I am a professional salad maker.
I could eat them everyday - especially once the weather gets warmer. Salads are a great way to get in a lot of nutrients, increase your fiber intake, and stay fuller for a longer period of time with all of that volume that they add to your belly.
Learning how to perfect a salad means knowing the best combination of ingredients to add in to pack a powerful flavor punch and make them something you crave, quieting that inner five-year-old that doesn't want to eat leaves. Trust me (and your inner five-year-old) that there are plenty of ways in which a salad can go wrong. Let's talk about how to make them awesome!
You want to start with your core ingredients and build from there. Often times, the salad is the main event for me so I actually start with picking my protein first. There are quite a few choices when it comes to adding in this essential macronutrient. Many of my female clientele fall short here on a daily basis so it's a smart place to begin. You could add:
3-4 oz of cooked chicken
3-4 ounces of red meat (steak, ground beef)
3-4 oz of cooked ground turkey
1 c of black beans or garbanzo beans
4-6 oz of canned fish (skipjack tuna or wild Alaskan salmon)
2 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 c cottage cheese
1/3 c hummus
4 tbsp of hemp seeds
Once you have your protein figured out, then you can add in your vegetables. There are the old standards of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and peppers - but you don't have to limit yourself to those veggies. To make things interesting, you could try adding in some leftover cooked vegetables. Beets are pretty great too (if you don't think they taste like dirt like my husband does). Or, try a handful of shredded carrots in lieu of shredded cheese.
In addition to vegetables, don't be afraid to try adding in some fruit to provide a bright pop of flavor that is often a great contract to the bitterness of greens. Blueberries and strawberries are great as are diced apples. You could also try diced oranges or even grapefruit. One pitfall would be using dried fruit like Craisins as they add a lot of sugar which you want to avoid.
For greens, I will always steer folks towards organc greens. Spinach and kale are in the top 12 list of produce items for pesticide application. (www.ewg.org) Some leafy greens are a bit heartier than others and will have a bit more "staying power" of you're packing them in a lunch for later.
One of the things that is the "magical" component of a good salad is the chopping. People love my salads and I swear it's because I dice things smaller than most. Cucmbers are quartered before I cut the slices. Tomatoes fit easily on a fork. And even the greens are cut into more managable pieces. Why? Well, when you take a forkful, you get a little bit of everything.
Now let's talk toppings. For me, this is where a sald can easily transform from being a healthy idea into a dining catastrophe. It's possible to add enough extra "stuff" to deter from all of the goodness that you're trying to eat. Many of the the toppings that people will add to their salads can be pretty calorie dense taking a healthful salad with maybe 300-400 calories and doubling it to 800 or more. So this is where it's super-important to be mindful of what you're adding.
Croutons are a fan favorite but add in unnecessary carbohydrates and can be high in fat. Skip them if you can.
Some folks prefer nuts and seeds but this can go awry too. Most nuts are processed (fried or roasted with oil) and are also calorie-dense. If you add nuts, consider crushing to spread them out or measuring them to know how much you are getting. Try to add less than 100 calories worth here.
Cheese. Oh, how we love our cheese. Chese is pretty great but just 1/4 c of shredded cheddar can add just over 100 calories. If it's possible to go without it, give it a try.
Bacon bits or even worse - fake bacon bits. Um, no. One tablespoon will set you back 30 calories, but who uses just one tablespoon?
Salad dressings - a recipe for disaster. Most commercial salad dressings contain either unhealthy oils or loads of sugar. This is the one area that can really make it or break it when it comes to making a salad. Some dressings are around 200 calories for every two tablespoons and boy do some people love their dressing.
Here are some tips for this:
When you're making your salad, don't forget to add in some herbs and spices. My all-time favorite is Papa's Seasoning from the Blacksmith Seasonings. It's perfect everytime. Salt and pepper work well too along with garlic or onion powder. There's old school Mrs. Dash for a tried-and-true seasoning. But check out that spice aisle to see what you find!
Next, fats and acids. Bet you've never heard that before. We know the whole oil and vinegar spiel but there's a reason why that's so popular. You've got a fat (oil) and an acid (vinegar). There are other ways to achieve this that can add a lot of flavor so don't shy away from oil and lemon or lime juice, salsa mixed with avocado, or hummus and a bit of extra lemon juice.
I don't personally love dressings like Ranch, but I know that there are healthier recipes out there. Many creamy dressings start with a Greek yogurt base instead of a vegetable or soybean oil. Give that a try!
If you're going to be packing a salad to bring with you, be sure to put all of the wet and heavy ingredients on the bottom first. Then add your greens on top so that they don't get crushed or wet. This will keep them fresh until you're ready to eat them.
And last, but certainly not least, make your salad in a big bowl so that when you add your dressing, you can use less. A lidded bowl is best because...shaken, not stirred is the way to go.