How To Build A Healthy Salad

by in Healthy Recipes, Healthy Tips, April 14, 2013

crab and avocado salad
From choosing the greens to pouring the dressing, building a healthy salad requires some thought. Selecting the ingredients carefully or you can end up with a 1,000+ calorie meal.

Work Your Way Up
Start from the bottom and work your way up to the dressing. First course of action: Select your greens. Good choices include romaine, spinach, or a combo of field greens. Keep in mind that iceberg lettuce contains fewer nutrients than darker greens, and build your salad on a plate or in a bowl — stay away from the calorie-laden crunchy taco shell.

The Veggies
Choose several colorful veggies to top your salad like tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers and bell peppers. More colors mean a wider variety of nutrients. This is a great opportunity to use leftover veggies that are lingering in the fridge—and a perfect way to minimize food waste.

The Proteins
Whether you choose poultry, meat, fish and seafood, eggs, beans or tofu, select one lean protein, or smaller portions of several proteins. Avoid fried foods or toppings made with gobs of mayo (like some tuna salads). Keep portions to about 2-3 ounces, which will help contribute to your recommended daily amount of protein.

The Extras
Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, shredded cheese, avocado and olives are all super tasty toppers, but choose carefully. Adding a small amount of several of these can skyrocket calories. Instead, choose ONE favorite and monitor the portion (about 2 tablespoons is a good rule of thumb). Remember, a little of one flavorful ingredient really goes a long way.

The Dressing
Stick to oil-based vinaigrette with healthy unsaturated fats. But even vinaigrettes can get you into trouble if you’re not careful. Stick with 2 tablespoons and measure to make sure.

Creamy dressings like ranch, Russian and creamy Italian tend to have a much higher calorie count. If you’re in the mood for these higher-calorie choices, make it an occasional treat and stick with 2 tablespoons max.  You can also opt to make your own lighter creamy dressing. Use low fat buttermilk, light sour cream or nonfat Greek yogurt as the base to help maintain a rich texture without all the calories and fat.

Another favorite dressing choice is freshly squeezed lemon or lime wedges with a sprinkle of salt and pepper or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Packing Your Salad
Packing a salad for work or on-the-go takes a little planning. To avoid a mushy salad pack ingredients separately (like the greens, cut up veggies, protein and dressing) then combine right before eating. Use re-sealable plastic bags or containers to do this. Keep everything cold by surrounding your salad goodies with ice packs then placing them in an insulated bag. Eat within 2 hours (1 hour if it’s above 90 degrees out) or keep in your office refrigerator.

More tips to keep your packed lunch safe

Recipes To Try:

TELL US: What’s your favorite way to build a healthy salad?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (195)

  1. Sal says:

    I love a good healthy salad. Just have to be careful with the dressing as you said in the post. Thanks.

  2. Dave says:

    As a kid I tuned my nose up at salads but an an adult I have come to love them. My problem of course comes from having such a large salad with so many…how shall I say…not so healthy portions. My favorite is a chicken chef salad which has lettuce, tomatoes, green and white onion, bell pepper, cucumber, olives, cheese, garlic croutons, and of course chicken which has been marinated in a garlic herb marinade. Really delicious with the dreaded honey mustard dressing. So much for counting those calories I know.

  3. Minis says:

    Recipe is very good.

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  5. Kate says:

    Our favorite salads will not be complete without some crunchy nuts. It adds texture to the salad that we eat.

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    Read was interesting, stay in touch……

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  7. gujjar says:

    Alastair
    How can i handle our health, how much easier our lives would be if we were born with a ‘user guide or owner’s manual’ which could tell us what to eat and how to live healthy.”

  8. Alastair says:

    How can i handle our health, how much easier our lives would be if we were born with a ‘user guide or owner’s manual’ which could tell us what to eat and how to live healthy.”

  9. Chang says:

    Great recipe on preparing healthy salad. Everything is written and provided very detailed. This recipe is so much different from the others as this really teaches people the way to prepare salad healthily by reducing the calories and taking care of the nutrients and the amount of proteins. The pursuit of eating healthy is the trend nowadays, thus the recipe really helps a lot.

  10. Branden says:

    You are my aspiration, I have few web logs and rarely run out from post :). "The soul that is within me no man can degrade." by Frederick Douglas.

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