Just because summer is over and many of the farmers’ markets are starting to wrap up doesn’t mean that there’s any excuse whatsoever to abandon your healthy eating goals. I’ve mentioned before that having a salad for lunch every day is a really easy way to make sure that you’re getting your daily dose of veggies, but that concept only works if you’re building the right kind of salad.
Constructing a salad can be tricky business – Just because it’s got some lettuce in it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you (you’d be surprised by just how many calories and how much fat is in some of those creamy dressings, and don’t forget that most croutons are made from white Italian bread).
Make your perfect salad
So how do you know where to start? By the time you’re finished reading this article, I promise you that you’ll have at least a general run down idea of how to build a healthy salad that you can eat for lunch and feel full instead of a fat filled salad that leaves you craving junk food five minutes after you’ve finished eating it.
1. Know Your Bases
Just like a house, every salad needs a good foundation in order to support your body and help it thrive. The next time you go to make a salad, skip over the iceberg lettuce (or at least use less of it if you’re going for a mix – It consists of mostly water and very little nutritional value) and instead reach for something a little healthier.
Here are some great base choices – Use one of them for your base or instead opt to mix different ones together in order to maximize your vitamin/mineral intake.
- Romaine Lettuce.
- Green Leaf Lettuce.
- Red Leaf Lettuce.
- Belgian Endive.
- Fresh Baby Spinach Leaves.
* If you’re planning on using kale in your salad, try rubbing down the leaves with about a tablespoon of olive oil, a little lemon juice, and a pinch of salt to break down it’s tough structure and remove some of the bitterness. If you’re going to use kale as your only base, make your salad at least six hours (better yet, the night) before you’re going to eat it so that it can marinate in the juices of your dressing and other vegetables. Not only will the texture improve this way, but the flavour and dimension of your salad will improve tenfold.
For more inspiration on coming up with incredible lettuce combinations check out our Lettuce Diet article that comes with a handy visual guide.
Here’s a good general rule to go by – The darker the green, the more vitamins it has. A mix is best, but if you’re not a big fan of bitterness, it’s perfectly okay to stick to Romaine and leafy lettuces. Speaking of colour….
2. Variety Is The Spice Of Life
The second (and arguably most important) layer of your healthy and nutritious salad should be the vegetables. When it comes to choosing which vegetables you should be putting in your salad, it really comes down to your personal preference.
The more color you end up with on your plate, the better, and you should always aim to get as many fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in there as you possibly can (If you took my advice a couple of weeks ago, you might be able to use some of the fruits, but most of the vegetables will be way too soft). Here are some great picks that you might still be able to pick up at your local farmer’s market (and even if they’re not there, you’ll have a handy list for next summer):
- Green, Red, Yellow, and/or Orange Peppers.
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Cherry Tomatoes (and/or Quartered Vine Ripened Tomatoes)
- Onions (Red and/or White)
- Bean Sprouts
Since summer’s basically over, you’re probably not going to be able to get many of those fresh (unless you’re lucky enough to live in a place where you’re able to farm all year long). But don’t let that deter you!
There are tons of salads that you can make with fall vegetables that are loaded with tons of vitamins and nutrients as well. Here’s what you’ll more likely be able to find on hand:
- Winter Squash
- Sweet Potatoes
- Brussel Sprouts
- Green/Yellow Beans
- Avocado (Remember it’s a fat, so use it sparingly)
You might have to play around with different variations, but it won’t take you very long to figure out what does and doesn’t work for your (family’s) palate(s).
3. Protein Will Surely Make You A Pro
At salad making, anyway – Especially if you’re someone that’s tried the salad thing before but gave it up because you were left feeling hungry shortly after eating.
Protein helps you feel full longer and there’s almost no end to what you can use:
- Lean Beef
- Chicken Breast
- Beans (Kidney, Pinto, White, Red, etc.)
You can get some of your protein from nuts and/or seeds, but be cautious about going that way if you’re aiming to shed some weight – Nuts have protein, but they also have fat. Reach for pumpkin or sesame before anything else – They contain the most health benefits.
Easy On The Extras
Meaning, if you’re someone that likes to absolutely load your salad with bacon bits, cheese, croutons, and olives, you’re going to want to cut back a little bit.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be putting anything extra on your salad, but that there will be so much flavour in the salad itself (one you find your ‘right’ combinations) that you won’t need to load it with salty additives. Nonetheless, feel free to toss one or two (at the most) of these in if you feel like you need a little something extra:
- 2 Tablespoons of Cheese (Parmasean, Gouda, Mozzarella, Cheddar, Havarti, Goat, Swiss, Feta, etc.)
- Ten Small Olives (Canned or Jarred in Oil or Water)
- 2 Tablespoons Raisins
- ¼ to ½ cup of croutons (I make my own from Rye bread so that I can get away with using a little more).
Dress Lightly (If At All)
You might be putting on the layers with the cooler weather beginning to roll through, but you’re going to want to start stripping when it comes to your salad – Try to choose vinaigrettes over creamy dressings when you can, or opt to skip the dressing altogether and reach for one (or more) of these instead:
- Lemon and/or Lime Juice
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Olive Oil
- Cottage or Ricotta Cheese
- Homemade dressing (One day I’ll post my recipe for buttermilk ranch dressing – It’s absolutely to die for!)
Herbs can also give a huge flavour boost to any salad, which will limit your need to add a ton of dressing to yours drastically. Some of my personal favourites to use are lemon verbena, garlic, dill, rosemary, basil, chives, parsley, and thyme.
Since winter’s just around the corner, it’s going to become relatively difficult to find fresh herbs. Luckily, quite a few herbs can be grown indoors.
You officially have no reason to say that salad is boring or that you felt hungry after eating one ever again – I assure you that if you follow these five simple tips every time that you go to enjoy one, you’ll be satisfied and be left with a ton of energy every time.
Switching to a healthy lifestyle can seem like it’s incredibly overwhelming – Especially when you consider all of the different health related things that the media tries to shove down our throats on a daily basis – but it really boils down to one simple thing: Baby steps. You can’t expect change overnight – That’s how people get deterred and disappointed.
If you’re just beginning your journey to a healthy lifestyle, this was a perfect article for you; trading in your daily lunch of processed garbage for a healthy, energy packed salad could be exactly what you need to get you excited about making healthier choices when it comes to your other meals as well.
When you make a salad at home, what do you put on it? Better yet – Do you have a hard time finding a healthy salad when you go out to eat a restaurant (the selection usually contains at least half of the calories you need in a day if not more)?