Instead of drenching your salad with dressing, why not make it more salady! When it comes to salads, it stands to reason that everyone would have different preferences. The question is, do those preferences make your salad more nutritious and satisfying or just more caloric?
Some of us love salads. Some of us choose salads as a healthy choice on a restaurant menu. If you’re eating salad because you love it, just keep on chomping! If you’re eating salad to be healthy, it’s worth considering what’s in and on it.
While many of you were happily grilling burgers Labor Day, my friends and I were eating salad. Our holiday fare was a Caesar salad topped with grilled chicken. Okay, I guess the chicken was an homage to holiday grilling.
Anyway, one friend doesn’t really like Caesar salads. She says she prefers traditional salads with iceberg lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cheese. Another argued that traditional salad has mixed greens, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and pecans. That was laughingly characterized as a fruit salad by the hardcore traditionalists.
The great thing about serving salad at home is the components can be presented separately so that each family member can fill a bowl or plate with the combination they prefer. This presents a great opportunity for children to explore raw food, flavor combinations, crunchiness, and food groups. The dinner table is the perfect place to learn about food.
Any salad full of fresh vegetables is healthy. Adding fresh fruit, herbs, and raw nuts can be healthy too. When I eat salad, I tend to dig out the crunchy things first. If the crunch is provided by sugar snap peas, cucumbers, apples, yellow bell pepper, and carrots my bowl is healthier than if the crunch is provided by croutons, bacon, candied nuts, or fried tortilla chips.
Of course a salad can have croutons and still be healthy. The key is the proportion of raw vegetables, herbs, fruit and nuts to bacon, cheese, sweetened nuts & dried fruit, fried toppings, croutons & dressing.
Almost every pre-dressed salad has way more dressing than I prefer. And even when you order dressing on the side in a restaurant, the portion cup will most likely contain 2 to 2.5 ounces. A single serving of dressing is 1 ounce.
This double portion (and sometimes there are two of these cups on the side) may not seem like a big deal while you’re pouring it on your salad, but if you’re pouring Ranch Dressing you’re adding 290 calories to your vegetables. That’s only 10 calories less than two medium chocolate cupcakes with frosting.
To help keep calories in check, I sometimes choose cottage cheese instead of dressing or skip the dressing altogether. In a salad filled with berries and nuts, I’m often happy with no dressing at all. I’ve also been known to use vinegar and a little salt, but skip the oil. When I make dressing at home, I often start with yogurt or avocado instead of mayo or use vinegar, oil, and water in equal proportions.
Once you’ve toned down the dressing, an easy way to keep the fat and calories down is to avoid any fried toppings. Some croutons are fried. If you opt for croutons, choose baked ones. If you’re gluten-free, the easiest thing to do is skip them. Substitute grilled chicken for fried chicken, and hold the bacon and fried wontons.
I’m not opposed to a wedge salad covered in bacon, bleu cheese and dressing. When properly chilled with perfectly crisp lettuce, they’re scrumptious. I just don’t think of it as a healthier alternative to a burger.
Reducing the amount of cheese in your salad can dramatically reduce the fat in your salad as well. This is why I think of making a healthy salad as keeping it more salady. The more flavor that is derived from fresh veggies and fruits instead of from things used to smother the veggies and fruits, the more salady it seems to me.
If you’re choosing salad as a meal, only vegetables and fruit with limited dressing may leave you feeling hungry soon after you eat. For a heartier salad, boiled eggs, black beans, chickpeas, avocado, tofu, and quinoa are some of my favorite additions.
Salad may be the most versatile entree that exists. The options are limited only by your imagination and the availability of ingredients. There’s a minimum of cooking required and fresh ingredients are encouraged. No wonder we love them. Now, if we can just bring ourselves to let them be more salady….