Growing up I watched my mom assemble a salad every night for dinner using whatever she prepared for our family of 8 as toppings. Some nights she topped a bed of lettuce with grilled chicken and roasted potatoes and other nights she would top her salad with a multitude of taco fixings (minus the taco shell). As a kid, I never understood why my mom would choose to eat a giant salad for dinner while I, on the other hand, chose to hide vegetables in my napkin for the duration of dinner after which I would promptly flush down the toilet. As I have grown older I have come to realize that my mom was on to something with her loaded salads. Not only are they delicious, they don’t require a recipe and are crazy healthy (if you choose the right ingredients). Loaded salads are also becoming the backbone of healthy quick service restaurants that are popping up all over the US like Sweet Green, Salata, and Freshii. What makes a loaded salad so good when you make one at home or when you order one from a quick service restaurant like Sweet Green? Keep reading to find out!
You can’t have a salad without greens. Kale is all the rage right now, but choose the greens you like best. Or, if you are like me, feel free to mix it up (I love arugula mixed with romaine).
I cannot stress how important it is to add protein (10 grams or more) to your salad. Protein is what will fill you up and keep you fuller for longer. For those who eat meat, grilled chicken is an easy go-to source of protein. For those who don’t eat meat, there are plenty of options out there, including beans and tofu.
Adding something that crunches to your salad makes it oh so much better. The “crunch” in your salad doesn’t need to be a crouton, it could be shredded carrots, nuts, seeds, or a handful of crackers crumbled up and tossed in.
Starch is where things can get a bit tricky. We are making a green salad after all, so topping your salad with pasta wouldn’t be the best idea. However, you can get creative with adding healthy starches to your salad like roasted sweet potato or squash, beans (they add extra protein as well), brown rice or quinoa.
Similar to starch, you need to be careful with adding healthy fats to your salad. Too much can defeat the purpose of having a healthy meal! An easy vinaigrette of equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar makes for a super quick salad dressing. Other options for healthy fats are avocado, nuts, and eggs.
Bonus Ingredient: Something Sweet
For those who have a sweet tooth or enjoy pairing sweet and savory flavors, adding something sweet to your salad will really bring it up a notch. The best source for sweet topping is fruit – use fresh or dried, it’s up to you! During the fall, sliced apples or dried cranberries work great. During the warmer months, orange segments and sliced strawberries are a refreshing source of sweetness.
Do you have any must-have salad ingredients? If so, please share in the comments!