The Formula: 6 Tips to Constructing a Healthy, Satiating Salad
Are you the kind of person who has a perfectly healthy salad for dinner — and then a sandwich and a cookie for dessert? Understanding the benefits of nutrient-packed salads, you try your hardest to eat the greens at least a couple times of week, but then are left feeling hungry and unsatisfied. How can some of your friends and coworkers feel satisfied from their healthy salads, but you cannot? The problem might lie in your salad components. Assembling a satiating salad is an art form, and that’s what we’re going to break down for you today. Gone are the days of you eating a salad for lunch, only to hide out in the break room for a post-salad pizza. With these tips, you’ll have a refreshing, satisfying salad on your hands in no time, and not only will you thank us, your waistline probably will, too.
1. Pick fresh, seasonal greens of your choice
The greens are the base of your salad; therefore, their quality should take top priority. All too often, consumers compromise on the quality of their salad base by picking up the frozen greens or using up their spoiled ones, and at that point, they should just stop before they even begin, because they are ruining the potential of any good salad right off the bat. Though cost-conscious consumers can take shortcuts, fresh, seasonal lettuce is something you should splurge on if you really want to commit to making appetizing salads.
Once you have your fresh greens on hand, start assembling your salad by either sticking to one type of green, like leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, endive, kale, or spinach, or create a mixed salad with all different types. The choice is up to you — just make sure your produce is fresh and in season!
Quick tip: If you want to try your hand at kale, massage the greens first with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. This will break down the kale’s tough cellulose structure, and release some of its bitterness. In addition, if you are going to make your salad with only kale, consider constructing it the night before eating it. Letting kale marinate in dressing and the juices released from your other ingredients will make its texture and flavor even more appetizing.
2. Pick your veggies
You knew this one was coming — no salad is a good salad without some vegetables because, believe it or not, not only do these nutrient-packed components boost the nutritional profile of your meal, they also bulk up its satiety potential. Most vegetables are chock full of fiber, and that’s what will help keep you full long throughout the day or night.
So now, which ones to pick? First, consider taste and then consider texture. The best salads have a good balance of flavor, so it would be ideal to select components that have salty, sweet, acidic, and bitter flavors. Your salad’s meat, fruit, and dressing will also add to the taste profile. If you’re going to go the savory veggie route, plan on picking some sweeter add-ins like candied walnuts or sweet mango. On the other hand, if you choose some sweeter vegetables, like roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes, you should bring out the salty-sweet contrast by enlisting some salty feta cheese or black beans.
Savory vegetable components that can comprise an appetizing salad include peas, carrots, celery, tomatoes, spicy peppers, red onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and many more. Sweeter vegetables include squash, sweet potatoes, and beets. In addition, if you are looking for the vegetables with the most fiber — read: those that will fill you up the fastest — sprinkle your salads with some of the highest fiber vegetables: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, chick peas, eggplant, lima beans, mushrooms, pumpkin, and peppers.
3. Pick your protein
The one thing that every satiating salad needs is a solid protein source. In addition to the fibrous vegetables, that’s what really fills you up. In this step, you can either take the meat, fish, or vegetarian route.
If you’re going to go meat, decide between chicken (diced, or thin slices of breast) or beef (shredded or in thin strips). Anything fried is not recommended, but, hey, it’s your salad and you can do what you want with it. If you’re going to use fish as your protein source, consider canned tuna, seared tuna steaks, cooked shrimp, or fresh or canned salmon. Lastly, if you’re going vegetarian, focus on your beans or legumes. These add-ins are packed with both protein and fiber and will fill you up whether or not your salad is topped with an animal protein source.
Add-ins like black beans, chick peas, and white beans are technically vegetables, but many forget about them when they are considering their veggies for the salads, and that’s why it’s sometimes useful to give them their own category and lump them with legumes. We don’t have to tell you that beans have a lot of fiber, but many forget that they come packed with protein, too. The beans and lentils that have the most protein include dry roasted soybeans, white beans, lentils, pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans. Add these babies to your salad, and they’ll boost your meal’s nutritional profile and keep you satiated for even longer.
4. Go for additional add-ins
Nope, we’re not done yet. There are still more things you need to add into your salad to amp up its taste, texture, and nutritional profile. But this is still where you take over because you know where your salad has holes based on the the number of components you have already added in. It’s time to decide what else you need in terms of cheese, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and eggs.
The best salads typically have five basic elements: a base of greens (check), one or more other vegetables (check), a touch of sweet (need!), a type of protein (check), and a dressing (we’ll get to that). You might have already addressed your need for sweet if you chose a sweeter kind of veggie, but if not, that’s where the fruit or nut add-ins come in. Depending on the season, you likely have different preferences for how you want to get your salad a sweet flavor, but you should also try to pinpoint your cravings. If you’re concocting your salad in the summer, go for fresh strawberries, mangoes, watermelon, and tomatoes. Fall? Apples and grapes. Winter? Citrus. Spring? Apricots, grapefruits, or cherries. Also, don’t make the mistake of believing their sweet texture will distastefully contrast with your savory vegetables! When chosen correctly, the flavors can complement each other and yield a perfectly balanced salad.
5. Nuts and cheese, please
Nuts are also a good salad add-in to consider because they not only are high in fiber, they are also high in protein and can bulk up your meal with their crunchy texture. There are a whole host of nuts you can choose from, but some of them include pecans, walnuts, slivered and whole almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, pine nuts, and sesame seeds. Also, let us point out that toasting your nuts typically takes a salad to a whole new level. Candied nuts are also an option.
Lastly, you waited long enough, so here’s your opportunity to add cheese — the component that some believe makes the entire salad. Whether you’re a fan of feta, goat cheese, blue cheese, mozzarella, or reggiano parmesan (and many more), that’s up to you, but also remember that you don’t want to compromise the healthfulness of your salad by loading on a lot of our favorite fatty friend, Mr. Cheese. If you do choose to top your salad with cheese, stick to a few ounces or tablespoons of the good stuff. If you’re going to be healthy, you might as well not ruin it with the cheese.
6. Address the dressing
And now the dressing — that which can either make or break a salad, both in terms of taste and nutrition. Salad dressings can be nutrient-dense and low in calories, but if you’re not careful, they can also have the ability to completely wreck a salad if the wrong ones are chosen and over-poured. Many forget that one serving of salad dressing is usually only one to two tablespoons, yielding between 100 and 200 calories, and all too often, they pour on that accompaniment with much too heavy of a hand. Sure, oblivion may be bliss, but if you’re purposefully eating salads in order to maintain or lose some weight, or simply want to enjoy the health benefits from them, you are eating the greens for a reason, and it’s not in your best interest to sabotage your results without even knowing it.
Many health conscious consumers forgo the salad dressing and instead squeeze some fresh lemon and lime juice on the salad or use some salsa as a topping, but if you still do foster a desire to pour on the dressing, try to stick to homemade ones so you know exactly what you’re adding to your greens. Fit Day gives four examples of healthy homemade dressing, and they include oil and vinegar, yogurt-based salad dressing, cottage cheese and dill, and avocado salad dressing.
There you have it. A healthy salad in six easy steps. It might seem intimidating at first, but before long you’ll get the hang of it and become completely smitten with your salads.