Winter is a time for hearty soups, root veggies, warm cooked greens and extra rest. As lovely as that is – spring is just unbeatable. Warm, sunny skies and a light breeze. Better attitudes, more smiles, parks filled with people reading and tossing frisbees. Puppies! Bike rides and iced coffee. Farmer’s Markets! There’s just something in that spring air that makes me feel light, energized and ready for new things. And my diet follows suit – light, fresh, local.
First of all – if you are one of those people stuck in the “restaurant house salad” mindset, thinking that salads are always iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and ranch… PLEASE escape from those chains! Salads are so incredibly versatile! The traditional house salad is B-O-R-I-N-G…there are way too many beautiful fruits and veggies to explore. Fruits and grains and different types of greens, or no greens at all!
I’ll be honest – salads can be tricky. They’ve always been a meal that I tend to buy from a restaurant or salad shop rather than make on my own. I used to feel like they just never came out right at home. But I practiced more and more, and came up with somewhat of a formula for crafting the perfect flavor and texture balance.
Pick Your Greens
The greens are super important and are generally the biggest health benefit of eating the salad. Find a few different greens that you like, and vary it up! If you’re a die-hard spinach lover, stick to what you love! If you hate kale…don’t force it. Remember that generally the darker the leaf the more nutrient-dense it is. The more nutrient-dense however, the more bitter it tends to be – so I generally do a mix. Spinach and kale, or swiss chard and romaine. Today I did arugula and butter lettuce – yum!
TIP – The fresher your greens, the better and healthier your salad is going to be. If you have a local produce shop, farmer’s market or grocery store nearby – try getting into the habit of buying your shelf-stable items every week or two, but then buying your greens fresh every few days.
For me this tends to be whatever veggies I have lying around in the fridge at the moment – or whatever is local and fresh! Cucumbers add a great crunch, shredded carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, snap peas, cauliflower, sprouts…get creative!
I will admit – I used to avoid fruit in my salads…. I have NO IDEA why!! I hardly ever make salads anymore without some sort of fruit in them. Especially in the spring when so many beautiful fruits are in season! Apples are subtle and sweet and add a little crunch, mandarin oranges, strawberries, dried cranberries, dates, raisins… Trust me. Add some fruit!
TIP – Dried fruit, or fresh chopped fruit without too much water content will add a nice sweetness but will keep your salad from getting soggy or have a soft, unappealing texture.
Adding some nuts or seeds is such a good way to add flavor, texture AND bump up the protein and healthy fat content. I always have a bag of sunflower seeds, almonds or pecans ready to go in my pantry, and just toss them on my salads.
If you sway grain-free, move right along 🙂 No biggie. Grains are definitely not essential to a good salad – but I think it’s a fun way to shake things up! I also love mixing warm quinoa or couscous with kale – softens the kale up a little bit and cuts the bitterness. Also makes for amazing leftovers! Try experimenting with some unique grains like farro, bulgar wheat or amaranth.
I am of the meat-free, mostly plants persuasion. I will eat local and sustainably caught seafood, however. But if you’re looking for a heartier salad and want to make sure you are getting a lot of protein (aside from the nuts, seeds and veggies), try some lean meat or fish, or an egg!
OK LISTEN UP. This is the most important key to a healthy salad. Iceberg lettuce with bacon and blue cheese dressing is NOT healthy, just because it’s a “salad”! Dressing can make or break a salad’s nutritional score, and is often the reason I think people don’t make salads at home. So here are my thoughts on dressing.
You actually don’t need a pre-made processed dressing. It is super easy to make a quick at-home dressing with oil and some type of acid (citrus or vinegar). OR, achieve the same texture goals as a dressing with whipped avocado, or a runny soft-boiled egg. I do this quite often, and it’s the best way to have a truly whole food salad. Nothing processed, no funky filler ingredients.
But – we live in a pretty fast paced environment, and if using a dressing from a bottle makes you more likely to eat a salad – than that is A-OKAY in my book. I recently bought a locally made tofu-goddess dressing, that is absolutely delicious. It is creamy and garlicy, and adds so much delicious flavor without a bunch of added sugar.
When buying a dressing – remember!….
- Avoid “Low-Fat” or “Fat-Free”….that usually just means they pumped it with a ton of sugar to make up for the taste.
- Avoid creamy, mostly dairy-based dressings. These are stocked with saturated and trans-fats…not the good kinds of fats from avocados, nuts and oils.
- Look for the shortest ingredients list! If you can’t read the names of most of the ingredients, chances are it’s a highly processed, mostly fake product filled with chemicals and nothing real.
And lastly – Enjoy! Sit down to eat, get some sunshine, drink some water, take a breath.