When you hear “salad”, do you think of a salad bar bowl filled with anemic-looking chunks of iceberg lettuce, a couple of rubbery pale tomato wedges and a ladle of gloppy not-so-good-for-you dressing?
Sadly, that is what some folks call a salad. If you remember the family steak houses that were so popular decades ago, you probably already have an image in your mind of that weak salad I described.
Of course, there are plenty of places to go out for salad these days that put the contents of those tiny black steak house salad bowls to shame. But you may need to be prepared to cough up some dough before you get your greens.
Recently, I spotted a $35 price tag on a restaurant salad. I mean, really, folks… I’m all about quality ingredients, but that is a bit out of line in my humble, budget-minded, opinion.
No way would I order that high-dollar salad when I mix a mean bowl of greens at home nearly every day of the week (if you don’t believe me, just check out my Instagram feed!) Even for those days when work is stacked high and it’s Lunch Al Desko, with the right ingredients, anyone can create an affordable and nutritious salad that will stay with you all the way til dinner time. Here are my 6 Steps to Building a Nutritious Salad that Satisfies.
6 Steps to Building a Nutritious Salad that Satisfies
1. Go for the green, baby.
A beautiful bed of tender baby greens adds nutrients to your salad bowl with a milder flavor than fully mature leaves. Pile on kale and spinach for a healthy dose of vitamins A, C, E and K and toss in a handful of vibrant mustard greens or young bok choy leaves for B vitamins. Dark leafy greens like baby beet greens are also brimming with fiber and minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium, as well as carotenoids, a type of antioxidant known to protect cells from free radical damage. Use a mixture of greens for variety in flavor, texture and color.
2. Color it healthy.
Topping your leafy greens with a variety of colorful veggies and fruits adds variety, crunch, flavor, excitement, and nutrients. Choose in-season produce to maximize nutrition and change it up often so you don’t become bored.
Seek excitement with mini San Marzano tomatoes, thin slices of fennel, colorful sweet peppers and anything else that catches your eye at the farmers market or in the grocery store produce section.
3. Power up with protein.
Adding a lean protein element to your salad elevates a bowl of veggies and greens to a balanced meal that can keep your blood sugar balanced and sustain you for hours.
Opt for slices of lean poultry (like my Avocado Roasted Chicken, pictured above), wild caught fish or shellfish, smoked salmon or strips of grilled lean beef. If you prefer a non-meat/poultry/fish option, try sliced or chopped hard boiled eggs, diced tofu or your favorite cheese, depending upon your specific dietary needs and tastes.
4. Get fresh for flavor.
Fresh chopped herbs and elements like sun-dried tomatoes are a terrific way to take your salads to an entirely new level. Choose herbs like fresh basil, cilantro, chives, rosemary or thyme. The possibilities really are endless!
5. Take it to the next level with nutritious textural elements.
A little crunch from toasted sunflower seed kernels, pumpkin seeds or your favorite chopped nuts; the sweet-tart chew of dried cranberries; the subtle nuttiness of flaxseed – no matter what you choose, adding a textural element takes your salad to new heights. Not to mention, these little add-ins also add flavor and nutrients and keep things lively.
6. Dress it like you mean it.
Salad dressings have come a long way from the not-so-good-for-you Ranch, Thousand Island and French, so reminiscent of those steak house salad bars I mentioned earlier. That’s a good thing, too, especially for those of us who require a gluten-free dressing. I remember when I first went gluten-free in 2007 and quickly decided, due to celiac disease and multiple food allergies to soy, peanuts and tree nuts, it just seemed like a better idea to make my own dressings. If I did find a great gluten-free option, there was usually some other ingredient (like soybean oil or xanthan gum) that made it off-limits for me.
Of course, that was no problem since salad dressing is simple to whip up in no time. High quality oil, a touch of acid like lemon juice, a pinch of salt, pepper and herbs if you’re feeling fancy, will definitely get the job done. Or choose your favorite healthy, gluten-free bottled salad dressing. My favorite is Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette. What's your favorite?
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