Years ago, a salad was probably the last item on a menu I would order and the last thing I would want to make/eat at home. However, I do not recall salads being as versatile, nutritious and delicious as they are now! You definitely need to be careful not to load your salads with unhealthy items that definitely boost flavor but also boost processed sugar (store-bought dressings), unhealthy oils, processed starches (packaged croutons, taco salad “bowls,” Asian style fried noodles, etc.), candied nuts (although I will indulge in these occasionally!), dried fruits (which contain higher amounts of sugar than fresh fruits), and highly processed conventional meats (i.e. not organic grass-fed or pastured).
So what’s left, you might ask? Truly, healthy food does not equal sad and boring if you have the right tools to incorporate healthy foods and alternatives to your favorites. This applies to all meals and snacks, not just salads! But since salads typically get a bad rap, I wanted to outline a few suggestions/solutions for making sure you create salads that YOU crave and and that are full of nutrients.
If your salad base is greens, choose greens that you actually like. If the thought of eating iceberg lettuce makes you want to cry, don’t eat iceberg lettuce. If you gave kale a chance and still hate it, don’t eat kale. Try other greens like spinach, baby spinach, arugula (which has a nice spiciness to it), bib lettuce, mixed greens, whatever floats your boat.
I like to buy pre-packaged chopped greens like this kale salad and broccoli slaw (both found at my local grocery store). I mix a handful of each together as my salad base. Though it costs more, it saves me time, and time is money. If I end up buying plain kale or mixed greens, I will tend to chop them when assembling my salad because I just find it easier and more pleasant to eat salads when the leaves are chopped.
Your salad might not contain a leafy green base, and that’s ok too! I discuss other kinds of salads later in this post.
The Toppings (pick and choose according to your preference!)
Raw veggies – go for a variety of colors and textures with your raw veggies! I usually get a pack of shredded carrots and chop up a small red cabbage to add to my salads throughout the week. However, if I buy one of the salad mixes mentioned above, I don’t add more carrots/cabbage. I love the added colors and nutrients from these veggies, along with the crunch.
Cooked veggies – this is a game-changer for me in terms of salad flavor! I absolutely adore roasted veggies, so adding them to salad is a no-brainer. It’s super easy to roast a sheet pan or two of veggies you like, and then throw a handful of each into your salad each day for the week. This past week, I roasted up some sweet potato, beets, and zucchini! Another favorite is roasted portobello mushrooms – SO hearty and good. I simply toss the cut veggies in olive or coconut oil with salt and pepper and roast in the oven. You could add more spices and seasonings if you like.
Spice – I like to add a few pieces of chopped yellow peppers. You can go for banana peppers, sweet peppers, or bell peppers if you want more color and not as much heat.
Protein – always include a source of protein to keep you fuller for longer! I like raw or roasted chickpeas, hard boiled eggs, or roasted chicken or homemade chicken salad. An easy fix for me is a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods. I find them to be less oily and smaller than the other supermarket rotisserie chickens (I prefer the smaller size so I don’t waste the chicken). Another vegetarian protein option is French lentils which I love in salads. For the meat-eaters, sometimes a pastured salami is a good option with loads of flavor!
Fat – like protein, you want a healthy fat source for satiety and the omega-3-fatty acids.
Other sources of healthy fats:
- Fatty fish like tuna and salmon. I’m a sucker for grilled salmon salads!
- Fresh olives – many supermarkets have olive bars with multiple kinds of olives
- Egg yolks
- Raw or homemade roasted nuts (use healthy oils if roasting!)
Dressing can serve as the healthy fat, and it’s something to really pay attention to. It’s always best to make your own dressings, and they are SO easy to make. The easiest thing to do is drizzle olive oil and lemon juice onto your salad. You can also add a tiny splash of apple cider vinegar. Most store-bought dressings are made with unhealthy oils like canola, not to mention added sugars and processed ingredients, so I stay away from those. The only bottled dressing I buy is Primal Kitchen’s brand which uses all organic and simple ingredients with an avocado oil base. They have so many flavor options, and all the ones I have tried are delicious! I buy several bottles at a time from Thrive Market, my go-to source for discounted health foods!
These cuties are all the craze right now because they’re absolutely packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A small amount packs a big punch! They were also a welcome addition because I do not like the taste of alfalfa sprouts. I personally love broccoli microgreens! Look for them near the salad leaves section of your grocery store.
I typically do no add cheese to my salads since I try to limit dairy as much as possible (it upsets my digestion and also flares up my sinus issues). However, sometimes you have to live life and enjoy the cheese =) I love goat cheese the most in salads. Pick one that you like, but be sure not to overdo it with the quantity.
I have to admit that after eating cold salads for lunch several weeks in a row, I eventually grew tired of them. They were still delicious and filling, so it was not the flavor that made me want a change. Rather, it was just the fact that sometimes I want a hot meal in my belly for lunch! But you don’t have to give up on salads because you can always opt for a warm salad option. Google is your friend here. One recent version I made was this roasted sweet potato and chickpea salad with a roasted garlic tahini dressing. It was SO SO good. I shared the recipe with a colleague whose husband made it for a dinner party, and they all loved it. It must be added that her husband is a professional chef, so this simple dish really lives up to the hype!
If you’re looking for more warm salad ideas (especially good for the winter months), check out these 20 recipes!
For more salad inspiration, I recommend following @primalgourmet on instagram. He often posts amazingly delicious and simple salad ideas which he often eats in his car, haha! I am obsessed with his recipe stories (all saved in his instagram highlights!); there is something so therapeutic about watching them!