Making a healthy salad is harder than it seems; by the time you add cheese, croutons, delicious salty crumbles of bacon, and garnish with dried fruit, the fat and calories in your salad can far exceed those in a cheeseburger. But if you go too far in the other direction and build an all-vegetable salad with no sweet, salty, or crunchy elements, the odds are you’ll quickly lose interest in eating your salad!
There is a misconception that healthy salads are either delicious or filling, but they can be both. And, salads can be customized to your personal taste or pantry (don’t sweat it if you don’t have a particular ingredients on hand); you just need some basic knowledge about how to build a well-rounded salad.
In order to make a healthy and satisfying salad, you’ll need to incorporate lean protein and whole grains; both will keep you fuller longer. Pre-cooked rotisserie chicken breast, slices of seared ahi tuna, hard-boiled eggs, beans, and grilled tofu can all be good protein choices. And, quinoa, farro, and wild rice make great whole-grain salad toppings.
Another way to make healthy salads satisfying is to balance the flavors and textures; try adding healthy sweet and salty elements as well as a combination of creamy and crunchy textures. Think nuts, seeds, and avocado in moderation.
If you’re looking for even more guidance, we’ve put together some basic rules for building a healthy salad — starting with the greens and ending with simple homemade dressing.
Start with Greens
Creating a salad that you’ll like starts with choosing greens that you like. Dark greens are more nutrient-dense than their lighter-colored counterparts (like iceberg or romaine). If you’re new to dark greens, try mixing them with more familiar lettuces to ease yourself into new greens.
If you’re really not a fan of leafy greens, there are plenty of other vegetables that can serve as the base of your salad. Try cutting ribbons of zucchini or carrot with a vegetable peeler to make the base of your salad, or cut cubes of roasted beet or sweet potato.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.