By Andrea Falcone, RD
Why it’s important to include a daily dose of greens in our diets is well-documented, but that doesn’t mean we want to do it. I regularly encounter clients who complain about being “sick of salads,” so I’ve developed some great ways to keep the nutrition and interest high while finding new ways to bring some fun into your salad bowl. It can be very easy to get bored with the same regimen, but giving your food a new spin and getting the most nutritional bang for your buck are sure to make for a more delicious meal that’s also better for your body — so let’s get mixing.
Step One: Create Your Bed
Your salad bed supports all other aspects of your creation, and greens are our go-tos! Whether you opt for spinach, arugula, kale, collards, mixed greens, romaine, endive, Boston leaf, or iceberg lettuce, there are a plethora of choices out there.
A good general rule is the darker the lettuce, the more nutrition it packs, so keep that in mind when making your choices (hint, hint: skip the iceberg if you can). And don’t limit yourself! Try adding watercress, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, shredded cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes, bell peppers, or onions. I will often begin by checking out a new vegetable in the produce aisle, or seeing which vegetables are on sale that week, and then make choices from there. Whatever your strategy, don’t be scared to try something new — be adventurous and switch up your regular salad routine. Filled with fibre, antioxidants, crunch, flavour, and (most importantly) freshness, this blended bed is the canvas of your masterpiece!
Step Two: Power Up with Protein
Whether you choose vegetarian or meat sources, a little protein goes a long way. In addition to rebuilding muscle, tissues, skin, nails, and hair, protein in any meal helps to satisfy us, balancing our hunger and satiety hormones. By doing so, protein helps ensure we do not overeat and can curb our cravings throughout the day. Slices of leftover turkey, chicken, steak, or tofu are great salad-enhancers, and they all take on the flavours that come together in your bowl while giving you a boost of iron. Other great, less-traditional options include eggs, tuna, salmon, shrimp, beans, and legumes.
Step Three: Sass, Crunch, and Pop!
Vegetables and protein may be the prime base for any salad, but to make the meal complete, adding a source of healthy fats and carbohydrates is a must. Healthy fats help the body better absorb certain nutrients (i.e. fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K) and digest the food more slowly (another benefit of protein as well). Whether you choose to add avocado, nuts and seeds, or olives, a source of healthy fats in your salad will give your dish a lot more spunk. It’s also important to note that whatever salad dressing you choose will most likely have fat in it, so keep the portions in control here.
As primary sources of energy, carbohydrates are also a vital meal component to consider, especially since they help to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day and between meals. You have a variety of sources to choose from, including corn, squash, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, and pasta. Or if you prefer a hint of sweetness, try adding fruits that are high in vitamin C, like strawberries, kiwi, oranges, lychees, or pineapple. Not only do they make delicious additions to your salad, but they also help your body absorb more iron from the other foods you’ve tossed in.
And for those who would rather have their carbs on the side, try a whole-grain pita, some crackers, or, one of my personal favourites, crushed corn chips.
Step Four: Cheese, Please!
I love adding cheese to my salad — a kick of salt with a creamy texture is always a delicious comfort for me (my nickname was “Little Mouse” growing up). But it’s not all about taste. Cheese is also a great source of fat (and protein), although it does tend to be more saturated fat, so be mindful of portion size — the shape of three rolling dice is normally a good visual to keep in mind. Cheese is also a great source of calcium — which is good for your bones but bad for iron absorption. Research suggests that calcium can interfere with how much iron your body takes in from food, so exercise caution when timing your consumption.
Step Five: Find Your Perfect Mix
Before I add a spritz of dressing, I love to throw in some fresh herbs, like parsley, basil, mint, or even coriander (although you may need a special palate for that one). The best salad-dressing base would include an olive oil (extra-virgin if you can) and vinegar; red wine, balsamic, white balsamic, apple cider, or rice vinegar are just a few great choices.
Depending on the type of salad you’re making, you may even consider adding the juice of a fresh lemon, lime, or orange; a touch of honey or Dijon mustard; or some yogurt, poppy seeds, or dill. Really, the possibilities are endless, so try a range of different creations to find the flavours that work for you.