Grilled Cheese Made Deluxe

One of my favorite (and quick) go-tos for lunch or dinner is a grilled cheese sandwich. But the traditional approach isn’t necessarily the most healthy when you’re living with type 2 diabetes. Thankfully I’ve found a way to make a healthier and more flavorful version.

To make my grilled cheese deluxe I make a few adjustments: Less bread for fewer carbs, baking instead of frying for less saturated fat, and adding toppings for more flavor.

A healthier grilled cheese for diabetics

Here’s how you can improve on the classic grilled cheese by making it more diabetes-friendly.

Make an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich

This cuts in half the amount of bread used and substantially reduces the carb count. White bread, the traditional choice for grilled cheese, can play havoc with glycemic control. It’s made from refined flour and has very little fiber to counter the spike in blood glucose it can cause. You can choose to use whole grain bread or a loaf made from an alternative flour, in place of white bread. These heartier loaves will have more fiber and/or a lower glycemic load.

Grill the sandwich in the oven

Prepping your grilled cheese in the oven reduced the need for butter or mayonnaise. By using a sheet pan instead of a frying pan, you can get by with using less butter or mayo. The net result is you can still enjoy the flavor but with a whole lot less saturated fat. Spread butter or mayo, whichever you prefer, on one side of the bread and place the bread spread-side down on the sheet pan. It will bake up crispy and you’re using half (or less) of the butter or mayo you would with pan-frying.

Cooking in the oven is quick. Set the oven to 425F and in less than 5 minutes you’ll have melted goodness on a slice of bread. Since ovens vary and you don’t want burned toast, keep a close eye on the sandwiches as they cook. Check on them after about 3 minutes in the oven and pull the tray out as soon as they’re done to your liking.

If you’re making more than one tray of sandwiches, each tray will hold six or so slices, bake the trays one at a time so that they bake evenly.

Use a different cheese

Cheddar or American cheese are traditionally favorites when it comes to grilled cheese sandwiches. But nothing says you have to limit your choices. I like a sharp Swiss or a creamy Havarti. Think about other cheeses you can use, like Monterey Jack, provolone, mozzarella, or muenster. Whatever your favorite cheese is, as long as it melts, it can be made into grilled cheese.

Add some unexpected toppings

Don’t limit your grilled sandwich toppings to just cheese. Add other toppings for flavor and texture, taking your grilled cheese sandwich from simple to deluxe.

Vegetables can be an unexpected addition. One of my favorite combos is thinly sliced tomatoes with Havarti. I place the thinly sliced tomato on the bread, sprinkle lightly with black pepper, then top with a couple of slices of Havarti. Grilled onions and sauteed sliced mushrooms are also favorites, used separately or together. Depending on the type of onion it can add a subtle bite or a robust sweetness. Sauteing mushrooms with chopped garlic also adds a lot of flavor.

The sandwiches are not in the oven long enough for the vegetable to cook through. So if you're using a vegetable that has some bite to it, like onion, grill or saute it on its own before adding it to the sandwich.

Herbs can also add a lot of flavor, especially when they’re fresh from the garden. Basil and mozzarella work well together. Dill or chives with muenster can add an unexpected twist.

Add some protein

Thinly sliced meats can work on your grilled cheese sandwich too. Thinly sliced ham and provolone is a tasty classic. You don’t have to limit yourself to deli meats, any thinly sliced cooked meat, like shabu shabu beef, can work. For those who don’t eat meat, slices of baked tofu or tempeh are tasty choices.

No matter the protein, remember you want to strike a balance between the protein and cheese so that the quantity and flavors complement each other.

Let your imagination run wild

You’re only limited by your imagination and, maybe, the ingredients in your kitchen. What grilled cheese combinations sound good to you? Please share your ideal combos.

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