Say “salad” and most people think of a bowl of iceberg lettuce topped with some tomatoes, a cucumber slice, carrot shreds and maybe some peppers, all slathered in dressing.
But salad covers a wide culinary territory, from side dishes to main courses, and may not start with a bed of greens. Fruits, grains, vegetables and starches like pasta and potatoes also are great bases for salads.
However, many salad recipes use unhealthy quantities of oils, fats, salt, sugar and other ingredients. And people often sabotage the nutritious greens by piling on high-calorie extras like cheese and bacon. For healthier salads that taste great, try these tips:
- Substitute reduced-fat mayonnaise, soy mayonnaise, non-fat salad dressing or non-fat buttermilk for mayonnaise or sour cream in traditional potato salads and coleslaw, suggests Beth Ask, a registered dietitian and H2U health coach. Use less dressing, too, so the ﬂavors of the other ingredients stand out.
- Try low-fat or fat-free yogurt to dress fruit salads like Waldorf salad, Ask suggests. Or pour a little honey and sprinkle poppy seeds over fruit salads instead of a dressing.
- Experiment with herbs like mint and basil to give all your salads new, palate-pleasing ﬂavors without adding extra calories.
Rather than starting with iceberg lettuce, McKel Hill, another H2U health coach and registered dietitian, recommends using other types of lettuce, spinach or kale.
"I consider kale to be 'the King of Greens'—it’s delicious, full of nutrients (especially vitamins K, A, and C), antioxidants, phytonutrients, ﬁber, and minerals," Hill says. "We should eat it two or three times a week."
Hill also suggests jazzing up salads with interesting ﬂavors and textures.
Try dried or fresh fruits, whole grains like barley or wild rice, and proteins like beans, nuts and seeds. You can quickly turn a salad into a main dish by topping it with salmon, grilled chicken, tofu or a crumbled veggie burger. For a surprisingly good finish, replace high-fat dressings with salsa, hummus, mashed avocado, pureed fruit or raw apple cider vinegar.
Lemon Cranberry Mint Quinoa —
Serves six as a salad or hot side dish
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1⁄4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
- 1⁄2 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1⁄2 cup fresh leaf parsley
- 1⁄3 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsps. white wine vinegar
- 1⁄8 cup canola oil
- 1 fresh lemon, juice and zest
- Salt, pepper to taste
- Ground cinnamon
Mix quinoa with 1 cup broth and 1 cup water. Cook as directed and set aside to cool. In nonstick skillet, sauté pepper in 1 Tbsp. of broth and ginger on medium heat for 5 minutes. Drain excess liquid. Put cooled quinoa in a large bowl and add red pepper, pecans, cranberries, mint and parsley. Toss. In a small bowl whisk together dressing ingredients. Pour over quinoa and season to taste.
Dust with cinnamon and toss until evenly coated.
Nutrition info (per serving): Calories 167; Total Fat 11 g; Sodium 255 mg; Protein 3 g; Fiber 13 g, Sugars 39 g.
Fruit Salad With Citrus-Mint Dressing —
Serves 12 as a side dish
- 6 kiwi, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
- 2 cups cubed honeydew melon
- 2 cups cubed cantaloupe
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1½ Tbsp. fresh mint, ﬁnely chopped
- ½ tsp. orange zest
- 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
- 1 tsp. fresh lime juice
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and stir well. Pour over fruit mixture and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.
Nutrition info (per serving): Calories 54; Total fat 0; Sodium 0; Fiber 2 g; Sugars 10 g.
King of Greens Kale Salad
Take one or two bunches of raw kale and pull leaves off the stems. Roughly chop the leaves and toss with 1–2 Tbsp. olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and the juice of one lemon. Use your hands to “massage” seasonings into the leaves until soft. (The kale leaves will turn bright green.) Top the wilted kale with your favorite salad ﬁxings or mix with other leafy greens for a delicious salad base!
Note: If the ﬂavor of raw kale is too strong for you, simply chop the greens and steam for about 3-5 minutes or until bright green.