School And Work Lunch Sandwich Ideas

Jump to the head of the class with these cafeteria-inspired sandwiches

Let's be honest: Middle school is awkward. So how is it that while you were in braces and pleated khakis, your lunch routine managed to stay on point?  

"Lunchables were my jam. Still are. Cheez-Its were—and are—real good, too." That's New Orleans chef Mason Hereford on the school lunches that fueled his childhood. He also cites staples like mini corn dogs and "an obscene amount of french fries and ketchup." Which might explain his use of sweet potato fries on a sandwich at new NOLA hot spot Turkey and the Wolf, where he's making the exact kind of food you want to be eating.

The key to a solid lunch sandwich lies in its portability, and that starts with protecting your bread. "Soggy bread sucks," Hereford says. For the optimal toasted sandwich, "Put it on a resting rack for a minute before you put everything on it," he advises. Otherwise, freshly toasted bread will sabotage itself by steaming the crispiness right out.

The Amy of Amy's Bread in New York, Amy Scherber, suggests using sliced bread as opposed to chewy baguette when you want a sandwich to last longer. Though she ate the same lunch every day from first grade through high school (whole wheat bread, four slices of salami, Miracle Whip), her taste has evolved, and now she owns one of New York's top sandwich spots. She also packs a school lunch for her son every day and suggests ingredients like salami and ham for a long-lasting sandwich—so save mayo-laden egg salad for another time.

You may not be able to take back those awkward school photos, but there's plenty of time to ace your next lunch. Try one of these chef-made sandwiches and jump to the head of the class.

—The Broadway Beets—
Adapted from Amy's Bread, New York, NY
This sandwich was originally created in collaboration between the NYC sandwich shop and chef Lynn Bound of Feinstein's/54 Below as a refreshing, meatless summer sandwich. We're smitten by the colorful pickled vegetables ("People eat with their eyes," Scherber says) and the way creamy Camembert helps smooth their spicy edges. You won't even have to worry about beet stains, since your white pants should already be hibernating for winter.

1 seeded multigrain roll + 1 tbsp salted butter + ¼ c baby kale leaves + 4 slices roasted, peeled beets + ¼ c spicy cauliflower and carrot pickles (see the recipe) + 1 tbsp pickle brine + 3 slices Camembert cheese

Halve the roll and butter both sides. Layer the bottom half with the kale, roasted beets, pickles and Camembert. Drizzle the pickle brine over the sandwich, then place the other half of the roll on top. Slice in half and serve.

—City Ham and Cheese—
Adapted from Turkey and the Wolf, New Orleans, LA
Rule number one: "The cheddar needs to be on top, so it can occasionally stick to the roof of your mouth behind your two front teeth, which is a delightful feature." This sandwich is a rendering of Hereford's childhood favorite from Bellair Market in Charlottesville, Virginia. "I probably brought it to school for lunch dozens of times," he says. "It's made my mouth water since elementary school." He serves it on freshly baked French bread, but according to Hereford, "It also does great on white bread toasted in butter, if you're into that sort of thing." We definitely are.

2 tbsp mayo + 1 tsp Creole mustard + 1 tsp chopped dill + ½ tsp chopped thyme + ¼ tsp celery seeds + kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste + 2 slices white bread, toasted + 3 oz smoked city ham + ¼ c baby arugula leaves + 2 slices canned jellied cranberry sauce + 2 slices aged cheddar

In a small bowl, mix together the mayo, mustard, dill, thyme, celery seeds, salt and pepper. Spread on both slices of white bread, then layer one piece with the ham, arugula, cranberry jelly and cheddar. Top with the other piece of bread, then halve and serve. 

—Smoked Turkey Sandwich—
Adapted from Superba Food + Bread, Los Angeles, CA
Executive chef James Trees was looking to create something that was a far cry from a "normal, boring turkey sandwich" and found inspiration in the caramelized-onion-topped, old-school-classic patty melt. Here, smoked turkey (which is butchered and hot smoked in-house) takes the hamburger's place, and Cana de Oveja, a soft Spanish sheep's-milk cheese, makes you forget all about plastic-wrapped American.

1 tbsp olive oil + ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced + 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar + 1 tbsp light brown sugar + kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste + 2 tbsp mayo + ½ tsp cayenne pepper + ½ tsp rice wine vinegar + 1 garlic clove, finely grated + 2 slices sourdough bread, toasted + 2 oz smoked turkey + 2 slices Cana de Oveja cheese (or bucheron) + 2 slices cooked applewood-smoked bacon + ½ avocado, thinly sliced

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions until they're slightly golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vinegar has reduced and the onions have caramelized, 6 to 8 minutes more. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper, then set aside. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the mayo, cayenne, rice wine vinegar, garlic and more salt. Spread the mayo on both slices of bread, then layer one slice with the onions, turkey, cheese, bacon and avocado. Top with the other slice of sourdough, then halve and serve.