It’s 7:45 p.m., and you’ve been at the Reg for way too long. You head to the dining hall in hopes of a decent meal, but alas, there’s a shockingly meager amount of food left. Your choices are limited; what do you do?
The solution: head to the salad bar.
Versatile, customizable and healthfully filling, salad is sadly still one of the most underappreciated meal options at the dining hall. I wasn’t always such a huge fan of it myself though. In fact, it wasn’t until well into Fall quarter that a friend convinced me to have a salad for dinner. I was initially skeptical–salad could never be a complete meal in and of itself. I mean, it’s just that little dish on the side that accompanies the rest of your meal, right? And the notion of eating a plate of veggies as an entrée didn’t sound too appealing. But eventually I gave in, and through that one experience I discovered just how delicious and filling a “simple plate of veggies” can really be.
For those of you still rolling your eyes in disbelief–seriously, how good can a salad from the dining hall be, am I right?–all I can say is, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! The huge array of options at the salad bar can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with it, so here are some tips on how to make the best-looking and tastiest salad at UChicago.
1) Start with a generous helping of spinach or field greens. This bed of leafy greens will help keep the rest of your toppings from sinking to the bottom of your plate in an unappetizing mass.
2) Colors, colors, colors! Not only does adding a variety of colors to your salad make it look more appealing, but it’s healthy for you too. Try topping your greens with slices of bell pepper, slivers of red onion, a sprinkling of carrots or a couple of cherry tomatoes. The more colors, the better!
3) Give your salad some heft with the addition of some protein. The dining hall provides a variety of choices for you to get your protein fix: tofu, hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken from the grill station, the array of beans at the salad bar and cold cuts from the deli station are all great options. You can even mix and match different proteins to make things more interesting.
4) Be on the lookout for those hidden gems that will take your salad from good to great. Some items in the salad bar change daily, so you’ll never be stuck eating the same thing twice in a row. Why not throw in a couple slices of beet or bamboo? Or maybe you’re in the mood to sprinkle on some quinoa or artichoke hearts. The choices are endless; go crazy!
5) Don’t skimp on the finishing touches. A sprinkle of cheddar or feta cheese does wonders. Dried cranberries or raisins will add a note of sweetness, while sunflower seeds provide a savory element. For dressing, skip the ranch and go for something more exciting, like red wine vinegar or even a squeeze of fresh lemon, which will give your salad a bright, refreshing flavor.
The bottom line: salad in the dining halls doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, by trying new combinations, you’re guaranteed to have a go-to meal option every day, saving you from the dining hall dilemma that affects countless other students. So grab a plate, head to the salad bar and make your own unique creation. You’ll leave the dining hall impressed, comfortably full and more appreciative than ever of the hidden potential behind the seemingly humble salad.