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Building A Better Salad

Praveena Kumar, MS, RD
July 6, 2023
July 6, 2023

I recently heard someone say that a salad is only as good as its ingredients. When a patient tells me that they have salad for lunch or dinner,  I usually ask them what’s in it, and I often suspect that they may get bored from just salads. Salads, when you keep them interesting, can be a quick, versatile and enjoyable solution to hunger. They can be an appetizer,  a side, or the main meal, depending on what you add to it and the serving size.

 A salad that consists of iceberg lettuce, lots of cheese, bacon bits, croutons, a few slivers of carrots or a few slices of tomatoes and topped with a rich, creamy dressing, may taste delicious, but may not be nutritionally dense. Listed below are some tips and tricks to making healthy and delicious salads. 

7 Pillars of a Hearty, Healthy and Delicious Salad

1- Build a Strong Foundation/Base.

You can have a salad without greens, but they are so good for you! Most dietitians would suggest to pile on the leaves. Try spinach, kale, arugula, romaine, spring mix, power green mix or any combination of these. You can also make your cold summer salad or a warming winter one by switching the base to something warm and roasted, like broccolini, kale or brussells sprouts.

2- Strengthen the sides/Eat the rainbow.

Add more color and nutrition with other vegetables: cucumber, carrots, radish, celery, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, etc. Add raw vegetables or roasted vegetables for a sweeter and more intense flavor.  The color given to different plants indicates that they have different nutritional properties (and different vitamins)!

3- Give it Some Muscle.

Add your Proteins: Legumes (beans, lentils), tofu, tempeh, eggs, poultry or fish are great choices. These are great for your muscles, heart, and help keep you satisfied!

4- Bulk It Up:

Add some hearty grains or beans to make it a more substantial and heartier salad. Try wheat berries, faro, quinoa or any type of beans. 

5- Add Some Crunch

Instead of croutons, add some nuts and seeds for crunchiness. These are high in healthy fats, fiber and vitamins/minerals. Try raw nuts or roasted, unsalted nuts of your choice. Add pumpkin, chia, hemp, sesame or flax seed (ground flaxseed is better for digestion). Go Italian by adding some roasted hazelnuts!

6- Sweeten the Deal With Fruit

Fruits add a nice touch of sweetness to any salad without the addition of processed or refined sugar. Try seasonal berries and stone fruit during spring/summer, apples, pears, persimmon and pomegranate in the fall and winter months, or give it a tropical twist with mangoes and pineapple. 

7- Get Creative With Your Dressing

Store-bought salad dressing can be loaded with salt, sugar, fat and lots of preservatives. You can try making your own salad dressing. Once you have the base flavor down, you can play around with different flavor profiles, depending on your taste. 

Basic Vinaigrette Recipe: Olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper

  • Add fresh herbs - try basil, mint, cilantro, oregano or any herb of your choice
  • Add a touch of mustard and honey, or garlic and shallots
  • Give it an Asian twist with some sesame oil, ginger, or miso paste (a little high in sodium)

Creamy Salad Dressings Ideas:

  • Creamy Ranch dressing - See this article for homemade ranch dressing recipe
  • Creamy avocado dressing - puree avocado, add garlic, cilantro, lime or lemon juice, low-fat greek yogurt, pepper, pinch of salt
  • Lemon and tahini dressing - rich sesame paste with garlic, lemon, pepper, pinch of salt
  • Creamy Cashew dressing - soak and puree cashews, add lemon, garlic and herbs

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