Does Your Salad Suck? Lettuce Fix That.

Hey! Hope you are doing well. I’m fine, thanks for asking.

Does your salad suck?

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.

Some tips:

  • 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
  • Avocado
  • 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):

  • Berries
  • Tomatoes (any kind!)
  • Craisins
  • Chopped pears (especially good with walnuts and balsamic…OMG)
  • Everything But the Bagel seasoning
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Cucumbers
  • 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

Roberto Made Me a Meal I Couldn’t Refuse

Hey you! I decided to do things a bit differently today, and give a restaurant review. Last night I ate the most deliciously simple meal at a Colorado Springs establishment. For those of you who don’t live in Colorado, you’re going to be so jealous! However, stick around. I hope you find some key aspects to look for in terms of the nutritional quality of a restaurant by using this place as an example.

The place to which I am referring is called Basil and Barley. I half-expected to walk into another run-of-the-mill pizza joint; but that is not what I found. This authentic Neapolitan atmosphere is upscale yet relaxed and affordable. I felt so cozy and welcome from the second I walked in.

I ordered what could be construed as a fairly basic salad, but it was absolutely perfect. The salad was rife with dark, fresh spring mix (leafy greens) and it contained fresh figs, freshly shaved parmesan cheese, and several other superbly nutrient-rich ingredients. I know most people post pics of their beautiful meals…but this one was so good I didn’t even think to take a picture until I was DONE. Here’s my empty bowl to prove it:

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I didn’t order pizza, but I sat at the bar and got to watch countless pizzas being created right in front of me (the kitchen is an open-view style). The oven was imported from Naples! When I talk about eating “healthy,” the main aspects tend to always fall back to quality and quantity. Am I eating foods that have been minimally processed? Am I eating mostly vegetables each meal? A place like Basil and Barley capitalizes on scratch-made, high-quality ingredients for their food. I know that because a) I spoke with the owner (see photo below, isn’t he adorable?) b) I watched at least 20 pizzas be hand-crafted with incredibly fresh ingredients and c) my meal was DELICIOUS.

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So, for those of you who don’t have this lovely establishment nearby (it isn’t a chain, sorry), you can find places that are near you that exemplify the same key points. Fresh ingredients, menu items that are rich with vegetables, whole grains, minimally-processed meats and other protein-rich foods, and no pre-shipped, ready-to-heat-and-eat meal items are what we are looking for.

And, if you’re on your way through Colorado Springs, be sure to make this a point of interest. It’s barely a jaunt from Interstate-25 on your way through!

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Oh – and if you’re wondering if this is a sponsored post, it’s not. I just was truly inspired (and beyond satisfied with my experience) and wanted to share it with you. Perhaps it can be a barometer through which you measure your nearby eateries. I do not receive anything, monetarily or otherwise for this post. But…who knows…if you DO eat at Basil and Barley, please tell them lettucetalk.blog referred you. Maybe I’ll get a free cannoli! (Which by the way, I did try a scratch-made cannoli here, and it was amazing.)

xoxox

Casey

PS – Comment below if you try this awesome restaurant!

Chorizo Made Me Do It.

Confession: I ate terribly today. Actually, I’ve eaten terribly this week. Healthy habits will ebb and flow. The key to optimal health is your resiliency from the slippage. In other words, making poor nutritional decisions once in a while doesn’t destroy our health; continuously making poor nutritional decisions does.

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Here’s my raw, honest food diary for today. Drumroll please…I had a 16 ounce latte (half the syrup, thanks) for breakfast in lieu of healthy, chewable, real food; then for lunch I had a gut-bomb of a chorizo-egg-cheese burrito at our local authentic Mexican dive. I know, it sucks. I let emo-eating get the best of me. I chose my fav comfort foods thinking they would cheer up a sucky couple days. However, unsurprisingly, I ended up feeling worse. Why do we do that? Why do we consume things that make us feel so physically/mentally unwell? Well, we seem to mind-dump these feelings in between our gut-ache and the next time we make the same. exact. choices.

I’ll now share with you my top two strategies for getting my shit together after a nutritional nightmare of a few days.

First, it is the recovery that matters. Often when we go rogue in terms of food choices, we have a tendency to be “all or none” about it. We tend to think “well, the day is shot; might as well keep it [making bad choices] going.” Wrong. It’s never too late to recover the day to some extent. After eating that huge burrito for lunch, I honestly felt like I could go the next 2 weeks without eating. What a cinder block of food in my gut. Blah! But, I had a beautiful kale/Brussels sprouts/cabbage/pumpkin seed/craisin/sunflower seed salad for dinner. I don’t want to be all dramatic about it, but I already feel better and that was an hour ago. It’s not about trying to “detox” the day (that’s not how it works), but rather hitting the reset button and jamming some much-needed nutrients into my veins.

Second, it’s forcing yourself to lock this memory into your rolodex (do kids these days even know what a rolodex is??) so you can make better future decisions. In other words, really sit and take a quality assessment on exactly how you feel. For me, I have a raging headache (something in chorizo really gets to my skull), and I feel bloated and super tired. I knew that was going to happen today, but forged ahead with poor decisions anyway because I’m a flawed human. However, more often than not, I have success practicing what I call the “10-second rule.” The 10-second rule entails forcing yourself to truly think about the food or beverage you’re about to consume before you consume it. Think about how you are going to feel after you have it. Think about how it either helps or harms the progress you hope to make with improving your health, losing weight, etc. Really, really, think about it hard for at least 10 seconds before making a choice. You might just find that it increases the success rate on passing up the junk.

You’re a human. So am I. We are inherently flawed, and we’re programmed to do what feels good rather than what’s always the right thing to do. Practicing quick recovery and the 10-second rule can strengthen your resiliency muscle and gradually improve your habit reconstruction. It is a journey that doesn’t have a clear destination. Embrace that. Try harder, don’t get too down when you get off track (like I did). Get to it.

xoxo – Casey

Ps – Have you read my book yet? Check it out here!