Salads are so trendy now days, so naturally as a dietitian I am very happy to see that. Growing up, I was not into salad because it consisted of sad, few torn pieces of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers sans the dressing. I am not even exaggerating but salads were more like garnishes in Nepal. I started eating salad in college while navigating through all-you-can-eat cafeteria that also had soft serve ice-cream machine with all the toppings. So any way back to salad. They can be pretty nutritious, filling, and delicious if done correctly. Not all salads are created equally - you could be unintentionally building a salad that's not so good for you. I hope you will find these 7 Tips For Building a Better Salad resourceful while assembling // ordering // purchasing salads in the future.
KNOW YOUR GREENS
Always start you salad with leafy, green base such as kale, arugula, spinach, radicchio, romaine. Two cups of mixed greens provides your daily requirement of vitamins A, C and K and a powerful dose of disease-fighting phytonutrients. Mixing up your greens adds a variety, textures, and boosts nutritional value of your salad overall.
Pro tip: If your greens aren't pre-washed, only wash as much as you'll eat in one day to prevent it from going bad. Pre-washed bagged greens are great alternatives. You can wrap lettuce in a paper towel and place it in a plastic bag to keep it from going bad quickly.
New to Kale? Try Chopped Kale and Chickpea Salad
COLORFUL FRUITS & VEGGIES
Load up your salad with crunchy, colorful veggies to boost the fiber and nutrition. You can use fresh, steamed or even grilled veggies. Some of my favorite ones are grape tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, shredded carrots, beets, and onions. Adding rainbow of veggies = different nutrients.
Fruits add a fresh, sweet-tart note to salads. They are also a good source of vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. Strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries pair well with spinach. Mandarin oranges works well with Asian-influenced salad with almond and chicken. Apple, pears, pomegranate reminds me of Fall-ish hearty salad with grains and goat cheese. Tropical fruits such mangoes and pineapples are delicious with avocado in bean and quinoa type salad. When possible, use seasonal fruits and vegetables because they taste better and are relatively cheaper.
Pro tip: To save time during the week, you can chop and pre-portion veggies such as bell peppers, shredded carrots, cucumbers. Soft veggies such as tomatoes, avocados and fruits should be assembled right before serving.
If you struggle to eat fruits daily, you need Tangy Fruit Salad!
LEAN UP YOUR PROTEIN
If you are eating salad as your meal (instead of a side or a starter), you need to include lean protein - it will help you feel fuller longer and meet your protein needs. Lean proteins include skinless poultry, grilled or steamed seafood, lean beef such as flank steak or extra-lean ground beef, or sliced pork tenderloin. For meatless proteins, go for beans, cottage cheese, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, tempeh.
Pro tip: While dining out, do not hesitate to ask your server on how your protein is prepared. Anything that says crispy, battered, or crunchy = deep fried. Chicken, tuna, or egg salads are heavily mayo-based (1 tablespoon of mayo adds on 100 calories and 10 grams of fat). You can make a healthier version with Greek yogurt or avocado such as Smashed Chickpea & Avocado Sandwich!
ROOM FOR GRAINS & LEGUMES
Salads are great and makes us feel good about eating them...but there are times when salad isn't simply filling. I'd rather eat wholesome, balanced salad rather than reach for chips, candies, or whatever is around. You can bulk up your greens with heart healthy, fiber filled grains such as quinoa, millet, barley, farro and/or wheat berries. Legumes such as chickpeas, black beans, lentils are another way to build a filling salad because they are wonderful source of fiber as well as protein.
Pro tip: You can pre-cook and freeze grains and legumes ahead of time. It is always nice to have 1-2 different ones so you can switch grains and beans during the week.
Learn How to Cook Legumes?
THINK OUTSIDE THE CROUTONS
Croutons are delicious, salty, and crunchy but you can do better than that. Boost your salad by adding rockstar toppings such as roasted chickpeas (which can be bought or easily make it at home + it is cheaper), nuts like walnuts, pistachios, almonds, seeds such as pumpkin, chia, sunflower.
Pro tip: Instead of buying nuts and seeds in large quantities, buy 2-3 different types in small amount (from bulk bin section if possible) and store them in an jar in the fridge. In general, they’ll stay fresh for up to six months stored in the refrigerator and for up to one year stored in the freezer.
You can easily perk up any salad with extra boost of flavor from add-ons such as herbs, salt-free seasonings, olives, capers, and cheese without adding too much calories.
Pro tip:Pick flavorful cheese such as parmigiano reggiano, goat, feta, or blue because a little bit goes a long way. Cheese adds flavor, texture, and calories so be mindful of your servings.
DRESS IT UP
You could be following all the 6 steps I mentioned but are you dressing up your salad correctly? What you put in your salad is equally important because dressings can be very high in calories, full of junk or, actually pretty nutritious if chosen correctly. I am your basic vinaigrette girl and you will not find any store-bought salad dressing in my fridge. There are many healthy, just as good for you store - salad dressings such as Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar,Primal Kitchen's (made with avocado oil), Tessemae's,Trader Joe's Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Annie's Red Wine and Olive Oil Vinaigrette.
Generally, when these are my rules:
No to fat-free dressings because fats are needed to absorb fat soluble vitamins found in certain vegetables and fats also help slows the digestion process so it helps to keep you feeling full for longer. Even though fat-free dressings are lower in calories, they usually contain a lot of processed ingredients and zero nutrition.
Read the label because you want your 1st three ingredients to be water, oil, and vinegar and rest to be herbs, spices, and seasonings that you can actually pronounce. Best salad dressings oil include extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, flaxseed, walnut, hemp, avocado, and almond oils.
Creamy dressings (esp store bought or restaurant ones) are calorie-rich, esp in saturated fats which are not so good for your heart. Save them for special occasions as a treat. Or, you can use Greek yogurt, nut butter, tahini, avocado as a base instead of ranch, mayo to substitute it.
Pro tip:Always ask for dressings on the side so you have control over how much to use. Use the fork to dip the dressing first and your salad first rather than drenching everything with dressing.
Make nutritious, creamy Tahini Turmeric Dressing
If you have any other tips, resources in building a better salad - please leave a comment below! Also, your fav store bought salad dressing so I can add to the list.
Have a great Monday!