Want to know a simple, delicious way to get your four servings of vegetables per day? Put together a nice, big salad.
At least one sizable salad every day is the perfect way to get your daily servings in all at once — giving you flexibility with other meals and making sure you’re always on track with your daily nutrition requirements.
Yes, it’s that easy. Here dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, gives some tips for creating endless salad combinations with ingredients that are both nutritious and delicious — with each ingredient chock full of the healthy nutrients listed in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
“My favorite salad is blackened salmon with goat or feta cheese, garbanzo beans, Greek olives, beets, tomatoes, carrots and cucumber,” Jeffers says. “I’ll eat any dark green leaf, but spinach is my favorite. I gave up my iceberg lettuce fetish years ago and my body is thanking me. If you use the guide below, you’ll get to feel the same!”
The basics of building a super-healthy salad
Start with local, seasonal produce from your farmer’s market or grocery store, then add protein and a healthy dressing and you’re good to go.
Follow this guide daily to optimize your metabolic health, energy and overall well-being!
1. Get your greens on
- Lettuce — The darker or redder, the better — so think romaine and leaf lettuces (vitamin C, folic acid, potassium).
- Leafy greens — Jazz things up with spring mix, baby spinach and kale or arugula (beta-carotene, antioxidants).
Pro tip: Steer clear of iceberg and other pale lettuces. Their high water content means fewer nutrients.
2. Add some crunch
- Celery (vitamin A).
- Cucumber (vitamin C).
- Purple cabbage (vitamins A and C, iron).
- Pea pods (vitamins A and C, iron).
- Broccoli florets (vitamin C).
- Alfalfa sprouts (antioxidants).
- Sunflower seeds or chia seeds (fiber, protein).
- Walnuts or almonds (fiber, protein, niacin).
- Edamame (vitamin C, iron).
Pro tip: Avoid croutons, tortilla strips, wonton strips and chow mein noodles. They’re high in fat and sodium, low in nutrients.
3. Create some color
- Red, orange, yellow or green peppers (vitamins C, B1, B2 and B6, folate).
- Red onion (fiber, phytochemicals).
- Pomegranate seeds (vitamins A, C and E, fiber, potassium, calcium, antioxidants).
- Tomatoes (fiber, vitamins A, C and K, potassium, manganese).
- Avocado slices (over 20 vitamins and minerals, heart-healthy fat).
- Red, purple or yellow beets (folate).
Pro tip: Add no more than 2 tablespoons of corn or peas per serving of salad. They’re high in starch just like bread.
4. Punch up the protein
- Black beans, garbanzo beans or lentils (fiber).
- Chicken or lean beef.
- Salmon or water-packed tuna (omega-3 fatty acids).
- Hard-boiled eggs.
- Low-fat feta cheese, blue cheese, goat cheese, parmesan or mozzarella (calcium, vitamin D).
- Tofu (heart-healthy fat, potassium).
Pro tip: Full-fat cheeses are high in saturated fat. Trying pairing small amounts of your favorite cheese with other proteins.
5. Freshen it up with fruit
- Apple or pear slices (vitamin C, flavonoids).
- Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries (vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids).
Pro tip: Dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries, dates and raisins are higher in sugar than fresh fruit. A little goes a long way!
6. Let some leftovers in
- Brussels sprouts (vitamins C, A and B6, folate).
- Asparagus (vitamins A, E and K, folate).
- Sweet potatoes (vitamins A and C, manganese).
Pro tip: White potatoes are high in starch, so add sliced sweet potatoes instead since they’re delicious raw and are super-crunchy like carrots.
7. Consult your cupboard
- Black or greek olives (vitamin E, healthy fat).
- Artichoke hearts (fiber, vitamin C, folic acid).
- Banana peppers (vitamin C).
- Hearts of palm (potassium).
- Mushrooms (B vitamins, vitamin D).
Pro tip: Remember to factor the salt, often high in canned goods, into your daily sodium intake.
8. Dress it up wisely
- Lemon juice (vitamin C, folate).
- Lime juice (vitamin C, potassium).
- Red wine or balsamic vinegar.
- Olive oil (heart-healthy fat).
Pro tip: Use more vinegar and citrus, and less oil. Avoid high-calorie, high-fat Ranch, Thousand Island and French dressings.
On top of all that
Jeffers suggests if you don’t often eat salad, try starting with one or two a week. If that’s too much to start with, try experimenting with hearty bowls of grains, beans, egg, chicken or tuna, then add as many of the veggies mentioned above as you can.
Even fruit salads can at least help you get your 2 to 3 daily servings of fruit.
“After you wrap salads into your diet regularly you’ll be surprised at how you’ll begin to feel good about what you’re eating — and how creative you can get. Then, slowly build up to one each day, plus full-meal salads once or twice a week. You’ll soon have more energy and feel better than ever.”
Final tip: If you really don’t love salad, veggies in any form are fine — just make sure you get those 4 servings in any way you can!