Summer is in full-swing, and it’s the perfect time for cool, crisp, healthy salads.
But you don’t need warm weather as an excuse to eat more greens and veggies. Salads are a great idea anytime of year because they’re packed with fiber and important vitamins and minerals you need to thrive (like vitamins A, B, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium).
But some salads are better than others. Just because a salad is quick and easy doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
So here are some quick and easy ways to make healthy salads, plus which salads to avoid and how to “upgrade” less-than-healthy ones.
Simple Tips for Making Healthy Salads
Salads can be intimidating, especially if you’re new to eating healthier. But they don’t need to be extravagant! Keep it simple with these tips.
Break it Down into Steps
Use this three-step formula:
1. Choose a base
Choose a dark leafy green like spinach, kale, or a spring mix. Two to three cups are a good amount, depending on how big you want the salad.
2. Choose three other veggies
Think colorful, but choose ones you enjoy. That could be yellow bell pepper, onion, and tomatoes. Or carrots, cucumbers, and olives.
Chop these up (you can buy many of them pre-chopped if you’re okay with the higher cost) until you have anywhere from ½ to two cups.
3. Add Protein
Choose a healthy protein to add, such as:
- Meats like chicken, fish, or grass-fed beef (about ½ to one ounce per serving)
- Eggs (1 per serving) or feta cheese (1 ounce per serving)
- Plant-based proteins like black beans, chickpeas, tempeh, or lentils (¼ cup per serving)
You can also top with a handful of nuts or seeds for extra healthy fats and protein.
Add Grains (Optional)
If you want some extra healthy carbs, choose a grain like brown rice, quinoa, barley, or farro. About ½ cup is one serving.
And to top it off, choose a dressing …
Make Your Own Dressing
Most pre-made dressings have between 120-180 calories per two tablespoons, and most of them aren’t made from the healthiest ingredients. Many contain hydrogenated oils and sugars.
Your best bet for dressing healthy salads is to make your own:
- Honey mustard: Equal parts dijon mustard, honey, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil
- Oil and vinegar: equal parts olive oil and vinegar for healthy monounsaturated fats
- Vinaigrette: 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar plus a dash of salt and pepper
- Healthy Ranch from Wholefully
- Tahini: ¼ cup tahini (blended sesame seeds), 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons honey, and ⅓ cup water
You can also Google your favorite dressing with the word “healthy” and probably find a wholesome recipe version of it!
If you are using a bottled or packaged dressing, try dipping your fork lightly into it before taking each bite instead of pouring over. This will greatly reduce how much you use overall.
Avoid Quick Unhealthy Salads (or Make Your Own Better Version)
Some salads aren’t as healthy as they seem, but a few homemade tweaks can make them much better! Watch out for these salads:
The danger in Caesar salads is the dressing. Caesar dressing is high in calories, saturated fats, and often hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Plus, dressing is often added to a Caesar salad before it’s served so you can’t control the amount.
Make it better: Skip Caesar salads at the restaurant and make your own healthy Caesar dressing recipe at home.
As you’d guess, pasta salads are heavy on the … pasta. Which is usually refined, white noodles. These fill you with empty calories and carbs, spiking your blood sugar and crashing your energy soon after.
Make it better: Make a pasta salad at home and choose whole wheat or chickpea flour noodles instead of white. You’ll get more fiber and nutrition.
The taco shells, hamburger meat, and cheese used in taco salads is usually low-quality and full of unhealthy fats and carbs.
Make it better: Choose ground turkey, lentils, or crumbled tempeh instead, use avocado instead of processed cheese, and use kale chips or nuts and seeds instead of taco shells. The taste will be a little different, but you’ll feel the healthier change!
The Bottom Line
Healthy doesn’t have to be complicated! Stick with simple, healthy salads for a daily dose of veggies you don’t have to think too hard about.