Have you ever eaten a salad and then were hungry not too long after? Salads, of course are great, especially this time of year! They can be packed with nutrition and just be plain good. When you eat a salad you want it to satisfy you, not just be a bowl of rabbit food. The key to creating a super satisfying salad is to keep balance in mind.
Just like I have written about in the past, that concept of balance can be easily applied to making a salad that not only is full of nutrients but also satisfies. The satisfaction is going to come from having a good balance of energy providing carbs, along with protein and good fats to give it staying power. Here are some ideas of what you could include. Pick one from each category.
Your Base, the Greens.
Any type of leafy greens or combination will do. The darker and more full of color the better – iceberg does not fit that bill. Some great options include spinach, butter lettuce (some friends rave about the hydroponic butter lettuce from Costco – 3.99 for 3 big heads, great value!), romaine, kale, arugula, or mixed greens. Fresh herbs, like basil, cilantro, and parsley can also be added to your greens to boost flavor. Start with 1-2 cups of leafy greens.
Don’t stop with just leafy greens, use other veggies to add color and texture, and make your salad more interesting and more nutritious. Vegetables are high in nutrition but low in calories, so you can load up without breaking your calorie bank. Some ideas include: red, yellow, or green peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots, radishes, raw broccoli or cauliflower, and mushrooms. (As an aside, I get asked often if mushrooms have any nutritional value. The answer is YES. They provide the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin, as well as other nutrients such as selenium, potassium, and copper. They are also a great source of vitamin D.)
Don’t Forget the Protein.
When we think protein we automatically think meat, which is fine of course. Choices like grilled chicken or salmon or shrimp are great choices. Leftover chicken or other meats from dinner make great salad toppers. Plant sources work too- like garbanzo beans, black beans, pinto beans, or edamame. A sliced boiled egg is also another way to add protein.
Good nutritious carbohydrates, as maligned as they are, are also an important part of a balanced, healthy diet and can be added to a salad with ease. My suggestion would be to pick either a fruit or a grain to add to your salad, not both to avoid going overboard on the carb count. Or, if you want both just be aware of your serving size staying around a 1/2 cup. Here are some options in both of those categories.
Any kind of berry- strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. Citrus is great too, like oranges, clementines (aka Cuties), or grapefruit. Some others to consider: grapes, peaches, plums, avocado (yes it’s a fruit – and packs in heart healthy monounsaturated fats), or for a tropical twist mango or papaya.
Whole grains/Starchy Veggies.
In this category, you can stick with what you know if you like. Choices such as brown rice, quinoa, and wild rice are great ways to add slowly digestible, energy-boosting doses of high fiber grains. Or if you are feeling adventurous look for farro, freekah, wheat berries, or kamut. They are available in either the bulk bins at various grocery stores around town or in packages. They all have sort of strange names but are different and super healthy ways to up your intake of whole grains. Starchy veggies, like corn or peas, are great salad toppers too. Calories can add up quickly with starchy vegetables & grains, even the whole, less-processed varieties, so be mindful of your portion size and stick to 1/4-1/2 cup.
A great way to add crunch, along with satiating good fats, protein, and fiber is to add some nuts to your salad. Anything will work- almond slivers, chopped walnuts, or pecans. Stick to a tablespoon or two. Flavorful cheese can add a nice boost to a salad too. A little sprinkling of feta or blue cheese can go a long way.
Here are some delicious examples of balanced and super satisfying salad:
1. A bed of mixed baby greens, with some sliced red peppers, and broccoli florets, garbanzo beans, and topped off with a little avocado.
2. A bed of butter lettuce, some tomatoes and sliced mushrooms, a 3-4 oz. piece of grilled salmon, and a serving of brown rice.
3. A bed of spinach, some grilled chicken, strawberries, walnuts, and a little feta cheese sprinkles on top.
There you have it, your blueprint for creating your own nutrient dense, satisfying salad for lunches or dinners any time. It’s easy to ruin a perfectly good salad by dousing it in store-bought dressing full of ingredients most of us can’t even pronounce. In my next blog I will talk about dressings and give some simple ways to prepare your own.