How to build the perfect sandwich

I love packing lunches.  I love considering what type of food to bring based on the type of activity I’m going to be doing on a certain day.  Will I need snacks?  Is everything going to fit nicely into my lunch box, or do I need to put unrefrigerated food in a separate bag?  One of my favorite lunch items to pack is a sandwich.  It’s a complete meal, which gives me extra room for an afternoon snack.

As delicious and convenient as sandwiches are, they can be very tricky to pack.  If you’re not careful, your beautiful, perfect sandwich can turn into a soggy mess — and there’s nothing more disappointing than finding a soggy mess in your lunch box.  So, here are the tricks I’ve learned to make the perfect sandwich that will remain perfect until lunchtime.


A piece of a baguette

Today’s sandwich was made with a piece of a baguette.

As the base of the sandwich, the type of bread you choose to build your sandwich on is incredibly important.  Find a nice, hearty bread that can stand up to sitting with the fillings inside without disintegrating.  Ciabatta, focaccia, and baguettes are all excellent choices.  The bread choice is especially important for those who are building a gluten-free sandwich.  It’s worth the trip to a bakery for a hearty gluten-free baguette instead of using the super soft gluten-free bread from the freezer section of the supermarket.

A hollowed-out baguette.

Scoop out the inside of the bread to make room for the filling.

Once you’ve selected your bread, you need to make room for the fillings.  Scoop out the middle of the bread — don’t break through the crust, but make sure you have a good well so that your fillings don’t leak out.


Sandwich fillings fall into two main categories: salads and slices.  Salads, like chicken and tuna, have many benefits.  They tend to be easier to compress so they don’t spill when the sandwich is unwrapped, plus most of the vegetables that would normally go on top of the sandwich filling can be mixed into the salad, which saves room and makes building the sandwich much easier.

Tuna salad and vegetables.

Today’s sandwich is filled with tuna salad.

Layers, like lunchmeat, cheese, or grilled vegetables can be wet, so precautions need to be taken to keep the bread from turning soggy, but they also offer some interesting options.  Textures and flavors can be layered to make a wonderfully interesting meal.  Fresh vegetables layered on top of grilled vegetables provides an interesting mix of texture and flavor,


The type of spread you choose for your sandwich is almost as important as the type of bread and the filling.  If your filling is a salad, a spread is unnecessary.  Cold cuts work well with a blend of mayonnaise and mustard.  The mayo provides a barrier between the bread and the mustard, which keeps the sandwich moist, but also keeps the mustard from soaking into the bread and getting lost.  Hummus or cream cheese makes a great spread for a vegetarian sandwich — both provide great flavor and act as a moisture barrier between the vegetables and the bread.


Tuna salad topped with peppers and tomatoes.

A quick raid of the fridge and the garden provided peppers and yellow pear tomatoes to layer on top of the tuna salad.

What you choose to top your sandwich with can determine if your sandwich survives the lunchbox. Just keep in mind that some toppings are particularly wet, which can be detrimental to your lunch.  Slices of tomatoes and onions work nicely when added to the sandwich before it’s packed away.  Other toppings are harder to deal with.  To keep your sandwich from turning into a soggy mess, pack wet toppings like pickles in a separate container and add them to the sandwich right before eating.  Lettuce is another topping that is best added at the last minute — more for the sake of the lettuce than the sandwich.  Adding the lettuce at the last minute ensures crisp, non-wilted lettuce.  Packing the sandwich with the lettuce already on it guarantees sad, wilted lettuce.


The final decision to make when packing a sandwich for lunch is how to wrap it.  There’s sandwich-shaped plastic containers, fold-over sandwich bags, plastic wrap, zipper top sandwich bags, wax paper, parchment paper, reusable sandwich bags, and much more that I’m sure I don’t know about.  While the reusable options are more environmentally friendly (and more economical in the long run), my favorite sandwich wrapping is wax paper.  It keeps the bread from drying out, fits any shape and size, and isn’t overly bulky.  Plus, it has the added benefit of providing a makeshift plate.

A wrapped sandwich, a container of pickles, and a container of peppers and tomatoes.

The final product, complete with pickles that will be added right before lunch.

And with that, you have the perfect sandwich to take to work, school, or on a picnic.  Enjoy!

Catherine Hall

About Catherine Hall

Catherine lives in Bangor, Maine with her family. She gained her appreciation for food and cooking from her grandmother and learned most of her technical knowledge from watching the Food Network. When not in the kitchen, Catherine can be found outdoors attempting to grow vegetables (not always successfully), practicing yoga, and taking Capoeira classes in downtown Bangor. Catherine can also be found walking around town with her Guiding Eyes guide dog, Caleb.