Strapped for time and cash but want to eat healthy? Is the daily struggle trying to figure out what to have for lunch or dinner all too real? Why not give salads a spin!
When done right, salads are a great way to incorporate lots of healthy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds into your diet. A healthy salad can be a springboard for healthy weekday meals or nutritious lunches. And if you’re looking to lose weight, a health-savvy salad will help you reach your goal. The best part? Salads are cheap, quick, versatile and easy to make!
“Don’t be fooled by fast food frauds! Salads from take-out and casual restaurants are full of unhealthy toppings and drenched in creamy dressings that pack on extra calories, fat, sugar and sodium†. Avoid these pitfalls with your own fresh fixins!”
With a little know-how and some advanced planning, you can make salads at home that not only taste delicious but help you eat nutritiously. When you wait to add the dressing until you’re ready to eat, any salad can be prepared ahead of time and stored for up to a week in the fridge for easy grab-n-go meals.
When tossing a salad together, keep these additional 7 tips in mind:
Start Fresh with Healthy Greens
Most of us grew up with iceberg lettuce as the go-to leafy green, but its mediocre flavor and low amount of nutrients leave us wanting more. Today, most grocery stores stock a much wider selection from the mild red leaf & butter lettuce, endive and romaine, to the bolder varieties like spinach, radicchio, arugula, kale and dandelion greens. Our Kale Salad with Lemon Dijon Dressing is an ideal intro recipe to get more of this superfood into your diet. Branch out and experiment, you may be pleasantly surprised!
Enhance Flavor with Fruits & Veggies
Forget the same old boring carrots, tomato and cucumber. The possibilities for which fruits & veggies to top your salad with are virtually endless. Our favorites include bell peppers, jicama, corn, beets, fennel, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms and green beans. Lemon, orange or lime juice and zests add an extra zing to dressings. Impress your friends with our Mixed Lettuce, Fennel & Orange Salad.
Whether it’s Spinach Salad with Strawberries or Red Leaf with Apple & Orange Salad, certain fruits complement leafy greens really well. Dried fruit like golden raisins, currants, figs and cranberries add great flavor, but keep in mind dried fruit concentrates the calories and sugar so use sparingly.
Make Your Own Dressing
Most store-bought salad dressings are made with unhealthful fats from partially-hydrogenated canola, corn, or soybean oil, and even low-fat or low-calorie versions contain added sugars and sodium. The better approach is to make your own dressing that will allow you to control the ingredients and tailor to your personal taste.
Start with a high-quality fat such as extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), walnut or sesame oil. These oils are health-promoting and less processed than many other seed oils. Next add vinegar, either the standard balsamic or something more adventurous like apple cider, Champagne, red wine, rice wine, sherry, white wine or white balsamic vinegar.
Each oil and vinegar has its own special flavor, so play around with different options and combinations. Our Arugula Salad with Peaches uses EVOO and white balsamic vinegar that provides a nice complement to the bitter greens and sweet peaches.
OXO offers a salad dressing shaker that makes dressings simple, mess-free and easy to store. At just $14.99, its worth buying a shaker in each color – with black or bright green trim.
Top with Ancient Grains
Ancient grains (plus grasses and seeds) are enjoying a golden age, with quinoa, amaranth, spelt, kamut, wheatberry, teff, chia seeds and farro showing up in everything from breads to pastas to puddings. Their tastes and textures offer a different experience from conventional grains, and often contain more protein, Omega-3s, fiber and phytonutrients. This makes them a great addition to many salads, but be selective in your choices as not all ancient grains are safe for those with wheat allergies and gluten-intolerance.
Pump Up the Protein
Wondering how to use up last night’s leftovers? That grilled chicken, fish or meat are perfect for boosting the protein content of your salad. Other good options include hard-boiled egg, shrimp and crab. Plant proteins, especially from legumes like chickpeas, tofu and edamame, are another alternative to get the benefit of protein without the saturated fat found in animal sources, plus adding more fiber to keep you satiated. Our Southwest Salad with Cilantro Dressing features black beans as the star protein.
Seasons with Spices & Herbs
Avoid the sodium-filled store-bought condiments and salad dressings in favor of healthier flavoring alternatives. Widely-available herbs like basil, chive, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, tarragon, thyme and parsley are the perfect way to boost the flavor of your homemade dressing without adding extra salt. Kick it up a notch with cayenne pepper, cumin, curry, ginger or garlic for even more zing! The dressing in our Greek Salad with Kalamata Olives uses the classic Italian spices basil, oregano and garlic.
Nuts & Seeds for Extra Crunch
Walnuts, almonds, macadamias and cashews along with seeds like pumpkin, pine nut (pignolia), sesame and sunflower add a nice bite and crunch factor to any salad. Candied nuts – by definition loaded with sugar – are great for an occasional treat, but for your healthy salads opt instead for raw, unsalted versions. Check out our Asian Cabbage Sesame Salad which is topped with sesame seeds.
A Word About Cheese
Who doesn’t love a Greek salad with feta cheese, or tomato with mozzarella? Unfortunately, most cheese is calorie-dense, high in sodium and in saturated fat – the kind that clogs your arteries. Just 1 oz. of cheddar cheese has 113 calories, 174 mg of sodium, and 6 grams of saturated fat – that’s 30% of your daily value!
Low-fat cheese has a slightly better nutritional profile, but the truth is adding cheese to your salad can be a real diet buster. Even cottage cheese, with only 81 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat per 4 oz. serving, still has 459 mg of sodium.
So what’s the solution? Moderation. Don’t put cheese on every salad, and when you do add it, use it sparingly. Our Classic Caesar Salad is topped with a just a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Here’s our 10 Easy & Healthy Salad Recipes:
Try a few or experiment on your own. Share your recipes with us!
†Case in point – CPK’s Thai Crunch Salad packs a walloping 1,289 calories, 747 calories from fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 48 grams of sugars and 1,530 mgs of sodium!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.