By Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor, EatingWell Magazine
Grilled cheese seems like the perfect food. It's easy to make, has few ingredients and sports a crispy crust and a warm, gooey, cheesy center. What's not to love? How about the 410 calories and 18 grams of saturated fat per sandwich? I don't love that. Grilled cheese can attribute its high fat and calories to the butter spread on the outside of the bread to make it crispy and the copious amounts of cheese in the middle. Pair that with a couple of slices of plain white bread and you have a nutritional disaster.
But do you really need all of that to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich? No! Here are 5 secrets for how to make grilled cheese that saves calories and fat to boot.
Don't Miss: 10 Secrets to Healthier Cooking
1. Pick the right cheese: When it comes to grilled cheese, not all cheese is created equal. Some people love American cheese. It has superior melting qualities, but it falls short on flavor (not to mention that it's not even really cheese to begin with). So skip mild-flavored cheeses and opt for ones with a stronger flavor-like sharp, or even extra-sharp, Cheddar. Like blue cheese? It's also a great option. You'll get more bang for your buck and because it's big on flavor you won't have to use as much, which helps cut fat and calories.
2. Think beyond cheese for flavor: OK, so cheese is a necessary ingredient. But you don't have to have mounds of it to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. You can get that hit of soft melted loveliness that cheese contributes by using just a little-and mixing it with other ingredients like mashed beans or even salsa and hot chiles. They not only contribute their own unique flavor, but they help carry the benefits of the cheese, the salty ooey-gooey factor, without lots of fat and calories.
3. Choose better bread: Conjure an iconic image of grilled cheese in your mind and it more than likely is made with white bread. But whole-grain breads are great for grilled cheese too. If you upgrade to a slightly fancier, country-style loaf (not typical sandwich bread wrapped in plastic) you'll get better flavor, more bite and a crisper crust-not to mention added fiber.
Don't Miss: 9 Simple Ways to Be a Better Cook
4. Master a crispy crust: Grilled cheese is actually a misnomer. It should be called "fried cheese sandwich" since it's slathered in fat and not actually grilled. The butter does play a role in creating that nice golden outer crust, but you can get that without adding fat. How? Use a panini maker. The hot surface compresses the bread, helping it crisp up naturally. Don't have a panini maker? No problem. You can mimic a panini press at home. Here's how: Heat 1 teaspoon canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place a sandwich in the pan. Place another medium skillet on top of the sandwich, then weight it down with cans. Cook until golden on one side, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, flip the sandwich, replace the top skillet and cans, and cook until the second side is golden, 1 to 3 minutes more.
See Step-by Step Photos: How to Make the Perfect Panini at Home
5. Know that everything isn't better with butter: The butter on the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich not only crisps up the crust, but gives it richness as well. But since grilled cheese is already rich (Hello! The cheese!), you really don't need butter for the flavor either. Instead, experiment with creamy spreads you put inside that are lower in fat, such as reduced-fat mayonnaise with a squeeze of lemon or reduced-fat sour cream mixed with chopped fresh herbs. They'll add that silky mouthfeel and sense of richness you may be missing without the butter (plus some added flavor of their own!), but with less fat and calories.
Recipes to Try: 24 Healthy Panini & Sandwich Recipes
Check this recipe for EatingWell's Best, Healthier! Grilled Cheese Sandwich:
Hot Chile Grilled Cheese
Healthy Weight | High Fiber | Healthy Heart
Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
Cost per serving: under $2.50
This deconstructed version of a chile relleno turned sandwich packs some heat and an ooey-gooey filling. We like the flavor of sourdough, but any kind of bread will work well. Serve with: Coleslaw and sliced pineapple.
4 poblano peppers (see Note)
1 14-ounce can pinto beans, preferably low-sodium, rinsed
3 tablespoons prepared salsa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons low-fat plain yogurt
3 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
8 slices sourdough bread
1. Place peppers in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on High until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Let stand, covered, until cool enough to handle.
2. Meanwhile, combine beans, salsa and salt in a medium bowl. Mash the beans with a fork until they begin to form a paste (some can remain whole). Combine cheese, yogurt, scallions and cilantro in a small bowl.
3. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, slice each one in half lengthwise and remove the stem and seeds.
4. Heat a panini maker to high. (No panini maker? See Stovetop Variation, below.)
5. Spread 1/3 cup of the bean mixture on each of 4 slices of bread. Top with a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture. Place 2 pepper halves over the cheese. Cover with the remaining slices of bread.
6. Grill the sandwiches in the panini maker until golden brown and through, about 4 minutes. Cut in half and serve immediately.
Per serving: 415 calories; 6 g fat (3 g sat, 1 g mono); 13 mg cholesterol; 70 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 19 g protein; 9 g fiber; 761 mg sodium; 307 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (163% daily value), Folate (39% dv), Iron (20% dv).
Note: Dark green poblano peppers, smaller than a bell pepper but larger than a jalapeño, can be fiery or relatively mild; there's no way to tell until you taste them. Find them near other fresh peppers at most large supermarkets.
Stovetop Variation: Place four 15-ounce cans and a medium skillet (not nonstick) by the stove. Heat 1 teaspoon canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 2 sandwiches in the pan. Place the medium skillet on top of the sandwiches, then weight it down with the cans. Cook the sandwiches until golden on one side, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, flip the sandwiches, replace the top skillet and cans, and cook until the second side is golden, 1 to 3 minutes more. Repeat with another 1 teaspoon oil and the remaining 2 sandwiches.
What are your tips for the best grilled cheese sandwich?
By Hilary Meyer
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.
Related Links from EatingWell: