How to Build a Healthy Salad

  • Date October 08, 2013
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I'm not sure if this post is starting as a rant, or just that my love of salad makes me want to continually share with you how to make endless salads that you don't get bored with.

The Rant

Well, for one thing, I am sick of going to restaurants and seeing salad options that are so unhealthy you would be better off ordering a burger and fries. For example, recently I went to a restaurant that had a "tofu protein" option you could add for any salad. I was excited! I asked how it was prepared and the server informed me it was deep fried and coated with batter. So annoying! I get frustrated for my friends who are trying to lose weight and think they are doing the right thing by ordering a salad as they just don't know how bad it is!

The Hidden Trap of Salads

Salad has become such a trend that one could almost start assume that when they order a salad, it makes it healthy by the name alone. There are so many hidden killer foods in salads, that if you add it all up or eat too much, you would be better off ordering a big burger with fries!

Not only do they have no nutritional value, they are at least 100 calories for 1/2 cup. Have a slice of warm fresh bread if you crave this type of food.

It's about as unhealthy as you can if you are going to add meat. Not just the fat, think of the sodium!  And restaurants tend to use the imitation stuff which is highly processed.

Crispy or Fried Meat
Look for these words and avoid "breaded", "crispy", always ask if they do a grilled option.

I know we all love cheese, and a little cheese is a good source of dairy, but too much of anything is too much right? 1/4 cup of shredded cheese is typically around 100 calories. And have you looked at how much 1/4 cup is lately? Not that much!

Candied/Flavored Nuts
Restaurants are stellar at this! Try to stick to plain or raw nuts, look for dried fruits instead, but the ol' "honey roasted" or "candied" should be avoided.

Stop ordering the dressing on the side of your plate unless you know its healthy. Why order it on the side and then dump the whole container onto the salad? It didn't make it any healthier. Salad dressings are the FASTEST way to ruin a healthy salad. Avoid the creamy based dressings and if you MUST have them, think of your portion size. Does every piece of lettuce really need to be coated in ranch?

How to Build a Healthy Salad 

And then my passion. I can create 5 different salads a week and never get bored of my salads! I feel its my duty to share this wealthy of salad options. The basic concept of building a healthy salad is to follow my recommended steps below (Base, Veggies, Protein, Treat, Dressing). Your proportion of what you add should reduce drastically as you run down the list. For example, large handfuls of the base to a small pinch of treat or dressing. 

Build a Base
My salads are usually around 4 cups of base (this requires a giant bowl). Options include: shredded cabbage, Arugula, Romaine, Kale, Swiss Chard, Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Spinach.

Love your Veggies & Fruit
I usually don't measure veggies, but pile them on till they cover the base. Here is a list of the typical vegetables I use, the possibilities are endless  shredded beets, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, snow peas, tomatoes, daikon, jalapeno's,  carrots, peppers, cucumbers, snow peas, tomatoes, jalapenos  roasted cauliflower, broccoli, bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, red onion, apples, mango, pineapple, strawberries, grapes, pears, blackberries, corn, chickpeas, mushrooms.  

And don't be afraid to cook some of the veggies to heat before serving. Grill your mushrooms, roast your beets, candy your yams, grill a tomato, saute your peppers, caramelize some onions. 

Add your Protein
I tend to go with the size of my palm for protein amounts. Ideas could be: tofu, grilled chicken, ground turkey, meatballs (baked not fried), cottage cheese, avocado, veggie ground round, artichokes, sweet potato, yams, prawns, shrimp, black beans, salmon, tuna, hard boiled eggs. 

Reward Yourself
One to two tablespoons of a "treat" salad item. Olives, goat cheese, shredded cheese, nuts, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, raisins, pine nuts, slivered almonds, walnuts, crushed peanuts, shredded coconut.

Careful select a Dressing
If I have a dressing, I tend to use around 2 tbls for the whole giant salad. Usually I use salsa or hot sauce. If you must have dressing, use vinaigrette, lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar. Or blend your own, here are some combinations I use often:
  • Cilantro, yogurt, dill
  • Avocado, wasabi powder
  • Dijon, parsley & horseradish
  • Basil, yogurt, lemon juice
  • Soy sauce, fresh ginger

There you have it! Enjoy your salads without any concern that you have "killed" it with bad ingredients. Feel more comfortable ordering at restaurants and open your mind to endless salad options!

Link to all Pinks Pantry Salad Recipes

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