I previously wrote a very passionate blog post about smoothies. I feel equally as passionate about salads. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Big salads for a weekday lunch is one of the best healthy habits you can have! So today I am sharing all about how to make a healthy salad at home.
What’s so great about salads?
Well, I’m glad you asked! You get a big bowl full of nutrition: vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and protein that will keep you full and energized all afternoon. You’ve literally got infinite options to switch up ingredients so you never get bored. They’re super easy to meal prep, and can even be portable. You can also find a salad pretty easily these days at any restaurant.
But just like smoothies, they can be a super healthy and nourishing meal, OR they can be loaded with calories, sugar, and saturated fat. Especially some of those restaurant salads! That’s why it is essential to know HOW to make a healthy salad at home.
In this post, I’m sharing how to build the perfect nutritionally balanced, deliciously engineered salad. Keep this formula handy and you’ll never eat a boring/secretly unhealthy salad again. Let’s get started!
The Perfect Salad Formula
Greens + Veggies + Carb + Protein + Fat + Dressing + Spice
Greens, 2 C – Your greens can be typical options like mixed greens, spinach, arugula (fun fact: I freaking cannot stand arugula), or kale. Or you can switch it up with thinly sliced cabbage or zoodles!
Veggies, 1/4 C each: Try to include 2-3 non-starchy veggies in your salads for more nutrition, bulk, texture, and variety. Some of my favs are cucumbers, tomatoes, bell pepper, carrots, red onions (seriously – they’re in 95% of salads I make), cooked mushrooms, radishes, or sugar snap peas.
Carb (1/2 C): Well, it wouldn’t be a balanced meal without a healthy carb! And let’s be honest, these foods just level up the deliciousness of any salad. A half-cup of these carb-a-licious foods will give you about 15-20g carbs, FYI. Here are my favorites: roasted sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice, corn, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, berries, stone fruit, any other fruit, one serving crackers or a slice of toast.
Protein (about 4-6 oz): Examples include chicken breast or thighs, salmon, tuna, any other fish, 2 eggs, shrimp, tofu, tempeh, veggie burger, beans if you’re vegan. And of course, we’ll want these to be grilled, baked, or roasted – not fried!
Fats (2 tbsp): The secret the satisfying salads! We also need some fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. So don’t fear the fat. Get your fat from cheese (blue cheese, goat cheese, feta, cheddar), nuts (almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), or 1/3 of an avocado.
Dressing (1-2 tbsp): Salads obviously need to be dressed, but here is where things can go south real quick. I recommend keeping it really simple and sticking to oil + acid and letting the salad itself give you all the flava. EVOO or avocado oil + lemon juice, lime juice, red wine vinegar, cane vinegar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, Honey Mustard.
Spice: Make it interesting! You can liven up any salad with spices, seasonings, and herbs. Try adding basil, cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice, salt & pepper, everything but the bagel seasoning, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, or garlic sauce. All of these ingredients offer up a lot of added flavor with no extra calories, salt, sugar, or fat.
- Prepped salads (without dressing) can last up to 4 days in the fridge.
- If meal prepping, measure out dressing inside small reuseable containers, then dress immediately before eating. Same goes for crunchy toppings like nuts, crackers, crunchsters, or toast.
- To build a mason jar salads, add dressing first, then hearty veggies (carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc) and protein, then top with delicate ingredients like greens.
- Kale and Cabbage are tough enough to the dressed and last up to 4 days in the fridge.
- Need quick protein options that require hardly any cooking? Hard-boiled eggs, rotisserie chicken, smoked salmon, cans/packs of tuna are great picks.
- Choose pungent cheeses that really boost the flavor of salads, like blue cheese or parmesan. And goat cheese adds a creamy texture that just can’t be beaten!
- Most store-bought dressings have vegetable oils and are high in sodium and saturated fat, so it’s always best to make your own. However, there are some great brands now, like Primal Kitchen and Chosen Foods making some tasty and healthy dressings.
- Opt for fresh fruit instead of dried fruit. Dried fruit has more sugar and less fiber than fresh.
- It’s really easy to overdo it on the toppings or “ salad accessories” like cheese, nuts, and dressing. Focus on loading up on nonstarchy veggies and greens, and add just enough of the fun stuff to make it satisfying.
- Some of my favorite restaurants to get a salad are Sweetgreen, City Greens, Green to go, Happy + Hale, and even Chipotle!
And now, for my favorite part. Putting it all together! I almost always include 2-4 salads when I meal prep, and planning them is like this fun salad mad scientist activity. I take into account seasonal veggies and fruit, and also what other protein I’ll be eating that week so I have some variety. It’s like a fun puzzle! I might need some more hobbies..anyways, here are some ideas for deliciously satisfying salads. You’re about to be a pro in making a healthy salad at home. P.S. Don’t forget to refer to the formula above for serving sizes of each ingredient!
Strawberry Balsamic Spinach: spinach, red onions, carrots, strawberries, chicken, avocado, oil & balsamic vinegar, S&P, lemon juice
Basil Peach: mixed greens, cucumber, red onion, cherry tomatoes, yellow peaches, chicken, goat cheese, olive oil & cane vinegar, S&P, fresh basil
Blue Berry: mixed greens, cucumbers, radishes, blueberries, tuna, blue cheese, oil & cane vinegar, S&P
Beet & Goat Cheese: spinach, carrots, red onion, cooked beets, chicken, goat cheese, olive oil + balsamic vinegar, S&P
Everything but the Bagel: mixed greens, red onions, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, slice of toast/bagel thin, lox, goat cheese, olive oil & red wine vinegar, everything but the bagel seasoning, capers
BBQ Chicken: mixed greens, pickles, tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, chicken + 1 Tbsp BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, Ranch dressing, green onions
Kale Cobb: kale, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs, bacon, avocado, blue cheese dressing, S&P, red pepper flakes
Thai Spice: mixed greens + red cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, cucumbers, shrimp, avocado, olive oil + lime juice, S&P, cilantro
Taco Salad: mixed greens, bell peppers, red onions, corn, taco spiced ground beef/turkey, guacamole, avocado dressing, salsa, cilantro, lime juice
Marinated Kale & Quinoa: kale, cherry tomatoes, carrots, radishes, quinoa, chicken, walnuts, avocado oil + lemon juice, S&P, turmeric, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp honey