Salads have the reputation of being the go to food for health and dieting. But we frequently hear the warning, “Beware at restaurants!” because in all honesty, purchased salads lack the nutritional value that should be inherent in a bowl of vegetables. More often than not, when perusing the salad section of the menu, I will see that the composition is greens, tomato, maybe carrots – and then the add-ons begin. Chicken, bacon, cheese, dressing, candied nuts etc.
As someone who typically brings a salad for lunch, I am just annoyed that no one in food service (save for maybe a vegetarian or uber health conscious establishment) can create a tasty salad that is primarily vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I think adding some extras are fine, but the base needs to be improved. So here are my guidelines for making an appropriate salad at home.
- Should include a minimum of 5 vegetables. There is more in this world than tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots!
- Iceberg lettuce doesn’t count. It has so little nutritional value, its primary contribution is hydration. Just have a glass of water and call it a day.
- Try and have a minimum of 1/4 cup of each vegetable chosen, with closer to 1 cup for leafy greens. This way you can get a substantial amount of nutrients from each ingredient.
- Keep it colorful! Different colors signify different vitamins so by diversifying your choices, you can maximize the health benefit.
- Once you have done the above, feel free to add chicken, bacon or cheese, but limit it to one serving. Salads are mixed dishes so keep the ratio proportional.
In order to adhere to these rules, you may need to break out of some old habits. Here are my top 10 vegetables to try.
These actually contain protein in addition to fiber and vitamin K. They also offer a nice stringy texture in comparison to the typical crunch.
Growing up, my mom used baby corn in stir fry and I loved the novelty and the flavor. When I was home recently, I scoured the cabinets trying to get a 5th veggie for my salad and I stumbled upon a can of baby corn, tossed it in and it worked very well.
This has been a relatively new addition to my vegetable repertoire. I tried a grapefruit/beet salad and realized that beets are much more mild that I had originally thought. The vibrant color makes your meal so visually pleasing. They are also a good source of folate and manganese.
Known for vitamin C, these peppers come in 4 colors so you can mix and match to give your plate some color. Examine what you have and fill in the gaps to get the most nutritional value from your meal.
Take these from the veggie tray to your bowl. You can try them raw or cooked (blanching is a good way to soften them a little while preserving their nutrients). These are both excellent sources of vitamin C and protein, and good sources of vitamin K and fiber.
CRUNCH! My favorite thing about celery. It has a reputation for being a diet food, but it doesn’t feel like it when its mixed in with everything else.
These fungi provide protein and B vitamins. White mushrooms tend to be more mild, start with those first if you don’t usually eat them.
And I’m not talking about French’s onions. Regular diced or sliced onions offer B6 and fiber.
These pretty little veggies will add a pop of pink to your salad.
A good source of B6 and copper. Purchase a can and its easy to add them without much prep time needed.
Now doesn’t this all sound much more exciting? To make it easier on yourself, you can get plenty of these items canned, frozen, or pre-cut. All these items offer vitamins, minerals and fiber while remaining lower in calories. By establishing a good base, you can keep your salad healthy, even if you do choose to top it with some more ‘fun’ items. Personally, I add a tablespoon of bacon bits, sliced deli turkey and honey mustard dressing to pull it all together and have a complete meal.
Try out a few of these veggies in addition to some of the staples like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers to see what you like. You will never know until you try it!