your lunch and they could make suggestions. Great way to talk about all kinds of topics. I love this blog 🙂

  15. I don't know if there is HFCS in the sandwich thin but there is sucralose (splenda). The bagel thins are marginally better, no artificial sweeteners.

  16. It will take you an entire day just to read all these comments! But in tuna salad I like to throw in shredded carrots or diced celery. And I frequently have it over a bed of greens instead of on a sandwich. But hey there are sometimes that you just can't have another salad.
    There has been so much discussion of yogurt. Our Nanny taught me how to make it at home http://thetableofpromise.blogspot.com/2010/06/how-to-make-yogurt-at-home.html No need to worry about HCFS here.

  17. As many people have said, switch the artificially sweetened yogurt for plain yogurt + real fruit puree (or all-fruit jam spreads). Some of the sandwich thins are made with HFCS or sucralose, both of which I avoid. Grrr! Why put either in bread!?!? You can replace the mayo with yogurt cheese (drain plain yogurt overnight in the fridge with a strainer + coffee filter). I now generally avoid commercial mayo because it's made with canola oil. I'm a tuna salad purist, but I do like tomatoes on a tuna melt. Spinach salad on the side would be good too! 🙂

  18. I went to a restaurant a couple years ago that served their tuna melt with chipotle cheddar and a slice of pineapple on top. It sounds weird, but it was delicious! I always make them that way now 🙂

  19. I'm going to figure out a way for readers to participate in the next "pimp my lunch" — and post links to their lunches! I've seen other blogs do a "link thing" and I'll figure out how to do it for the next one (next week). Fun!

  20. Mrs. Q – I'd agree about Greek yogurt – btw, in Chicago you can get Krinos brand at about half the cost of the others (and some markets still make homemade even cheaper) I often use plain greek yogurt as a sub for all or part of the mayo in a sandwich.

    Canned beans are a good, easy way to get veggies into a lunch – you can easily add, say, white beans to a sandwich like yours, or make a quick dip with some garlic and lemon juice. You can also use canned pimentos or roasted red peppers. Shallots work well, too; they keep longer than scallions and are just as good raw.

    FWIW, one of our better school meals in Evanston is a turkey sandwich. It's still kind of sad – flabby lunchmeat on a hamburger bun – but it beats the alternatives.

  21. I eat a lot of tuna salad in the summer (I have a container in my fridge waiting for my lunch this afternoon), it's one of my favorite lunches. I like to healthify it by grating in some carrots and adding lots of chopped onion and celery. I don't care for tuna melts so I skip the cheese and will add tomato, sliced cucumbers, lettuce or sprouts on top, depending on what I have in the fridge.

    I eat fairly healthy and I refuse to buy low-fat/sugar-free items, only real butter and the bad-for-you mayo for me. But I try to balance it out by limiting how much I use and adding lots of veggies to balance out my mayo addiction. I find adding some good mustard to the tuna salad means less mayo and gives it a great kick.

  22. @JGold – it's in the National School Lunch Act, a Truman-era regulation that seems to come from the idea that hot lunches are more nutritionally beneficial (remember, this was the time of boiling vegetables to death!).

    There is also very tricky language in the law about foods "offered" versus "served". It's amazing that it stipulates that children are not allowed to decline certain foods. No wonder so much ends up in the trash.

    http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdenutritran/download/pdf/SEC26.pdf has a bit more on the history of this and the act.

  23. I was just reading and realized there is so much critisizm of penut butter. What about all the benefits too??? I know some brands can be loaded with extra sugar , but a plainole' pb and J made with natural pb and organic no sugar added jelly is delish!!! And , it has lots of nutritional value. Nuts are loaded with "GOOD" fat , and alll kinds of beneficial oils and nutrients. Just because the fruit is crushed and in "jelly" form , if it's no sugar added and organic , it has plenty of nutrition as well…slap that on some multi-grain bread …and you've got a killer lunch…or throw it in a toaster oven , and it's amazing for breakfast!!!!!

  24. I have some home made relish that I always add to my tuna fish when I'm adding the mayonnaise. I also substitute some of the mayo with mustard.
    Veggies I add to tuna salad if I have them on hand: green onions, spring onions, cucumbers, celery, tomato, peppers.

  25. I think your lunch looks good. I would probably skip the yogurt since there's already protein in the tuna (plus I just don't like the taste of artificial sweetener) and your idea to add some greens ot the tuna melt sounds yummy. I think that the people who are really adamant about adding vegetables are being a little unreasonable…it's fine if your whole day of food is a balanced diet. Every meal does not need to be perfectly balanced, and you can always "make up" vegetable servings in snacks or other meals. School lunches SHOULD be perfectly balanced because there's no guarantee that a child's home meals will "make up the difference", but when you're an adult choosing the whole day rather than just individual meas.

  26. I am a teacher and my school occasionally has cold sandwiches. I never feel more sorry for the kids than on cold sandwich day. They arrive frozen and are then (supposed to be) thawed by lunch time. If they are thawed through then the cheese looks like a thick orange goo and the meat is unrecognizable. They are rarely given mayo or mustard to put on them, and if they are they only get one tiny packet. They never have fresh lettuce or tomato to put on them.

  27. I haven't had a chance to read through the many preceding comments yet, so forgive me if this is repetitious…. The tuna melt was indeed one of my favorite cafeteria lunches in school 20+ years ago. Our schools called it the Tuna Boat — tuna salad in a hot dog bun, with melted cheese (probably American) on top. I still love it, though I might now make it with salmon salad and cheddar. Thanks for the fine memories of a vintage school meal.

  28. Some lunch programs have cold sandwiches. My school just yesterday had a turkey and cheese sandwich, potato salad and the dreaded fruit cup. The sandwich must have been made last week…the bread was hard and stale and the turkey and cheese was kind of melted together and into the bun. You couldn't remove one thing without removing everything else. The potato salad was straight up nasty with nobby bits of potato and hard pieces of carrots, peppers and peas (perhaps they used some sort of dried soup mix in there somewhere?) Oh, and the fruit cup. Gag. Fruit from a can in heavy syrup. I work with kids with special needs and tend to end up wearing these lunches.

  29. Those Arnold sandwich thins are full of chemicals as is the yoplait "light". I would not feed either of those things to my kids.

    Yay on the regular mayo though. EAT REAL FOOD. Why not chemical free bread and regular yogurt? Sugar in yogurt (even if it's more than you should have) is a lot better than that light, aspartame stuff.

  30. I don't think there's any federal mandate for hot lunches – otherwise Mrs. Q wouldn't have had to eat those nasty cheese sandwiches or pb&j graham cracker things. I do think that deli sandwiches can certainly be a healthy choice, but not every day. I ate a ton of lunch-meat growing up – it was either that or pbj almost every day for me, packed from home. I ate it a lot in college, too – especially the year I ate entirely out of a microfridge due to the poor quality of the dining hall. That's a story in and of itself, but suffice it to say, lunch-meat sandwiches are one of the easiest & healthiest things to make when you have extremely limited food preparation tools/space. Now, I almost never eat lunch-meat, because I got so sick of it! I'm kind of glad, though – now that I read nutrition labels more, I've realized that my sodium intake from all those lunch-meat sandwiches as a kid must have been very unhealthy! I'd guess that's probably the main reason you don't see deli sandwiches on kids' menus: too much salt to meet the federal standards.

  31. I don't know what sandwhich thins you guys eat but here we have Oroweat thins and I buy multi-grain and whole wheat and yes I do read the ingredients. There is a little sugar – real sugar – but no Splenda! One person said they have Splenda. And they are better then giving you child the marketed white breads. I don't eat yogurt but my husband does eat the greek yogurt and there is no way my children would ever eat that. We eat lots of tuna here with variations of all the recipes posted here.
    We have changed back to eating real stuff, in moderation, as when we tried to diet and eat the artifical stuff, we all gained weight. When my high schooler ate at school, she gained 10 pounds in two months and asked to pack her own lunch. If kids were given better choices, they would chose good stuff.

  32. Hi! I have just recently switched out my Yoplait to Voskos Greek (more protein…and I love the honey flavor) and eat a lot of baby carrots and hummus, too!

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