When outdoor temperatures rise, cool crisp salads can take center stage. Construct your salad right and it can be the star of the show, with little need for anything else. On the other hand, build it without some essential components, and you will likely be looking for another option. Use these ten strategies for smarter summer salads to ensure your salad is built to satisfy.
1. Green Means Go
If you want to get folic acid, iron, fiber and many other micronutrients in just one bite, then greens should be your go to. Use dark greens to bring rich color and a tender texture to your salad. Look for spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, as well as mesclun, arugula, mustard greens and other dark greens available at your market. If a crunchy green is what your seeking, try dark romaine or green lettuce. Don’t forget that all green is good. Consider asparagus, broccoli, bok choy for your salad and don’t overlook the benefits of iceberg lettuce, which offers a lot of water and adds to your hydration on a hot summer day.
2. Choose Great Grains
Adding whole grains to the salad bowl boosts fiber as well as nutrients— including B-vitamins, iron and magnesium. Another bit of whole grain goodness: grains help turn a “side salad” into a more substantial dish, which helps keep you feeling satisfied. Try sprinkling a salad with toasted quinoa or toasted amaranth, use leftover cooked grains like barley or brown rice by stirring them into a chopped salad or tossing them over greens. Or opt for a grain-based salad instead of pasta salad—try cooked quinoa, millet, wheat berries or farro (perfect for a make-ahead meal or meal-prepping).
3. Fruit is Fine!
Salads are a perfect way to showcase the sweetness of fruit, and keeps your salads from getting boring. Tossing fruit into your salad provides additional nutrients of course (including beneficial phytonutrients that likely play important roles in promoting human health), but it’s the appealing color, texture and sweet taste that makes fruit a smart salad mix-in. Fruit plays nicely off of common salad ingredients like bitter or dark greens, onions and cheese. And of course, you can always opt for a fruit salad instead of a green salad for a refreshing change of pace—you can use any combo of fresh, dried, canned or frozen fruit that you like.
4. Pick a Protein
Add protein to a salad and take it from side dish to main event. Choose from seafood, poultry, lean beef or pork, eggs, cheese or tofu, tempeh, and other non-meat alternatives, to elevate your salad into a satisfying dish that doesn’t leave you looking for more. Forget the protein and your salad will be a plate of vegetables, that while fiber rich, won’t likely sustain you and could lead to overeating later on.
5. Beans for the Win
Looking for quick protein and a “meaty” texture to your salad? Look no further than that can of beans sitting right in your pantry. Rinse even low sodium beans thoroughly and add them to your salad to sneak in a serving of vegetable based protein (aim for about ½ cup). Versatile beans can also satisfy your craving for something crunchy for your salad when you add dried, roasted beans. You’ll enjoy all the benefits of beans, but with a different kind of bite.
6. Don’t Let Toppings Tip The Scales
Salads can take a wrong turn when they aren’t made with maximum nutrition in mind. Pour on the salad dressing, get heavy handed with croutons or other fried toppings, load on the cheese and before you know it you’ll have a plate of veggies topped with excessive saturated fat and calories. Instead carefully choose toppings and keep in mind that they are a garnish and therefore shouldn't change the balance of the plate. Seek better-for-you toppings like dried fruit, nuts, seeds, roasted beans and just a bit of cheese.
7. Think Outside the (Salad) Bar
Lettuce, cukes, tomatoes...sigh...typical salad ingredients can get pretty dull. There’s no rule that says that salads need to include the items you usually see on a salad bar. Let your culinary imagination go wild when contemplating a salad. Pretty much anything can be turned into a salad—and a nutritious one at that! Take inspiration from what’s in season right now, what you have on hand in your refrigerator or freezer, and think about the great salads you’ve had a restaurants—many of them no doubt included ingredients you wouldn’t normally picture in a salad.
8. Creamy Salads Don’t Have to Be Off-Limits
Today’s creamy salad is not your grandfather’s creamy salad. Many cream based dressings on the market today are made from low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, low fat buttermilk, and other low fat dairy options. Some are even made from avocado, hummus or other purees. You can also make a creamy dressing on your own with less effort than you realize.
9. Sprinkle on Some Seeds (and Nuts)
Not only will nuts and seeds add texture and crunch, but they may just be the added fat your salad needs, especially if you tend to use fat free dressing. Rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats, nuts add heart healthy fat that helps improve cholesterol levels and reduce risk of heart disease. Generally, look for nuts and seeds that are dry roasted with no (or low) sodium. For an interesting twist, add spice or a bit of honey or agave and bake nuts for a bit. Seed tip: use a tablespoon measure to ensure your getting no more than 2 tablespoons on your salad… just enough to enjoy them, but not over enjoy them.
10. Dress it Up
When you have a good dressing, you don’t need a lot of it to make your salad sing. The typical homemade dressing formula is 1 part acid to 3 parts oil plus a little salt/pepper and seasonings/herbs. Of course, there are infinite variations on the basic salad dressing. Experiment with flavors you like (for example, you might like citrus juice as the acid instead of vinegar) and don’t be afraid to try new things. You’re only making a small amount of dressing, so you won’t be wasting much if you don’t like your creation.
When it comes to dressing your salad, here’s a hint on doing it right: if you’re dressing a large bowl of salad, add a small amount of dressing to the bowl (or stir together the dressing right in the serving bowl), then top with the sturdier ingredients like chopped veggies, then top with the greens and toss gently (instead of pouring dressing over the greens). Want to skip dressing? Sprinkle with the acid component (lemon or balsamic vinegar work well), then add some seasonings. Or, top with something like guacamole, cottage cheese (the kind with chives is tasty here), a small spoonful of olive tapenade or even salsa.
Looking for more sensational salad ideas?
Look through our recipe database or follow us on Pinterest!