Grilled cheese sandwiches are an American classic. They’re so popular, in fact, that according to a recent report published by the market research firm Datassential, 51 percent of consumers love them, beating out the sub, chicken sandwich, and Philly cheesesteak.

And while grilled cheese sandwiches don’t usually win any nutrition awards, a few simple tweaks to the traditional recipe can turn a nutritional dud into a healthy version.

More on Healthy Eating

"Most grilled cheeses are slathered with butter and loaded up with cheese,” says Amy Keating, R.D., one of Consumer Reports' registered dietitians. “But there are simple ways to pump up the nutrition."

Use these tips to make your own, or try our recipe for a tasty, healthy grilled cheese sandwich.

1. Consider the Bread

There’s nothing more heavenly than a fresh ciabatta or brioche, but those and other white breads are much less nutritious than their whole-grain or whole-wheat counterparts. Two slices of Oroweat’s Country White, for example, have 40 more calories than its whole-grain Double Fiber bread and about 10 fewer grams of fiber.

2. Toast Instead of Fry

To make a grilled cheese sizzle, butter is spread on the outside of the bread, but that can increase the calorie and fat count significantly. A tablespoon of butter has 100 calories and 11 grams of fat. To get a satisfying crunch without dousing your bread in butter or oil, top one slice of bread with cheese, then toast it along with the other side of the sandwich in a toaster oven

3. Power Up With Produce

Veggies are tasty—especially when tucked into a healthy grilled cheese—but so is fruit. And the ones you add to your sandwich count toward your produce servings for the day. Studies show that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk of a number of chronic diseases.

Try tomatoes or apples with cheddar cheese, beets or pears with goat cheese, avocado or peaches with blue cheese, pineapple or avocado and peppers with Monterey Jack, or apricots or sweet potatoes with havarti cheese.

Leafy greens are another option. We used Swiss chard in the recipe below. It’s packed with fiber, magnesium, and potassium as well as vitamins A, C, E, and K. You can sub in other greens such as arugula or spinach for a similar nutritional punch, though spinach will have a milder flavor. 

4. Use a Flavorful Cheese

We know it’s the best part of the sandwich, and if you use cheese with a strong, satisfying taste, you can get by with using less. We used 1 ounce (one slice) of low-sodium Swiss cheese instead of two, saving 105 calories and 8 grams of fat in our recipe. The flavorful, nutty taste of the cheese complements the Swiss chard, allowing you to get by with less. Swapping a regular slice with a low-sodium version knocks out 48 mg of sodium. 

5. Add a Healthy Side

To get a crunch without the calories, fat, and sodium of chips, snack on some raw veggies, such as strips of bell pepper, carrots, cucumbers, or apple slices. If you’re craving something warm, round out the meal with a bowl of healthy homemade soup

Swiss Chard Healthy Grilled Cheese

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small bunch Swiss chard (about 4 ounces), stems removed, large ribs cut out, sliced and washed
2 slices whole-wheat bread
1 slice (1 ounce) Swiss cheese (preferably lower-sodium)
2 slices tomato

Directions
1. In large skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic and Swiss chard and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Place cheese on one slice of bread. Top with Swiss chard and tomato. Place the slice of bread with the cheese and chard directly on rack in toaster oven. Place other slice of bread next to it in toaster oven. Toast until cheese is melted and bread is browned. Top the slice of bread with the chard, cheese, and tomato with the plain slice.

3. Cut sandwich in half and serve with a side of raw vegetables or a side salad.

Nutrition Information: One sandwich contains 400 calories, 19 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 18 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugars, and 520 mg sodium.