I eat it everyday.
And honest to goodness,
honest to my pug’s delicate, delicatelady ears,
I adore it
I’m often asked, by kindly strangers who notice me with a party-sized bowl of salad at lunchtime, how I find new ways to make it day in and day out. ‘How do you keep from getting bored?’they wonder.
The truth is, I find that empty bowl to be endless in possibilities. Whatever I’d stuff between two slices of bread and call a sandwich, whatever I’d reheat as leftovers from the night before- I simply add those to a pile of produce. On top of the unlimited flavors I can add to one meal, I’m made happily full from all of the hefty fiber in those vegetables. It also slows me down. The crunch, the volume, it all makes for a longer eating experience, and that,
that I enjoy.
3 Reasons Why Salad Makes the Best Healthy Lunch Option:
1. Volume. Nothing fills me like a brimming bowl of fresh vegetables with lots of mix-ins. Not sandwiches, not soups, not even cake.*
*I’d be willing to give this one another shot.
And for lunch, when I need to feel ultra-satisfied, yet still light enough to go about my day in as energetic a way as I can (which is to say, not very), salad brings the heft and the nutrients like no other.
2. Variety. Salads to offer a world more variety than other things. I start with a base of every fresh, raw vegetable I know of, and then I layer on my favorite toppings- whatever sings sweetest to me from my fridge on that given day. I’m unlimited in flavors and textures. And remember that volume thing? Yeah.
3. Ease. These buckets of vegetables, they make my life breezier in two ways:
a.) I prep a massive load of salad every Sunday, so that I have the base all ready to simply grab a few handfuls each day, toss them in an over-sized resealable bowl, and then add whatever toppings strike my fancy. The trick to this is to dry the cut vegetables well with a towel (paper or cloth), and to cover the top with a dry paper towel before sealing the whole salad in a closeable container. The dry paper towel will soak up any excess moisture in the bunch and keep your greens from wilting. Replace the paper towel every 1-2 days as needed. This salad lasts me through Friday.
b.) I use up all the leftovers from my dinners throughout the week. Here, I get creative. Stir fry last night? Tomorrow I’d add the saucy chicken and vegetables to a base of greens along with a can of mandarin oranges (should my cupboard be so fancy and well-stocked), and then I’d whisk together a super simple dressing with equal parts soy sauce, peanut butter, and water. Brisket or pulled pork in the fridge? I’ve been known to plop them directly on a bed of greens with some sort of pungent cheese- blue or feta or gorgonzola- and then dress the whole mess in barbecue sauce. Barbecue chicken leftovers? I’m opening a can of black beans, adding in some frozen (defrosted) corn kernels, diced onion, and avocado. This bowlful will get all gussied up in hot salsa and sour cream for a burrito bowl.
I’d try to sound fancier, but honestly, I’ve been known to lay my favorite hot meatballs and marinara on a big bowl of greens.
Get creative. Whatever sounds good together, whatever flavors your craving- that mix will work just fine on top of greens. Show me your fridge and I’ll show you an unlimited salad bar.
Here are a few basic principles I follow when fixing myself a veg fest:
Constructing a Balanced Salad: 400 Calorie Breakdown
100 calories: vegetables
- greens: romaine, baby spinach, mixed baby lettuces, arugula, frisee, red or green leaf, butter, bibb
- carrots (grated, sliced thinly on the diagonal, or shredded with a vegetable peeler)
- peppers: any color
- red cabbage (shaved)
- cucumber (seeds removed, halved and chopped into crescents)
100-150 calories: protein
- 3 oz of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, tempeh, or fish
- ½ cup beans or lentils
- 2 hard or soft boiled eggs
- 1 can tuna fish
- 1/2- ¾ cup cottage cheese (I buy 4% milkfat because the more velvety texture is unmatchable in lighter versions- so creamy, so thick)
100-150 calories: fat
- 1/4-1/3 of an avocado
- 2 tablespoons any dressing (all will generally clock in around 150 calories on average)
- 2 tablespoons chopped nuts/seeds: almonds, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pepitas
- 3 tablespoons full fat sour cream (excellent topping for a Mexican salad along with salsa)
- 1 ounce or ¼ cup shredded/grated/crumbled cheese: any kind
100 calories: fun
- ¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins
- handful croutons
- mandarin oranges and fried wonton sticks (if I’m lucky to have them on hand for an Asian-style salad)
- ¼ cup hummus
- sweet beets
- 2 crisp slices bacon, crumbled
Now, here’s an interesting part of my salad-making. I don’t often use traditional dressings- bottled or homemade. This is mostly because I’ve gotten accustomed to using thicker, more concentrated flavors in the form of:
- hummus (¼ cup makes a creamy topper)
- guacamole (¼ cup)
- fresh salsa (and often full fat sour cream- this combination becomes creamy sweet with the right amount of acidity)
- peanut butter (1 tablespoon thinned with equal parts soy sauce and water (1 tbsp each) and a ¼ tsp ground ginger)
- cottage cheese (½ cup of 4% milkfat- what I find to be the richest, creamiest variety)
- sweet preserves: jams, cranberry sauce (at Thanksgiving), orange marmalade, apricot preserves, honey
- ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce (excellent on a meat or veggie burger salad with cheese and all the fixin’s you’d normally find between a bun next to fries)
The beauty of using these thick creams and spreads is that they add much more to the vegetables in terms of mouthfeel. Whereas vinaigrettes and other dressings might be fairly high in calories (for such a small portion) and light in terms of ‘wow’ flavor, these thick creams coat the vegetables in a more pronounced, distinguishable way. They’re saucy rather than just slippery.
So share with all of us What are your favorite salad combinations? Any healthy dressings you love?