When the temperatures rise our bodies naturally turn to cooler foods. This is what makes a salad such a perfect meal on a warm summer evening. But if your idea of a salad is a side of iceberg lettuce with a few unripe tomatoes piled with ranch dressing, think again. It may sound stereotypical but a salad can be your best friend when trying to maintain or lose weight and up your vegetable intake.
But believe it or not, salads can also be a big diet saboteur. A seemingly innocent bowl of greens with healthy avocado, a few sprinkles of cheese, a few tablespoons of dressing, topped with walnuts and suddenly you are left with an 800-1000 calorie meal!
Follow these tips to build your healthy, satisfying, and calorie friendly salad:
- Make your salad base about volumetrics. This means fill the bowl with as many vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, bell peppers, onion, celery etc.), lettuce, spinach or other leafy greens as you want. The goal is to take advantage of the fact that vegetables are naturally low in calories so you can pile them on. Bonus: you will be getting a boost of antioxidants, photochemical, vitamins and minerals.
- Don’t forget about fruit. Adding sliced strawberries, peaches, apples, or blueberries or other fruits give the salad an extra nutritional punch while adding flavor and color.
- Choose one extra topping. Extras include: feta, goat cheese, walnuts, almonds, cashews, avocado. These are all items that in smaller amounts can be really good for you but are high in calories and/or fat. Choose one for your salad to avoid piling on the calories without even realizing it.
- If your salad is an entrée and not a compliment to a larger meal, think about adding a lean protein such as grilled chicken, grilled salmon, garbanzo beans, or baked tofu. Protein helps keep you feeling satiated and satisfied for longer after meals.
- Another option for making your salad a healthy entrée is to add a grain as the base such as quinoa, brown rice, or wheat berries. Put a half-cup portion in under your vegetables and you have added healthy whole grains that will keep you fuller longer.
- Keep the dressing to a minimum – and make it yourself! Often store-bought dressings are filled with extra chemicals and additives you don’t want or need. Mix one tablespoon of olive oil with balsamic vinegar (to your desired taste) and 1 tsp of Dijon mustard and you have yourself a healthy, homemade dressing. Just remember that one tbsp of olive oil does provide about 120 calories so be sure to portion it out.
Here is an example entrée Salad:
- 1 cup romaine + 1 cup spinach: ~ 20 calories
- 1 medium tomato, chopped: ~25 calories
- 1 cup chopped cucumber: ~20 calories
- 1 tbsp chopped red onion: ~5 calories
- ½ cup strawberry halves: ~25 calories
- ¼ cup crumbled feta: ~ 90 calories
- ½ cup quinoa, cooked: ~130 calories
- 4 oz grilled chicken: ~135 calories
- 1 tbsp olive oil: ~120 calories
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar: ~5 calories
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard: ~ 5 calories
Total: 580 calories
Experiment with your own flavors and enjoy!