Salads are the quintessential “healthy meal,” and for good reason: they’re full of greens and vegetables! But salads also have a dark side. If you order them out at a restaurant, they run the risk of having as many calories as a burger, and if you make them at home, far too often, they don’t have enough calories to keep you satisfied (which is why you’ll start searching for something else to eat a half hour after finishing your salad). But fear not! I’m going to show you how to make a healthy filling salad that’s delicious and satisfying – at home! In my opinion, there are six components to healthy salads:
- Colorful Vegetables
- Healthy Fat
For a salad to be tasty and satisfying, it really needs all six components.
Greens: It’s best to include a variety of greens, both for texture and vitamin/nutrient levels. Mix crunchy lettuce like romaine with dark greens like kale, chard or spinach, or try herb salad mix with arugula. Pile on 3-4 cups of greens per serving–they are so good for you and so low in calories that there’s no reason to hold back.
Colorful Vegetables: This portion of the salad is where you get other important vitamins and nutrients, and it’s best to follow the adage “eat the rainbow.” Try cucumbers, peppers, carrots, red cabbage or any vegetables you can get your hands on!
Protein: This is really important. Every salad needs a serving of protein and it can be in the form of beans, tofu, quinoa, eggs, cottage cheese (for vegetarians) or chicken, fish, lean steak or pork for carnivores. Alternatively, try a combination: beans + chicken; tofu + eggs; cottage cheese + chicken; edamame + flaked tuna; quinoa + steak. (Aim for 150 calories worth of protein.)
Healthy Fat: Fats are vital for vitamin absorption and so important for the satiety factor (what makes you feel satisfied and not ravenous after eating a salad). Top your salad with avocado slices, roasted and chopped nuts, hemp seeds or olives. (Aim for about 100 calories worth of healthy fats.)
Flavor: Sometimes, the flavor component can come from the protein/fat/dressing section, but I think it’s important enough to talk about it separately. My personal favorite way to enhance the taste of a salad is to add a small amount of really flavorful cheese like feta, goat or blue; however, dried fruit (watch portion size!) or chopped fresh fruit and herbs can also add a great depth to your salad. (Should be about 100 calories.)
Dressing: Find a great bottled dressing or make your own, it’s easy! I prefer dressings that are organic or natural and definitely NOT fat-free. When the fat is removed from dressing sugar is often the replacement, which isn’t necessarily better for you and it certainly doesn’t taste good. If you’re going to make your own, my favorite vinaigrette is: chopped shallots + dijon mustard + olive oil + lemon juice or vinegar + salt and pepper. Or, simply drizzle your salad with 1/2-1 Tbsp of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper. (Should be about 100 calories.) You’ll find that when you combine greens, vegetables, protein, healthy fat and flavor you’ve got a satisfying, delicious salad. Here’s one of my favorites (on page 2, click below)