How To Build a Great Salad

Left: mixed greens, toasted almonds, avocado, cilantro, yellow bell pepper, parmesan cheese and cucumber;  Top right: spinach, almonds, parmesan cheese, carrots, and olives; Middle right: mixed greens, cucumber, carrots, red bell pepper, avocado, parmesan cheese; Bottom right: Salad to go!

Last week I shared my favorite salad dressing recipes.  Today, I’m sharing how I make my favorite lunch salads.  You can see from the pictures that I don’t go hungry when I eat a salad for lunch.  It seems like I keep needing bigger and bigger bowls because I find new things to add in!  I choose to eat a salad most days because I find it an easy way to get a good mix of veggies, protein, healthy fats and fiber.  This combination keeps me full for most of the afternoon.  I’ll usually have one small snack and I’m good to go until dinner.  The key to a great salad is to find a good mix of toppings you like and a great dressing.  (You definitely don’t have to be eating salad every day to be eating a healthy lunch!  I would just encourage you to think outside the average lunch box (i.e. sandwich and chips) and eat a lunch with a variety of healthy foods.)  I’m not going to lie, it takes me more time to fix a salad than it would a sandwich and chips but the health benefits are worth it to me.  If you are short on time, spend just one or two nights a week chopping/prepping ingredients for healthy lunches throughout the week.  I take my salads with me on the go all the time.

I know a lot of people like to eat leftovers for lunch but I would rather save them and have them later in the week for dinner to save me a night of cooking!  Thankfully no one in the family has a problem with leftovers.

Ok, so here are my tips for creating a tasty and filling salad:

Lettuce:  My favorites are spring mix, spinach, baby kale and romaine, but there are so many more.  I like to chop my lettuce up pretty small for all my salads.  I think doing this makes the salad easier to eat and allows each bite to be a good mix of lettuce and toppings.  I actually use a spoon to eat my salads because I chop everything up pretty small.

chopped salad

I love chopping the lettuce to make the salad easier to mix and eat.

Veggies:  I like to add any combination of peppers, onion, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and tomato (these last two not technically veggies) to my salads.  On occasion I’ll add sprouts to my salad as well.

Fruits:  A lot of people like berries, apples, pears, or citrus fruits on their salad.  I don’t really love mixing fruits with greens but I know many people do.

Fresh Herbs:  I like to add basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, chives and dill to my salads.  Not all at once but usually 1 – 3 herbs.  In these pictures I mostly used cilantro because my herb garden is just now back up and running.  Adding fresh herbs really adds a lot of flavor and nutrients to a salad.  Who wants a boring, flavorless salad?

Cheese:  I prefer Parmesan cheese because it has a higher protein (10 grams for 1 oz.) and calcium content than some of the softer cheeses.  Plus it has a salty taste that adds great flavor.  I add 1 – 2 T to my salad most days.  Many people like to add feta or other cheeses.  I recently discovered Cotija cheese (because of a Mexican dish I made.)  It’s delicious and has a great flavor for salads.  It doesn’t have quite as much protein as Parmesan but it does have more than many other cheeses.

How To Build a Great Salad

This is my typical lunch salad: mixed greens, fresh herbs, peppers, avocado, cucumber, onion, parmesan cheese, toasted nuts, ham and homemade dressing.

Protein:  Sometimes I add 1 slice of nitrate free ham to my salads.  Other times I’ll add leftover meat from dinner the night before.  But many days I have a meat free salad.  You can add boiled eggs, beans, edamame, nuts and cheese for a little more protein.

Healthy Fats:  If you are using homemade vinaigrette you are already getting the healthy fats from olive oil.  You can also add nuts, avocados, or olives. I LOVE avocados.  I usually put 1/4-1/2 of an avocado on my salad.  They don’t have a strong taste but they add a creaminess to the salad that I love.  Avocados provide healthy fat and fiber, which will help keep you fuller longer.

Nuts and Seeds:  I love toasted nuts on my salad.  They add a great crunch that I really miss if I leave them off. (I don’t usually buy pre-roasted nuts because they are often roasted in unhealthy oils.)  Since I buy raw nuts I toast them to make them crunchy.  To do this I chop them up and broil them for 3-5 minutes.  My favorites are sliced almonds and chopped pecans.  Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are great on salads too.  If you take your salad on the go you can toast the nuts the night before and they will still be crunchy the next day.

three salads

Left: mixed greens, toasted pecans, cotija cheese, red peppers, avocado, cilantro and mushrooms; Middle: mixed greens, avocado, toasted almonds, fresh oregano and thyme, tomatoes, cucumber and orange peppers; Right: mixed greens, cilantro, toasted almonds, ham, cotija cheese, avocado, cucumber, red peppers and mushrooms

Dressing:  It’s difficult to find healthy bottled dressings; that’s why I make my own.  You can see my favorite homemade dressing recipes here.  An important note about homemade dressings:  the better quality olive oil and vinegar you buy the better the taste.  I don’t buy the most expensive but I don’t buy the cheapest either.

Grains:  Quinoa, brown rice and corn are great additions to salads as well.

Legumes:  You can add chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, peas, and/or edamame for more fiber and protein.

Salt and Pepper:  Because I don’t eat a lot of processed food I don’t worry too much about salt in my diet.  So I usually add a sprinkle of salt and some pepper.  It definitely adds to the flavor.

How To Build a Great Salad

Top left: mixed greens, avocado, cilantro, red bell pepper, and leftover chicken enchilada stuffing; Top right: mixed greens, cucumber, orange bell pepper, cilantro, avocado and parmesan cheese; Bottom left: mixed greens, yellow peppers, and leftover chicken patty; Bottom right: mixed greens, red bell pepper, avocado, toasted pecans, parmesan cheese and cilantro

So there you have it!  Those are my tips for creating a delicious and filling salad.  I am always looking for new ideas so now I want to know… what do you like on your salads?

5 thoughts on “How To Build a Great Lunch Salad

  1. Just wanted to report back and say that I tried making myself a lunch salad every day last week and loved it so much that I am continuing to do it this week! Aside from the fact that salads are delicious and nutritious, I decided to try it out because I thought it would save me a lot of time. After cooking a real food dinner most nights, I do not look forward to coming up with a lunch plan. I am really liking my routine so far and wanted to thank you for the inspiration. Last Sunday I spent about 30 minutes after I get home from the grocery store prepping my salad ingredients for the week (carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, parmesan, quinoa or whole wheat pasta, and hard boiled eggs) and making my dressing. Every morning before work I just placed lettuce, salad ingredients, and dressing in my lunch container and had my lunch ready to go in less than 5 minutes.

    • I love it! I totally agree, it’s kind of nice to already have your lunch planned for most days instead of having to figure out what to pack each day. I love your organization too! I bet the addition of whole wheat pasta is delicious. Thanks for letting me know how it went!!

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