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The dos and don'ts of the salad bar

Founder of Nutritious Life (a private nutrition practice in NYC), author of 4 books, Womens Health Mag contributor, tv personality, mom, list maker, & lover of all things green.

Clock strikes 12:30 p.m. The lunch game has begun. You dart to your fave lunch haven to fill that salad craving. A clear glass wall divides you from the rainbow of toppings staring back at you.

The choices are endless; even at the start you must decide on arugula, spinach, romaine, mesclun or kale? You scream (in your head of course) “ahhhhh!” and walk out the door. Instead of running, wanna be the next salad bar master? I am here to help. Let's begin with a few dos and don’ts.

Don't: Salad bar sabotagers

  • Low-fat dressings, creamy dressings
  • Tortilla strips, croutons
  • Sauteed vegetables
  • Pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and coleslaw
  • Dried cranberries, syrupy fruits

Do: Salad bar stars

  • Avocado, salsa, vinegar, olive oil, or lemon juice
  • Water chestnuts, apple slivers, nuts and seeds, fresh corn
  • Raw, steamed, or roasted vegetables
  • Butternut squash, grainy salad
  • Fresh berries, mandarin oranges

Next, a little salad road map for you to follow and I promise you won't get lost.

Get greedy with your greens

Opt for romaine, mixed greens, spinach and kale because they are rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate and chock full of fiber. Getting your fix of greens is really what it's hyped it up to be. Go crazy and get not one but two types of greens.

P-p-protein

Ever eat a salad and ask yourself "OK, what's for lunch?" This happens all too often after eating what we thought was a killer-yummy salad. Most likely it is because you skimped on protein. I suggest getting a protein fix at every meal, but especially lunch. Whether or not you get your protein punch can make an afternoon at the office a lazy doozie or super productive. A rumbling tummy is no way to focus.

Sources of lean protein to mix into your salad:

  • Grilled chicken or fish
  • Tofu
  • Chickpeas or black beans
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Water-packed tuna
  • Cheese: Parmesan, feta, goat, cottage, bleu (note: the fat in cheese is not loaded with the healthy fats in these other sources mentioned but cheese does contain some protein and calcium and a little goes a long way. If you are craving, indulge in a small portion.)
  • Avocado, olives
  • Olive oil

Remember a little fat (from all types) goes a long way. Choose one of the above.

Toppings galore

Just looking at the topping choices can give me googly eyes. My go-to formula? Two or three raw veggies, one cooked veggie, one extra such as jalapeno or dried cranberries.

Dress it up

Steer clear from the pre-made dressings even if they claim to be low sugar or low fat. Usually that translates to high chemical, high sugar and low satisfaction. Stick to the basics like olive oil, and all kinds of vinegar. Or get creative; mash a little avocado with some balsamic vinegar and have yourself a creamy dressing. A splash of lemon or a scoop of salsa can also do the trick. And, of course, cayenne or black pepper go a long way.

If you need a little more guidance, here are a few ideas to bring with you on your next salad bar jaunt.

salad bar

Photo credit: Simon Katzer/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Peak summer salad

Spinach/kale mix, cucumbers, dill, tomatoes, scallions, avocado, grilled shrimp

Dressing: lemon juice

Mediterranean salad

Romaine, tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, artichokes, red onion, feta

Dressing: olive oil and vinegar

Mexican salad

Romaine, corn, cucumber, red onion, black beans, avocado

Dressing: salsa

Asian salad

Mixed greens, sesame seeds, red cabbage, carrots, sugar snap peas, grilled salmon

Dressing: rice vinegar

Photo credit: Yuri_Arcurs/iStock/360/Getty Images
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