How To: Build a Better Salad

The salad bar can be your best friend or a stealthy enemy. Knowing how to build a healthful salad is key to a nutritious meal. All those add ons may seem like a good idea – some croutons, bacon bits, dried fruit, cheese, and creamy dressing – but they pack on the calories, sugar, and fat. Even a salad loaded with vegetables can be missing a few key nutrients (i.e. protein, iron). My tips are fool proof. Build a nutritious salad at any salad bar or at home!

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Step 1: Choose your base. Mixed greens, spinach, romaine, and iceberg lettuce are the usual suspects. Always choose the darker greens as they have more potassium, iron, and calcium than the lighter options.

Step 2: Add all of the colors. More colors means more nutrients! Red vegetables (tomatoes, red bell peppers) have lycopene and anthocyanins. Orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes) have vitamin C and beta-carotene. Green vegetables (broccoli, cucumbers, green bell peppers) have folate, potassium, and calcium. White vegetables (mushrooms, onions, cauliflower) have potassium and magnesium.

Step 3: Protein please. This step is more versatile than you may think! Plant protein is perfectly acceptable on a salad, as long as you don’t forget to add it. You options may include chicken, shrimp, beans, quinoa, and eggs. P.S. Don’t be fooled by protein “salads” made with mayonnaise or other heavy ingredients. Skip those.

Step 4: Add a crunch. A small portion of croutons can be acceptable. If there are whole wheat croutons that’s even better. Seeds or crunchy chickpeas are a better option. The crunch will be the smallest addition to your salad.

Step 5: Dress it up. This step is crucial! Any salad can take a turn for the worse on the last step. Your best option is simply olive oil and your favorite vinegar or lemon. If you need a little more than that a mixed balsamic vinaigrette also works. Stay away from creamy calorie bombs and you’ll be in the clear.

What’s your favorite salad combo? Tell me below!