Hey! Hope you are doing well. I’m fine, thanks for asking.
Lettucetalk about salads. (Cute, huh.) But seriously. I grew up in the heartland of America as they say. The definition of a “salad” when I was a kid was one of three things: a mayo-laden-noodle concoction; a very strange combination of things that shouldn’t be combined (like Jell-O and cottage cheese); or iceberg lettuce with shards of cabbage and specks of carrots. If it were the iceberg lettuce option, it was either topped with either Thousand Island, Dorothy Lynch, or Hidden Valley. Some of you reading this are totally appalled; others of you are totally taking a walk down memory lane to the Hidden Valley…
Nonetheless, I think it is time we redefine the term salad, and start to celebrate that little nest of nutrients. For the purposes of today, a salad consists of a base of dark, leafy greens, and is topped with WHATEVER! That’s the thing – you can be so creative with this project. Once you swim away from Thousand Island toward more healthy shores, you will be amazed at the flavor explosions that happen.
Let me give you some examples. Today’s real-food combo of deliciousness in my belly consisted of:
About 2 big handfuls of baby kale
A small handful of blueberries
About 2 or 3 green onions
Half an avocado
A spoonful of full-fat cottage cheese
Some leftover cooked chicken from Sunday’s dinner.
Notice the lack of true measurements with this. Measuring isn’t health! Counting isn’t health! The essence is that most of the meal should be mostly non-starchy vegetables (kale, green onions), a small bit of fiber-rich carbs (blueberries), and a good portion of protein and fat (chicken, cottage cheese, avocado). Notice I didn’t use any dressing – the cottage cheese and avocado provided the perfect amount of creaminess and fat for my liking. Sometimes I will add a splash of balsamic vinegar to add a little zing. Today I didn’t. That’s the greatest part, versatility! I also like the combination of the tangy/savory flavor of the onions and stuff along with the sweet of the blueberries. Play around. Get crazy.
- I like to use “baby” greens for two reasons. Their dark, vibrant green color indicates their significant nutrient content, and they are already small enough that no chopping is necessary. I might be a little overly trustful when they claim they are “triple washed,” but I like not having to get out the salad spinner to make a quick meal.
- If you like green onions as I do, I’d like you to know that the most simple, efficient way to chop them up is to use kitchen scissors to cut them! You. Are. Welcome. Just make sure you have a designated set of scissors that are truly only for food in order to avoid contaminating your food with unwanted visitors or non-food goo.
- I may be breaking the family circle of trust with this one…but my dear brother researched the PERFECT salad container for packing your lunch for work. It can be found here. It makes a great gift. I can attest to that, as it was a Christmas gift from said brother. Don’t thank me, thank him.
- You can buy nuts that are already chopped up for you. Did you know that? Right there in the produce section (could be somewhere else in your store), you can find already-chopped-up pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds, etc. Cool huh?! Keep them in the fridge for longer-lasting freshness.
- Put all your fixings in a giant container with a tight-fitting lid or a gallon ziplock in order to shake the whole thing up and cover every inch with flavor from all the ingredients. Worth the little extra effort of literally shaking things up.
Alright, now let’s gather some ideas. Remember, any healthy meal follows the basic outline of PROTEIN + FAT + FIBER; a salad is no exception. Below are some of my favorite options:
Base (largest aspect of your salad, ideally):
- Baby arugula
- Baby kale
- Baby spring mix
- Baby spinach
- Baby power blends
- Baby romaine
- Any mix of the above ^
- Any chopped up version of the non-baby greens
- Chopped cabbage
- Chopped or shaved Brussels sprouts
Protein & fat (a quantity that is about half the volume of your greens):
- Leftover cooked chicken (keep some skin, yum!) or rotisserie chicken
- Leftover roast beef from your crockpot adventures
- Leftover steak
- Boiled eggs
- Nuts and seeds:
- Chopped pecans
- Chopped walnuts
- Shelled sunflower seeds
- Sliced or slivered almonds
- Shelled pumpkin seeds
- Cooked bacon
- Shredded cheese (shred your own from real cheese)
- Feta cheese
- Gorgonzola cheese
- Dressing (ideally an olive oil or avocado oil-based vinaigrette with very few ingredients, or your own little mix)
Add-ins (just there for show, like a sprinkling of joy):
- Tomatoes (any kind!)
- Chopped pears (especially good with walnuts and balsamic…OMG)
- Everything But the Bagel seasoning
- Crushed red pepper
- Bell peppers
By no means is this list of ideas all-inclusive. Get wild and crazy with it. If you are using dressing, try to find those with minimal ingredients, or make your own. I’ve been known to mix extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar in a tiny little container just before I dump them on the salad.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! One day you are going to find that you make a salad that utterly changes the way you think of salads. I have found myself actually daydreaming about the salad I was going to make for my next meal. I hope that you can find the right combo of ingredients for your salads one day so that you can be excited about nutrient-rich eating. Let me know how it goes!
Xoxo – Casey