You know that salads are good for you. They're healthy and portable, but they're often uninspired, which means you're less likely to pick up a fork. With the right ingredients, you can beef up your basic greens into something spectacular. If you want to get into a healthy salad habit, you have to bid farewell to the basic, boring ingredients. Your local supermarket or farmer's market has a variety of seasonal produce to incorporate into your salad and upgrade your meal from ho-hum to yum-yum.
1. Get Creative with Greens
Iceberg lettuce can seem like it's merely a delivery system for salad dressing. But the base of your salad doesn't have to be boring. Mix it up with flavorful leafy green vegetables like cabbage, dandelion leaves, mustard greens, endives, chard, or kale.
Hint: For the less adventurous, try spinach. The taste isn't overpowering and it packs a healthy punch in a little leaf.
The proteins in your salad can give it some serious character. Choosing lean proteins like chicken, beef, pork, crab, or tuna, can add some weight to an otherwise unfulfilling meal. Add cooked beans and legumes and you'll be adding extra texture, flavor, and nutrients.
Hint: Seasoning your protein can also be a way to keep things interesting. One day your chicken can be lemon-pepper and the next you can crank up the heat with a habanero pepper glaze.
The options of vegetables for your salad seem nearly endless. You can go with traditional staples like broccoli, snow peas, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and radishes, or you can switch it up with artichokes, asparagus, beets, bok choy, leeks, bamboo shoots, turnips, water chestnuts, yams, and whatever else you find in the produce section.
Hint: Try avocado. Its creamy texture almost makes you forget the health-hearty amount of omega-3 fatty acids it offers.
If your greens and veggies aren't giving you enough crunch, go nuts... literally. Try adding the seeds from sunflowers and pumpkins, or nuts like almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, or walnuts. They're common enough to find nearly anywhere so making your salad is even easier.
Hint: Throw some toasted pine nuts into the mix for a buttery crunch. Add a cup of nuts to a medium pan over medium-high heat. Stir until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Oh, sweetness! No matter the season, there's plenty to top a salad with. Tangerine slices and Granny Smith apples are popular choices, but berries, grapes, pineapple, and pomegranate can also make great additions.
Hint: Dried fruit, such as apricots, raisins, or apples, can make a nice flavorful, chewy addition to your greens, and are available all year-round.
This is yet another area your salad can gain a load of character. While most cheeses have a high fat content, a light sprinkling of low fat cheese can add some needed calcium to your meal.
Hint: Don't be afraid to try some more flavorful cheeses, like asiago or even marinated feta.
This is the danger zone. If you slather your salad in ranch dressing, you could be adding more fat than a cheeseburger. Olive oil and vinaigrettes contain the least amount of fat and the most nutrition.
Hint: Instead of dressing, try adding low fat cottage cheese. It adds a creamy texture to your salad without weighing heavy on the calorie counter.
8. Spices, Seasonings, and Herbs
If you grow an herb garden, you'll never run out of choices. Fresh basil, oregano, or whatever else you prefer, can add great flavor and excellent nutrition. Many popular herbs, such as rosemary and cilantro, have excellent anti-inflammatory properties and promote healthy digestion.
Hint: If you use a pre-mixed seasoning, opt for something low in sodium. You don't want to undo the goodness of your salad with a lot of salt.
9. Mix Hot and Cold
Don't think a salad has to be one or the other. If thin strips of warm beef over spinach get you excited for salad, go for it! Sauteed onions or toasted nuts make great additions, and the heat won't wilt your leaves if eaten right away.
Hint: Keep hot ingredients separate if packing for lunch; you can microwave your proteins when lunchtime rolls around.
Bringing these tricks and tweaks to your salad will make it more exciting than the average diet routine. You'll find yourself enjoying an exciting selection of super-friendly meals.