This post is part of my “Solutions to Sensory Sensitivities” series*. Being autistic, I’m extremely sensitive to a number of things that many people don’t even notice. But I’ve learned a number of tricks that help me deal with the day-to-day insanity of sensory inputs. In this series, I aim to share some of the little things I do to help keep my sensory system happy, healthy, and functioning, so that I can pay attention to other, more interesting and important things. In this case, though, I have a feeling this will be applicable for more than just autistic people. The Sensitivity: texture of the bread in my packed sandwich for lunch. The Simple solution: read on.
Yesterday’s “back to school” post got me thinking. I grew up in a situation where after preschool, my mother refused to make my lunch for me. I lived off of little “lunch tickets” for a little while, but due to the extreme nastiness of the school lunches, I very quickly learned to make my own. One of my biggest challenges, however, was one that people face all the time in making a lunch: the soggy sandwich.
Sandwiches are a packed lunch staple. I am a fan of the peanut butter and jelly variety (SMOOTH Peanut Butter ONLY, or my sensory system gets really unhappy), and have eaten PB&J probably 80% of my lunches, ever. Ok, maybe more like 60%, if I include weekends. But still, it is my “go-to” lunch food, and I almost always eat it at least 4-5 times per week (even now, since I don’t go home for lunch, and I don’t like to buy prepared food – they always make it wrong, plus it’s expensive!) But as I mentioned, PB&J, and nearly every other kind of sandwich, made in the morning before you leave for the day, is subject to a curse: the curse of the soggy sandwich. The moisture in the sandwich creeps out during the 3-4 hours it’s sitting in the little box or baggie, and gets absorbed by the bread, rendering it squelchy, disintegrating, and all-around yucky. (To me, anyway – some people may prefer soggy sandwiches… if you do, then this trick is not for you.)
So after several years of suffering the soggy sandwich curse every day at lunch, and hating it, but not knowing what else I could eat for lunch so being trapped in the sandwich curse, I happened on a little idea. I knew that leaving a sandwich alone for hours made it soggy, and I noticed that toasting bread made it crispy, and took away the water. Thus I made a hypothesis: I assumed that the water would be added to the bread regardless. If I started with less water in the bread, I would end with less water in the bread. Thus, toasting the bread would remove some water from the system, and make it so the bread didn’t get as soggy by lunchtime. So I toasted my bread just a little bit… not enough to give it toaster-marks (the brown color it turns when actually toasted, and changes its taste – this is NOT desirable), but just enough to make it slightly crispy on the outside. Then I made my sandwich, and packed it away for consumption at lunch. And that day, for the time ever, I did not have a soggy sandwich. I didn’t have a crispy sandwich either. I had a sandwich with bread of the perfect consistency for me – similar to when it comes directly out of the package and you pack it in the morning. For someone like me, who has extreme texture sensitivity when it comes to food, this was a MAJOR break-through in being able to eat lunch without making my body and brain completely unhappy for the rest of the day. As I mentioned in the back to school post, having a lunch you like is so important – if it’s not something you’re comfortable with, it can throw the rest of your day off. Plus, if you, like me, were/are stuck in the hell that is a cafeteria when eating, anything that’s less of a sensory assault is a good thing
And so, I present for your edification, the Cure to the Curse of the Soggy Sandwich: in the morning, before you make the sandwich, toast the bread on the lowest setting your toaster has**. Not enough to make it start to alter the taste, but just a little – to make it into slightly dehydrated bread – it’ll feel slightly crispy, but not turn brown. Then prepare and pack the sandwich as you would normally do. Open 3-4 hours later, and enjoy a non-soggy sandwich.
While I’m sure other people came up with this before, I do want to say that I discovered this little trick all on my own, and have been using it successfully for nearly 15 years. Works like a charm. I used to have it down to such a science, that I could make my entire lunch, toasting included, in 3.5 minutes. How’s that for independent living and self-help skills? Or as I call it “valuable life skills so that you don’t miss the bus…”
Happy sandwich making and lunch-packing everyone!
**Growing up, I used the lowest setting on my toaster. My current toaster, however, is a little less powerful, and I have to use setting #2 out of 5 to get the desired effect. Play around to match your bread type, selected ingredients, toaster, and length of time between packing and eating. All of these variables help determine the amount of sogginess or not that the bread picks up. This trick also works with a toaster oven, but you do have to watch it and make sure not to over-toast.