Build a Better Salad

Six Steps Plus Easy Recipes

Build a Better Salad
With summer being in full swing, lighter meals like salads are at the top of the healthy meal choice list. Unfortunately, typical salad buffet toppers like creamy dressing, bacon bits, croutons and macaroni salad can turn your bowl of green goodness into a calorie fest. However, that doesn’t mean you should be left with just a bed of leaf lettuce either. There is a better way to make a salad that doesn’t involve heavy, calorie-filled dressings, and the same boring ingredients. The best salads combine flavor and lots of good-for-you ingredients without being over the top in calories.

Here are six steps to building a better salad. Plus, as a bonus, read to the end for some easy-to-follow salad bowls that pull it all together!

Step 1: Start with a leafy base

Just because you are eating salad doesn’t mean you are limited to boring iceberg lettuce! In fact, this lettuce doesn’t offer much more than water. Try adding a dark, leafy green that is loaded in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and rich in antioxidants! Good options are romaine, leaf lettuce, spinach, mixed greens, arugula, frisee, mache, endive, radicchio, baby beet greens, butterhead lettuce or kale. The list is endless!

Step 2: Add a complex carb

You don’t have to limit yourself to just greens in your salad base. Try adding a complex carbohydrate to your greens for extra energy and fiber. Good options are cooked grains such as quinoa or couscous, or even whole-wheat pasta, soba or the low-carb Shirataki noodle. Starchy vegetables can also be a good option, such as cooked and diced potato or sweet potato. Keep calories in check by opting for smaller serving sizes of about ¼ cup.

Step 3: Add some colorful veggies and fruit

Load up on colorful vegetables, such as bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, red or green onion, cucumber or even beets! Vegetables provide soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition to antioxidants, tomatoes offer up lycopene, while carrots provide beta-carotene! Fruit can also be a good option; strawberries and blueberries can add sweetness, while green apple slices can add tartness. And if fresh fruit isn’t your fancy, opt for a teaspoon or two of your favorite dried fruit such as naturally sweetened, dried cranberries, blueberries or raisins.

Step 4: Pick a protein

Adding protein takes your salad from an appetizer to the main course. Plus, protein provides your muscles what they need to stay lean and tight! Not to mention, protein offers up a satiating effect, reducing hunger between meals. Chicken is an obvious choice, but it’s not the only one. Try grilled steak, canned or fresh fish such as salmon or tuna. Vegetarian protein options are black beans, garbanzo beans, chick peas or marinated cooked tofu!

Step 5: Choose a flavor

You don’t have to opt for the same boring salad dressing every time you have salad. There are other options other than fat-free Italian! The dressing can completely change the flavor on a salad. Whenever possible try to make your own. All you need is a shaker bottle, a few tablespoons of good-for-you monounsaturated oil, vinegar or citrus juice and some herbs, and you are good to go! Olive oil can be a great base for Mediterranean-style dressings, while sesame oil can provide an option for an Asian style dressing. Add in fresh or dried herbs like basil, oregano, cilantro or tarragon. You can add some zest by using lemon, orange, grapefruit or lime juice or a specific flavor of vinegar such as balsamic.

Step 6: Finish it off with something soft or crunchy

Nuts and seeds are a great way to finish off an amazing salad, and are a great alternative to traditional croutons! There are many options when it comes to nuts such as pecans, walnuts, peanuts, almonds or even pine nuts. Nuts can be eaten raw and natural or can be toasted for a slightly different flavor. As for seeds, opt for poppy, pumpkin, sesame or sunflower. Nuts and seeds are full of good-for-you fats, and are high in fiber and antioxidants. Just watch the portion sizes. A single ounce of almonds provides 164 Kcal and 14 grams of fat.

But if you are not a nut or seed fan, there are always softer options such as cheese, avocado or even cooked artichoke hearts! Soft cheeses such as feta or blue cheese can add saltiness, plus protein and calcium. But again these are not calorie free, so use sparingly and opt for lower fat varieties.

Bonus Summer Salad Bowls

Try one of these delightful summer salad bowls! Each recipe makes two servings.

Berry-licious Chicken Spinach Salad

3 cups of baby spinach
½ cup of sliced strawberries
¼ cup of raspberries
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 chopped green onions
8 oz of chopped grilled chicken
2 tbsp of crumbled low-fat feta

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup raspberry balsamic vinegar
Chopped fresh basil
Salt & pepper

Using a salad dressing bottle, combine all the dressing ingredients and shake. In a large bowl combine spinach, berries, pepper, and onions. Drizzle half the dressing over top and toss. Split salad between two plates. Divide chicken and feta into two equal portions. Place over greens. Top with remaining dressing.

Calories Per Serving: 381; Carbs: 15 g; Fat: 20 g; Protein: 38 g

Build a Better SaladSpicy Beef Thai Noodle Salad

3 cups of mixed Asian greens (tatsoi, mustard greens, mizuna and pea shoots)
1 cup of cooked Shirataki noodles
¼ cup of shredded carrot
12 snap peas
1 small Mandarin orange, peeled and segmented
¼ cup of diced heart of palm
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 chopped green onions
8 oz of chopped grilled beef steak
2 tbsp chopped peanuts
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp black sesame seeds

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp hot chilli flakes
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped cilantro

Using a food processor, combine all the dressing ingredients and blend. In a large bowl combine greens, pepper, carrots, peas, palm, cilantro and onions. Drizzle half the dressing over top and toss. Split the cooked noodles over two place, then divide salad over top. Separate steak, peanuts and sesame seeds into two equal portions. Place over greens and noodles. Top with remaining dressing.

Calories: 444; Protein: 41 g; Carbs: 25 g; Fat: 23 g

Build a Better SaladItalian Tuna Potato Salad

1 can of tuna packed in water, drained
3 cups of mixed greens
½ diced avocado
½ small green apple, chopped
10 slices of cucumber
1 medium white potato cooked and diced
2 slices of red onion
8 cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp lemon zest
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh oregano chopped
1 roasted garlic clove
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blend. In a large bowl combine mixed greens, avocado, apple, cucumber, onion, potato and tomatoes. Pour half of the dressing over top and toss. Split the salad over two plates. In a small bowl place the drained tuna, pour the remaining dressing over top and toss until well coated. Divide out two portions of tuna over the salads.

Calories: 424; Protein: 25 g; Carbs: 36 g; Fat: 23 g

Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren is the creator of Sexy, Strong and Fit Online Coaching Services specializing in transforming women to fitness model condition. Lauren has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, supplement consultant and nutrition expert. She is also the TV show host of "Body Fuel," a competitive athlete and regular contributor to various fitness publications.

Connect with Lauren: