Give Your Healthy Salad a Makeover

Give Your Healthy Salad a Makeover

Give Your Healthy Salad a Makeover

If you’re one of my clients or if you’ve consistently followed my blog, you know that sometimes making healthy eating decisions isn’t as straightforward as it seems. You skip the burger and fries and order the healthy salad, and you feel virtuous about your positive choice.

But commercial salads, whether you’re grabbing a to-go clamshell or ordering in a fine dining atmosphere, can be incredibly overloaded with fat and sugar. They’re sneaky!

The Cobb salad is a great example. Yes, it does have greens and lean chicken breast, but it also delivers a serious caloric punch with the addition of Rocquefort cheese, oils, eggs, bacon, avocado, and more. If you want that kind of saiety from a meal, I would just recommend ordering the burger and really enjoying it!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes it’s easy to under-eat on a salad, or to get a really uneven scattering of nutrients. If you don’t specifically get a salad that has protein on it, whether it’s animal- or plant-based, you will be climbing the walls within an hour, dealing with a rumbly stomach and distracting cravings. Plus, many commercial salads use salad dressings and toppings (like candied nuts) that are sugar-heavy, which means that your blood sugar (and insulin production) will spike but quickly crash without the slow-burning energy of protein and complex carbohydrates to blunt the effects of the sugar consumption.

In short, whether your salad choice creates over-eating or under-eating, there’s a better way!

A salad can be an incredibly nutrient-dense stand-alone meal that tastes amazing and keeps cravings at bay. As a fitness nutrition specialist, I eat salads at least once a day, and it represents the bulk of my fiber and colorful vegetables.

I highly recommend developing a sophisticated repertoire of satisfying and nutritious salad toppings (see the recipes at the bottom of this post for ideas), and keeping those ingredients in your pantry so that you can make delicious salads anytime!

The Four Components of the Perfect Entree Salad

Lots and lots of greens

Don’t be shy – load it up with tons of brightly-hued greens. This is not a side salad – this is the meal! Whether you like spinach, kale, arugula, colored cabbages, or spring mixes, make sure the greens make up the majority of the overall volume, and that your bowl is large! (I should note that “lettuce” is a constant emergency grocery item sending my husband or myself running to the store in the middle of the week, so be forewarned: you will be buying a lot of greens).

healthy salad

 

Protein

Aim for a protein serving that’s roughly the size of the palm of your hand. Grilled chicken breast or fish (salmon or tuna) are common and easy-to-store cold toppings, but eggs and certain cheeses also make excellent protein-rich toppings in moderate serving sizes. When it comes to protein, try to only include one or two sources – otherwise, you run into the “Cobb salad quandary” (chicken, cheese, eggs, bacon… am I describing a patty melt or a salad here??).

healthy salad

Accessory Plants

I specifically say “plants,” because my opinion is that additional toppings should be plant-based and full of fiber. Great accessory toppings include tomatoes, olives, celery, beans, seeds, nuts, avocado, dried fruit/berries, sliced carrots, corn, artichoke hearts, red onion, roasted brussel sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, and more. For the “accessories” that are higher in fat, such as nuts, olives, or avocado, you should exercise moderation both in the serving size and in the combination of ingredients.

healthy salad

Simple, Flavorful Herbs, Vinegars, and Oil

When it comes to dressing, ditch commercial dressing and use one tablespoon of high-quality extra virgin olive oil and a vinegar of choice, plus herbs that will enhance the flavor of the salad. Balsamic, white balsamic, white wine, and red wine vinegars are all great choices, and you can pair them with olive oil and your favorite herbs for a flavorful punch.

healthy salad

Optional Whole Grain

As a “bonus” component, I would add quinoa, or even brown rice, if you need the additional carbohydrates. Sweet potato and beans could also serve this purpose.

My Five Favorite Salads

When it comes to enviable salad toppings, I like to combine all of the ingredients beforehand and store them in the refrigerator, so that they are easy to throw onto greens at a moment’s notice. I recommend using a measuring cup (or storing them in individual portion-sized containers) in order to regulate portion sizing.

Here are my five favorite healthy salad choices that are simple to make, easy to store, and taste great over a period of several days of refrigeration:

Greek Quinoa Salmon Salad

Toss together:

  • 4 oz grilled salmon, with a lemon squeezed over it
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 chopped bell pepper (your choice of color)
  • 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 6 olives
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Oregano
  • Salt
Curried Chicken Salad

Toss together:

  • 4 oz. grilled chicken
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek or Skyr yogurt
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • Handful of raisins
  • Handful of chopped green onions
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • Juice of one lime
  • Ginger powder (or grated fresh ginger) to taste
  • Curry powder to taste
  • Salt to tate
Tuna “Nicoise” Salad

Toss together:

  • 1/2 can of tuna
  • 1 red-skinned potato, boiled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup cooked green beans (haricots vert)
  • 1 boiled egg, sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
  • 1 radish, sliced
  • 6 Nicoise olives
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • Salt to taste
“The Best Chicken Salad of All Time”

Toss together:

  • 4 oz. grilled chicken breast
  • Handful of sliced almonds
  • Handful of chopped dried apricots
  • 6 Castelvetrano olives
  • 1 boiled egg, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cooked cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fennel
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup Greek or Skyr yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Oregano
  • Salt to taste
Shrimp and Black Bean Salad

Toss together:

  • 6 shrimp (preferably wild-caught local shrimp)
  • 1/2 cup drained and rinsed black beans
  • 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt to taste

Get creative! When it comes to salads, the sky is truly the limit, and you can design amazing meals based on your budget, preference, taste, and schedule.

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