If you didn't already know, April 12th was National Grilled Cheese Day! This classic American sandwich has been a crowd favorite for years among people of all ages. We see the popularity of gourmet grilled cheeses rising with restaurants such as The Mule in OKC, OK or Dallas Grilled Cheese Company in Dallas, TX.  This cheesy sandwich can be an easy go-to lunch option, but it may not serve you the most nutritional value. I am all for a fancy, decked out grilled cheese, but sometimes I just don't need the extra fats that come with it. If you're wanting to make your grilled cheese healthier, I have some easy tips to consider.

Tip #1: Choose the right bread

If you're looking for a lower calorie option, I love Sara Lee's Delightful bread. Each slice comes in at 45 calories and they make varieties in whole wheat, honey wheat, and multigrain. If you're looking for a bread that is more nutrient-dense, Ezekiel bread is the way to go. This sprouted bread has all of the fiber, bran, vitamins and minerals (plus a sizable increase in those nutrients) of the original grain that are removed in enriched breads through the milling process. Their breads also come in yeast-free, gluten-free, vegan, and diabetic-friendly selections.

Tip #2: Know your cheese facts

Not every cheese is made equal and some are higher in fat and calories than others. It can be fun to switch it up from the usual American cheese slice and experiment with different varieties. Feta is a Mediterranean cheese that is 75 calories per ounce, and since it is made from goats milk, it is a good option for people who are lactose intolerant. Goat cheese is another low-calorie option and offers more protein per ounce. To get more calcium into your diet, Provolone is the way to go. One ounce of this cheese has 21% of your recommended daily value. Ricotta is an Italian favorite of mine and comes in varieties of whole and part-skim milk. This cheese has about 50 calories per ounce when choosing the whole milk option, and it's about 10 calories less in the part-skim option. Parmesan is another great Italian cheese that packs in the protein at 8 grams per ounce. These cheeses may sound strange when thinking about incorporating them into your grilled cheese, but play around with them to see which combinations you like!

TIP #3: Skip the thick coat of butter

The butter that's put on the bread before cooking your sandwich really gives it that extra savory flavor when you bite into it. Although it adds a nice touch to the sandwich, it isn't completely necessary in the cooking process. I came across "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spray and thought I would give it a try. After spraying this zero-calorie butter alternative on my slices of bread before cooking my sandwich, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. It gives the sandwich that extra buttery flavor and will give you a similar texture without the extra cals.

Tip #4: It can be more than just cheese

Adding nutritional value to make your grilled cheese healthier is really easy. All you have to do is throw in your favorite veggies (or even fruit) to amp it up. Some of my favorite add-ins are spinach, avocado, tomato, and bell peppers.

#Spoontip: Add your choice of lean protein such as turkey or chicken to help this sandwich keep you more full for longer.

Tip #5: Try Dairy-Free

Loads of cheese may not be the best option for everyone. If you're finding your stomach disagreeing with you after chowing down a grilled cheese, you may want to give dairy-free cheese alternatives a try. I like to use Daiya's Shredded Cheddar Cheese Melts. No, it doesn't taste exactly like a regular slice of American cheese, but it does come in close. I specifically get the ones that melt, because I think they replicate real cheese the most when using them to prepare hot food.

Tip #6: Perfect pairings

If you like to have your grilled cheese with tomato soup, try a lower sodium option such as Progresso's reduced sodium creamy tomato with basil. If your side of choice is marinara sauce, try Cucina Antica's. Their sauces are all natural and made without artificial preservatives, sugar, or paste.

Nothing is wrong with your grilled cheese, but if you want to give it a lighter take experiment with these tips. I hope everyone had a delicious National Grilled Cheese Day!