When you think of healthy food, a salad may be the first thing that comes to mind. The idea of salad may not make your mouth water, but that’s a shame because salads can be delicious!
Salads get a bad rap. They don’t have to be boring. To me, a fresh, crisp salad is the perfect meal on warm spring or summer afternoon.
You can dress up your salad to include many flavors, textures, and food groups. The best salads are customized to your tastes! Build a delicious salad just for you using elements from each category below.
All of the items in the categories are only suggestions to inspire you. There are many other elements you can add to make a delicious salad. Remember to modify your ingredients to accommodate food allergies and to follow any food guidelines provided by your healthcare team. And always follow food safety guidelines when preparing and storing food.
Let’s get started!
Choose your base
The first step when building a salad is to pick your base. You don’t have to use just one kind of lettuce. Use a mix to play with texture and taste. Some options include:
- Romaine lettuce
- Iceberg lettuce
Add more veggies
Now that you’ve got your base, add fresh, colorful veggies to give your salad both a taste and nutrition boost. The different colors of different produce reveal the nutrients the veggie or fruit provides. You may want to add:
- Bell pepper strips
- White, red, or green onions
Brighten up with fruits
Fresh fruits are a great way to brighten and sweeten your salad. Fruits may not be what first come to mind when you think of salad, but they definitely belong in the mix! Pick you favorites out of the bunch:
- Dried cranberries
Beans and more
Beans on a salad? Of course! Beans and legumes add protein to your salad. Do you love southwestern flavors like I do? Try adding black beans, corn, tortilla strips, and salsa to your salad. Here are some things to try:
- Lima beans
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Chickpeas (Roast them first for an added crunch!)
To turn a salad into a meal, add a protein. Here are just a few possibilities:
- Grilled or pulled chicken
- Bacon crumbles
- Nitrate-free deli turkey, ham, or chicken
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Sliced steak
Cheese may be your favorite part of the salad. (It’s mine!) Don’t go too heavy handed or opt for a low-fat version. Here are few favorites:
- Shredded cheddar
- Blue cheese crumbles
- Fresh mozzarella
- Goat cheese
A little crunch
A good salad is all about texture. Add something crunchy to your salad. Here are few ideas:
- Tortilla strips
- Pita chips
- Sunflower seeds
Fresh herbs and seasoning
To take flavor to the next level, add fresh herbs and seasonings. Fresh herbs can really elevate a salad to a delicious, gourmet dish.
- Salt and pepper
Dressing to bring it together
If you’ve walked down the condiment aisle at the grocery store, you know that the options for salad dressing are limitless. Here are a few things to consider what picking a salad dressing:
- Good olive oil with a squeeze of lemon, or balsamic vinegar can make a salad take delicious—no fancy dressing required.
- Rethink ranch dressing by making your own tzatziki dressing at home with Greek Yogurt, cucumbers, and seasoning.
- You probably already lots of items in your pantry of fridge that can be used to make salad dressing such as Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, and low-fat sour cream. (Just don’t use ALL the ingredients at once!) Here are few recipes for inspiration.
Taking your salad to go? Keep the elements of the salad separate until ready to eat—especially the dressing—or you’ll end up with a slimy salad, and the veggies will lose their crunch.
A final thing to keep in mind, while salads can definitely be a part of a healthy menu, a salad isn’t always the best food choice. If a salad is loaded with toppings that aren’t fresh fruits and veggies such as fried meats or full-fat cheese or if the salad is drenched in a creamy dressing, it may contain just as many calories, fats, and added sugars as a cheeseburger or a dessert! Build your salad wisely.