When I was younger, one of my favorite things to do for lunch was to go to Whole Foods and make a salad from the salad bar. The salad bar there can be pricey but the ingredients are second to none and there are so many options. Now that I strive to make lunch for myself at home, I struggle with ensuring that these salads don’t get too boring. How can you make your own salad bar at home? Try some of these tips:
1. Stock up on your favorite veggies: I always buy some spring mix, arugula and radicchio and mix it all together so the base for my salad is always rich in vitamins and flavorful.
2. Roast or steam veggies to add as toppings: Lemon steamed green beans, roasted beets, roasted asparagus, roasted brussels sprout, roasted cumin spiced cauliflower and sauteed garlic broccoli rabe are just some of the vegetables I prepare all at once on my meal prep days and keep in containers to add to my salad each day. This allows me to change it up and keep it interesting.
3. Add some texture: Nuts or seeds, bell pepper strips, cucumbers, apple slices, grapes cut in half, natural (no added sugar) dried fruit will all add texture to your salad which makes it more interesting to sink your teeth into.
4. Pick your protein: During meal prep, I roast several chicken breasts, brown up some nitrate/nitrite-free pepper turkey bacon and hard boil some eggs to have as protein options to add to my salad. I even saw a recipe for pre-cooking poached eggs and just adding them to hot water to warm them up when you want to add them to your meal. I may just try it next week!
5. Add 1-2 of the following items: 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup whole wheat pasta, 1/4 cup whole wheat couscous, 1/2 cup kidney beans, 1/2 cup garbanzo beans, 1/2 cup edamame, 2 tbsp. hummus, 2 tbsp. avocado, 2 tbsp. goat cheese, feta or shaved parmesan. You want to be careful not to add too much of these to your salad so as to not increase the calories by too much but a little bit goes a long way with these items so add them on to bring out more flavor.
6. Skip the bottled dressing: Make your own dressing using 1 tsp. olive oil or coconut oil, and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar. You can also add 1/2 tsp dijon vinegar and 1/2 tsp raw honey or maple syrup, some herbs (I like to add dill and tarragon) and whisk to make your own, healthier dressing. I also like to top a chicken salad with hummus and use that in place of the dressing. Just make sure to check your portions.
7. Use a portion guide: Salads can be very healthy but they can get very unhealthy, very quickly if you aren’t checking your portion sizes or your add-ons or if you’re adding lots of dressing full of unhealthy fats. Use this fun portion guide to help you determine how much you should be adding of each food group to your salad.
8. Layer it up: To make your lunch selections easier and portable, layer them up in a mason jar (without the dressing). I always put the lettuce at the top so it doesn’t get soggy from the ingredients above it. I layer 2 at a time so that I have 2 days worth of lunch available to me and I can decide that morning which salad I want that day. Right now my fridge has a chicken and beet salad and a kidney bean and hardboiled egg salad as options.
*Photo be Bernard Wen