Handy Primal Sandwich Alternatives (Or, Sub Subs)

Last week, I got this email from a reader:

I work 12 hour ER shifts.  Our cafeteria is too expensive and the food is horrendous anyway (where do you think hospital food gets that reputation?)  My staple has been making half sandwiches by just folding a single piece of bread around some meat, cheese or tuna.  But of course Grok didn’t make bread.  The convenience of being able to eat these little sandwiches while standing at the nurses’ station (we often get very limited or no breaks on busy days) is indispensable to me.  Eating things that require utensils and cleanup is not feasible.  Are there more primal, non-carb substitutes that could actually serve as dinner in such an environment as well as my improvised panini?  I’m drawing a blank here.  Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.


Ah yes, the sandwich. After rice, mashed potatoes, and pancakes, it is perhaps the most pined-for pre-Primal food around. The convenience factor is tough to beat, and that Subway guy who supposedly lost tons of weight eating nothing but sandwiches certainly makes it look appealing. We can almost imagine Grok picnicking with a crusty baguette and gooey brie, pack of Gitanes tucked into his loincloth.

But really, those little sandwiches may be convenient, but that bread is bad news. Though it may be just a single piece, it’s still a single piece of anti-nutrient insulin-spiking starch that serves little purpose other than keeping your hand from getting meaty. If it’s convenience and clean hands you’re after, how about wrapping that meat and cheese in cabbage or lettuce? Same convenience level. I mean, you’re already assembling sandwiches on the fly; lose the bread and opt for a lower-carb wrap. Assuming you bring tupperwear containing the sandwich makings, it won’t take you any more time to swap out the bread for lettuce or cabbage. No clean up or utensils required. You eat the evidence.

Or how about something that doesn’t try to emulate a sandwich? Every week, make a big batch of trail mix. Throw together some almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, dark chocolate chunks, and a bit of dried fruit in a big bag and dole yourself out some before every shift: high fat, high protein, and moderate carbs. Don’t make it your daily meal, but as a snack it’s perfect (hey, a half sandwich isn’t much of a meal, either). You could also turn that trail mix into a homemade protein bar. Make a big batch every week and take one to work. Very filling. Other options include jerky or even a Responsibly Slim shake (maybe augmented with some nuts and fruit and carried sealed in a bottle).

But you’re interested in an actual meal. Twelve hours can be a long time (and it’s probably not feasible to make it a 12-hour fast every single day, although you might want to experiment with Intermittent Fasting), and you want something that’s filling and doesn’t require utensils or cleanup. The lettuce/cabbage wraps would work as a meal. Try cooking and slicing steak, chicken, or lamb the night before and bringing it to work, along with a few sliced veggies (carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers), some homemade dressing or mayo, maybe a few slices of goat cheese or aged gouda (since you can obviously tolerate cheese), and the lettuce/cabbage wrap of your choice. Bring a separate container with some berries for dessert and you’re set.

Or how about a frittata, which is essentially a crustless quiche? Sautee some veggies and meat in butter in an oven-safe pan (spinach and chicken; bacon and mushrooms; steak and peppers), whisk together six eggs, add a bit more butter to the pan and pour the eggs over the meat and veggies. Add some salt and pepper and maybe a light sprinkling of aged parmesan. Stir everything together and let it cook for about four minutes until it begins to set. At this point, pop it in the oven under the broil setting for four minutes, or until it begins to brown. When it’s lightly brown and fluffy, remove it from the oven. Cut it into slices and you have a healthy, Primal hand-held meal that fits in a plastic bag and tastes great at room temperature.

If you absolutely insist on a bread-like item, I have something that may interest you. I call it spinach bread, and it actually works pretty well as a bread substitute. You can certainly slice it and pile meat and cheese and condiments atop it like bread, but it’s ultra-low carb and high in good fat, along with some decent protein.

Pesto Spinach Bread

Five large eggs
16 oz frozen spinach, thawed, cut, and drained
Butter (I used raw pastured-raised)
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 cloves crushed garlic
Small bunch of basil (about 15 leaves)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease your glass baking dish with butter. I used a circular pan about 8 inches in diameter.

Toast your pine nuts in a sautee pan with about a tablespoon of butter. Be very careful! Pine nuts burn easily. Watch them like a hawk and stir constantly. When they start to turn golden brown, they’re done and on the verge of burning.

Chop the nuts up in a food processor (or crush them to a similarly fine texture if you don’t have a processor) and mince your basil.

Mix your eggs, garlic, basil, nuts, and spinach together in a mixing bowl. Add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Once it’s all mixed together, pour it evenly into your greased pan.

Pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until it has set.

Slice and enjoy as if it were bread, or all by itself!

Nutrition Analysis:
Calories: 1080
Fat: 91 grams (72% calories from fat)
Carbs: 27.6 grams (10% calories from carbs, 12.7 grams from fiber)
Protein: 54 grams (18% calories from protein)

Share your thoughts on low-carb, grain-free bread substitutes in the comment board and check back this weekend for a Primal sandwich recipe featuring the spinach bread. Thanks, everyone!

Further Reading:

It’s Time to “Get Real”

Primal Pie Recipes

The Dope on Energy Drinks

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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