The Salad Solution for Fast, Fresh Meals

happy woman with a saladWhen you are trying to shed pounds or stay slim, eating a salad is a classic meal choice. And if you manage the dressing and add-ins, your salad is likely to be super healthy, too.

They’re fast, they’re fresh, and best of all, choosing a salad for dinner doesn’t mean getting stuck eating plain old “rabbit food.” We have a much tastier solution for you!

Deconstructing Salads to Make Your Perfect Meal Plan

No matter what your fitness or weight management goals are, and no matter what eating style you prefer, one thing is always true: you should try to eat a lot of vegetables. If you fill at least half of your plate or bowl with brightly colored vegetables you’ll be off to a perfect start.

And is there any easier way to consume fresh produce than in a big pile of salad? That’s the first step to stocking your pantry for this fast and fresh salad solution.

  • First, fill your produce drawer with plenty of veg: lettuce, spinach, arugula and other greens, plus peppers, mushrooms, onions, radishes, peapods, broccoli, summer squash, avocados, cucumbers and anything else you can think of.
  • The next item for your salad pantry is a variety of protein. You can even cook it up it batches ahead of time to make your meal construction even easier. Lean favorites are chicken, turkey, flank steak and pork loin. Hard boiled eggs work well, too. Canned tuna, grilled salmon or boiled shrimp also make great choices.
  • We will also need some add-ins for extra flavor and texture, or even for extra protein or whole grain. Ideas here include chickpeas or black beans; feta or goat cheese; frozen corn, peas or shelled edamame; cooked quinoa or whole grain pasta; fresh fruit like apples or berries; and jarred condiments like pickled banana peppers or kalamata olives. And don’t forget the fresh herbs!
  • Finally, there will be dressing. But it’s best if it’s not the store-bought processed kind. Olive, walnut or avocado oil are good for drizzling or making your own dressings. You’ll get a lot of flavor from a good balsamic, red wine or rice wine vinegar. Dijon mustard adds some depth. And you can make creamy dressings by blending avocados with other ingredients like buttermilk or plain Greek yogurt.

Now all you need to do is pick a flavor profile and start grabbing the ingredients you want to mix in. Here is a modular 4-step recipe outline with a couple of yummy examples to get you started!

The 4-Step Salad Solution

STEP 1: Fill half your plate or a large bowl with greens and vegetables of your choice, based on the flavor you want to create.

Want Asian? Choose pea pods, bean sprouts, carrots and spinach. Like Italian? Start with an arugula and radicchio mix, or a bowl of heirloom tomato wedges. Vary your preparation to include tearing, slicing, dicing, julienne strips, shredding, or even spiralizing, if you happen to have one of those gadgets.

STEP 2: Add a full portion of your protein, which can be sliced, cubed, cut into strips or even cooked down in a crock pot to shred. Continue with your flavor matching.

For instance, cubed chicken breast will taste great on your American chopped salad with hard boiled eggs. A skewer of grilled shrimp is the perfect topper for your Thai-inspired salad (vegetarians might choose organic tofu and chopped peanuts).

STEP 3: Go for extra flavor or texture by adding in a dash of optional ingredients such as a grain, cheese, or even fruit.

A half a cup of cooked black quinoa is a striking addition to your South American salad featuring thinly-sliced seared steak and grilled avocado. Strawberries add a beautiful health boost to your spinach salad, and who doesn’t love a Greek salad topped with feta cheese crumbles and olives?

STEP 4: Dress it up. Choose from either an oil-and-acid based dressing (like olive oil and lemon, or walnut oil and red wine vinegar) or a creamy homemade version (you could bother with making your own mayonnaise, but why not keep it simple?) with a buttermilk or yogurt base.

Your salad dressing can be customized to the flavor profile of your meal, and made in a few minutes. Use a recycled jar with a lid, or even an old-fashioned bowl and whisk, to whip up your dressing with a 3-1 ratio of fat/oil/buttermilk, to acid/citrus juice/vinegar.

And don’t forget to add a tablespoon or two of herbs and spices that compliment your meal—basil and parsley for Italian, oregano and garlic for Greek, soy sauce and Sriracha for Asian, and cumin and chili powder for Mexican.

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