Nothing beats the heat like a delicious crisp salad for a healthy summer meal. As the weather warms up, salads are a great way to not only nix the stove to keep cool, but also to work extra veggies into your meals for a powerful nutritious punch. If you are new to this culinary arena, or have never been much of a salad enthusiast, below are some tips to help inspire creativity and help you add healthier salad-based options to your daily menu .
1. Go with the darker greens– When you think of the base of a salad, lettuce comes to mind and the darker in color the better. Although many salads feature iceberg lettuce, there are better choices. While low in calories, iceberg has little nutritional value besides its water content. Darker colored greens like spinach, romaine, spring mix and arugula are preferable – as these have more vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid and potassium, as well as fiber. Make sure to rinse your greens well, and pat them dry, or use a salad spinner to get rid of excess moisture. Short on time? Try prewashed and packaged salad greens for convenience.
2. Embrace color and variety when adding salad veggies to your plate– While the standard lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad is great, the more variety of veggies in your salad, the better. Try adding more raw veggies such as peppers, onion, broccoli, mushrooms, chives, jicama, peapods, shredded cabbage and more. Increasing the color on your plate will up the nutrition content by adding more vitamins, minerals and fiber, while remaining low in calories and carbs. One cup of raw non-starchy veggies, as well as lettuce, has only 5 grams of carb and 25 calories, so even a couple of cups is a reasonable serving.
3. Pump up the learn protein to keep satisfied- Make your salad a meal by topping it with your favorite lean protein. Great choices include grilled chicken or turkey breast, water packed tuna, grilled shrimp or fish, chopped eggs, tofu and occasionally lean cuts of red meat and pork, as well as low fat cheese. Adding protein to your salad helps to keep you full longer for optimal energy, as well as weight and blood sugar control. Keep protein to a 3-to-5-ounce portion, with 3 ounces being about the size of a deck of cards and 5 ounces equal to the palm of your hand.
4. Add some healthy fat- Another way to make your salad more satisfying is to fold in some healthy fat. Choose plant- based options, like nuts, seeds, avocado and olives. These are all unsaturated fats, meaning they will not elevate your cholesterol or triglycerides, making them heart healthy choices. Keep in mind fats are very filling and higher in calories, so just a dab here or there will do. Example of a portion would be 1 tablespoon of nuts or 2 tablespoons of avocado or 8-10 olives for 45 calories and 5 grams of fat.
5. Choose smart starches- Want to add some starch to your salad to make it a treat? Stick with high fiber choices in moderate portions to keep carbs and calories in check. Add 1/3 cup of cooked brown rice or whole wheat pasta or a ½ cup of corn, beans, peas, sweet potato or butternut squash cubes as a starch serving (about 80 calories and 15 grams carbs). Skip higher fat refined carbs like croutons, tortilla strips and wontons and try subbing whole wheat pita chips with roasted chickpeas or nuts/seeds for some crunch. Another option is to keep your salad protein and vegetable based and have your carbs on the side such as a small handful of crackers, a piece of multigrain toast or a small whole wheat roll.
6. Dress lightly and wisely- If you make the effort to make a healthy choice with a salad, be careful not to sabotage your attempt by topping your salad with a dressing that is laden with calories, fat and carbs. Good options include oil-based vinaigrettes to incorporate healthy fat or if you are choosing a creamy based dressing, try to go with a light version and keep your servings to 1-2 tablespoons. For an even lower calorie and carb options try lemon juice and vinegar or you can even make your own dressing to control your ingredients.
7. Incorporate leftovers- Another way to liven up your salad is to top it with leftovers for a delicious meal. Try:
- Adding grilled or roasted veggies like peppers, mushrooms, brussels sprouts
- Sprinkling in a small amount of pasta or rice
- Topping it with leftover protein entrees like grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu, hard boiled egg, bean based dishes or hummus
- Mixing in other pre-prepped salads like 3 bean salad, pasta salad, chicken or tuna salad
8. Get festive with fruit- Don’t limit your salad to veggies only, toss in some fruit for added flavor, texture and nutrition. Top your salad with berries, chopped melon, apple/pear/peach slices or pineapple chunks for a real treat. Rotate with fruits in season for variety and to add different vitamins, minerals and fiber
9. Try lettuce-less salad for a twist– Not all salads have to include lettuce as a base. There are many recipes for lettuce free salads that include cubes or slices of cooked or raw veggies, nuts, beans, whole grain rice and low-fat cheese mixed in with a dressing. These lettuce-less salads tend to keep longer for multiple servings since no lettuce means no wilt.
10. Experiment with different combinations to keep things interesting- Salad never has to be boring! There are countless possibilities of recipes and combinations available that you can try, often featuring seasonal ingredients to add variety and keep you motivated and satisfied as a salad eater.
Some great recipe websites for salad recipes include: