Today I am sharing some insight on building salads that will satisfy as a meal, but without the extra pounds from too many ingredients or not the right ones. So many restaurants today add on fried items (croutons and wonton strips), dried fruits and tons of cheese – topped with dressing! It is a recipe for disaster. But when we try and make a salad on our own, they often fall flat in the satisfaction and filling departments.
I was out to dinner the other night with a friend who also loves salads and enjoys one for lunch every day. (I knew I wasn’t the only one!) We started swapping tips, tricks and favorite combos that make for the perfect salads. If you are planning to enjoy the salad as a meal (not a starter side salad, which I love), the key is building a salad that is balanced and hits the satisfaction level so you aren’t starving one hour later.
First, size. You need to start with a big base of leafy greens. The second piece of the puzzle is making sure the salad is satisfying. To do this you want to make sure you have a good mix of macronutrients — protein, healthy fat and smart carbs — as well as a variety of flavors and textures. I find that the toppings make all the difference. I love adding something crunchy along with something semi-sweet. These two additions make salads really satisfying to me. Find out what toppings make salad satisfying to YOU and roll with it.
Of course, salads can easily turn into an unhealthy meal if you’re not careful with the toppings (dressing included). Follow the basic guide for building a healthy salad below. Keep this in mind when making a salad at home, are at a salad bar or at a restaurant (you can always adjust the order).
Start With a Base of Fresh Greens
Each lettuce has a different taste and texture. Play around and find what you like best or which pairs best with different toppings. I love spicy arugula with fruit. And kale is great warm!
- Baby spinach
- Butter lettuce
- Mixed greens
Add at Least 2-3 Veggies
When it comes to veggies, your options are endless. Feel free to load your plate up and the more colorful the veggies, the better. Raw vegetables are great and add a nice crunch, but if you want to add a variety of flavor and make the salad extra satisfying I recommend adding some cooked vegetables as well. Grilled or roasted veggies add a nice charred, caramelized flavor while steamed or blanched veggies add a variety in texture.
- Brussel sprouts
- Snap peas
- Pickled veggies are great for adding a hint of sweet/sour flavor while fermented veggies, like sauerkraut and kimchi, give you added probiotic benefits.
Although not necessarily a veggie, fresh herbs are a great way to boost the nutrition and flavor of a salad as well.
Add a Protein
This one is easy! Pick your favorite healthy protein option and stick to four to eight ounces. The serving should be about the size of your palm.
- Grilled chicken or turkey
- Salmon or other fish
- Cottage cheese
Don’t fear carbs! Skip the processed carbs and load your salad up with a serving of whole grain, real food carbs. Aim for 1/3 – 1/2 cup serving, about half a baseball. These will keep you satisfied and
- Beans and quinoa (they count as both protein and carbs)
- Grains (rice, millet, freekah, barley, etc)
- Starchy veggies like sweet potato or winter squash (try making sweet potato croutons)
- Fruit (berries, grapes and chopped apples are great, but any type of fruit works)
Flavor & Texture
This is where the healthy fats come in and there are so many options. The serving should be anywhere from 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 cup.
- Cheese (I recommend crumbled feta, gorgonzola and goat cheese)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.)
- Seeds (sunflower, hemp, chia, flax, etc.)
Dress it Up
Homemade dressing is so easy and it’s really the best option when building a healthy salad. If you don’t have time to make a dressing, simply stick with something simple. Maybe a little oil, vinegar or citrus juice, salt and pepper. You can also use things like salsa or hummus as a dressing of sorts.
If you’re going to go with store-bought dressing look for one without a ton of sodium, preservatives, sugar and fat. If I buy store-bought dressings I look for those in the produce section that have a short ingredient list, less than 50 calories per serving (which is typically 2 Tablespoons) and under 5g of sugar and fat.
To make the salad making process really easy it can be helpful to buy pre-chopped veggies as well as cooked protein options (like canned beans) OR spend some time on Sunday prepping these things yourself so you’re ready to go when it comes time to toss the salad together.
What is your favorite salad ingredient, topping and dressing?