Nutrition experts unequivocally agree that we can all benefit from having more plants in our diet. But it can be hard to reach the five to eight recommended daily servings of vegetables if they aren’t served in a way that feels delicious and satisfying. Our Dressings certainly amplify the flavors of fresh produce, but creating a diverse base is essential, too.
Salads have the potential to provide a bowlful of nutrition from multiple servings of fresh produce. If you think of yourself as “not a salad person,” we’re here to change your mind with a few simple tactics for constructing a multidimensional, craveable salad. But first, we need to bust a few salad myths.
MYTH 1: Salads are just “sides.”
On the contrary, if done correctly, a salad can be a well balanced, filling meal.
MYTH 2: Salads should only contain vegetables.
Actually, a salad without other food groups is just incomplete, both in terms of nutrition and flavor.
To ensure your salad creation is both nutritionally balanced and satisfying enough to be a meal, you have to approach it like a meal by combining food groups, textures, and flavors. The most powerful salads start with a nutritious base, contain a source of protein and fat, and include a variety of different colors, flavors and textures from fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
STEP 1: Create Your Base
The base of a salad sets the tone for the type of salad you’re creating. Are you feeling like something warm and comforting? Try a warmed whole grain like farro, brown rice, or quinoa. Do you want something light and hydrating? Try crisp romaine or fresh spinach.
TIP: To make hearty greens like kale or raw Brussels sprout leaves less dry and more delicious in a salad, drizzle them first with olive oil, lemon and a pinch of salt and massage it with your hands until they relax and darken in color.
Don’t feel like you have to choose between grain or green. Some of the best, most satisfying salads combine a mix of the two. Try half quinoa, half arugula for a filling summertime salad. Or half brown rice, half massaged kale for a hearty winter bowl.
STEP 2: Make It Colorful
We eat with our eyes first, so make sure your salad looks vibrant. Colorful foods are both visually appealing and highly nutritious. Aim for at least two colors, but the more the merrier. Fresh vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, radish, corn, and bell peppers add flavor and crunch plus a boost of hydration when added raw.
TIP: Cut your veggies into similarly sized pieces to make sure you get a little bit of everything in each bite.
On the other hand, roasting your vegetables before adding them to your salad simultaneously softens the texture and adds some crispiness to the edges. Roasting also releases some of veggies’ natural sugars and can help to balance other savory and bitter flavors in your salad. Some of our favorite vegetables to roast for a salad include sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and asparagus. Let the roasted veggies cool before adding them to your salad.
Vegetables aren’t the only way to add color to your bowl. Fresh and dried fruits can add brightness, sweetness, and a boost of flavor, too. Citrus segments like grapefruit and mandarin oranges add a nice tartness; sliced strawberries and peaches pair well with peppery greens like arugula; dried fruits like figs, cranberries, and dried cherries add a satisfying chewy texture and an additional layer of flavor.
STEP 3: Add Fat and Protein
One of the keys to transforming your salad into a powerful meal is including a source of protein and fat. Both nutrients add richness and a depth of flavor that make salads more satisfying and multi-dimensional. Along with protein, seeds and sunflower oil contain unsaturated fat, which is the “healthy” type of fat associated with brain, hormone, and heart health. Plus, fats actually help our bodies absorb many of the powerful nutrients found in the colorful foods in your bowl. Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble, meaning they can only be used by your body if you eat them with a source of fat. Unless you’re adding fat to your salad, you may as well be throwing these nutrients down the drain.
Our favorite way to add protein and healthy fats to salads is by drizzling on any one of our 5 seed-based Dressings. Made with a base of pumpkin, sunflower, or watermelon seeds, our Dressings contain up to 5 grams of protein in a 2-tablespoon serving.
If you are looking to add even more plant-based protein to your salad, try any variety of cooked beans or high-protein grains like quinoa, barley, farro, or millet.
STEP 4: Season to Taste
After you’ve added color, protein, and fat to your base, it’s now time to add any flavorful extras you desire. A squeeze of citrus, a splash of vinegar, and a shower of fresh herbs all add brightness and punch to your bowl.
Charred mushrooms, miso sauce, tamari, and roasted garlic can add depth and a savory umami flavor to warm salad bowls.
Sometimes all you need is a quick pinch of flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to take your salad to the next level.