It wasn’t until this year that I truly came to appreciate homemade salads. I always had this preconceived notion that salads that were made at home never turned out good. It always seemed like such a chore to buy all of the ingredients and put them together, only to have a bland, sub-par meal. And a lot of the time they weren’t super filling either. But then I started thinking, salads from some of my favorite restaurants are actually really delicious and filling, and anything but bland and boring. So why couldn’t I just make a salad like that? So I set out to buy some similar ingredients and construct the perfect homemade salad. And that’s what I did.
Obviously you may not have the exact same food preferences as me. So feel free to swap out any ingredients in accordance with your likes and dislikes. This is somewhat of a general guide of how to construct a homemade salad, so it’s flexible if you want it to be. But as long as you go along with the general guidelines, it’ll be a super nutritious and balanced salad that will make you feel like you’re eating out. I hope you like it as much as I do!
1. Start with Greens as a Base
Obviously, most conventional salads start out with a nice bed of lettuce. I really like to use a mix of dark leafy greens. I get bored with just one type, like spinach or kale. And I’ve never been a huge fan of using just iceberg or romaine, though they are great as part of a mix. Darker greens tend to have a higher nutrient content, and who doesn’t want that? I try to get a good balance of dark leafy’s and leaves with higher water content that add a good texture (like romaine).
One mistake that I used to make was putting waaaay too much lettuce on my plate, to the point where it would really overpower the rest of the ingredients. It just wasn’t a good balance with my toppings, and I felt like I was eating mostly leaves. So something that I would recommend is starting out with a moderate amount of lettuce, and making sure that the leaves aren’t the overwhelming majority of your salad.
2. Add a Variety of Veggies/Fruits
This is a crucial part of the salad-making process because it has the potential to add a plethora of nutrients to your meal! I’m definitely a creature of habit, and find myself using the same 4 or 5 things most of the time. My favorites are carrots, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and avocados. I know how to quickly prep these, and I really like the textures and flavors that they add. If you’re more keen on trying new things, I encourage you to do so and switch it up with your veggies! This way you’re always getting a great variety of nutrients. But if not, there’s no harm in keeping it simple with a few of your favorites.
3. Add a Protein
Adding a protein to your salad will really help make it filling and satisfying. I tend to keep it simple with baked chicken. But you can add other proteins instead, like turkey, salmon, tofu, or anything else you can think of. Sometimes, if I’m out of all of those, I’ll toss a few hemp seeds on there, since it’s such a great source of essential amino acids.
If I’m going to eat the chicken that I put on my salad, I have to make sure it’s properly seasoned so it’s not super bland. Usually, I buy frozen chicken. I prepare it by thawing it in the microwave, tossing it with olive oil, then sprinkling salt, pepper, and garlic powder on it. Then I stick it in the oven at 375 for about 45 minutes. (I like to make sure it’s completely cooked all the way through.) I’ll usually make a bunch on Sunday or Monday and then evenly distribute it in my lunches throughout the week. This cuts down on a lot of prep time in the morning.
4. Add a Complex Carbohydrate
This is something that was really inspired by some of my favorite restaurant salads. I noticed that I was so much more full and satisfied after eating a salad that had some sort of dense carb on it, like couscous or quinoa or rice. This is another things that I’ll usually make in bulk at the beginning of the week, so it’s ready to go in the morning. One of my favorite things to use is boxed couscous that comes with a little seasoning packet. This really adds to the overall flavor of the salad and makes the couscous super savory and delicious!
5. Top with Your Favorite Salad Dressing
I recently discovered a salad dressing that has quickly become my all-time favorite. It’s the Green Goddess dressing from Trader Joe’s and I’m completely obsessed. It’s so flavorful and delicious, while also being light and nutritious. Here’s a list of the ingredients and nutrition facts:
Finding the right dressing can really transform your salad. You want to find something flavorful, but not too dense. And definitely not something that turns your salad into an unhealthy meal the second you pour it on. It’s super important to look at the ingredients list and the nutrition facts while you’re at the grocery store. So many salad dressings are really high in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, so it’ s important to keep an eye out for those.
I’m usually eating my lunch away from home, so I’ll pack my dressing on the side so my salad doesn’t get soggy. At lunch time, I’ll drizzle it on, put the lid back on, and shake it up for about a minute. This way, everything is evenly coated with dressing and I’m not left with a bunch of dry lettuce at the bottom of the bowl.
(This information is for the salad pictured above. If you’re swapping things out, the nutrition information will change slightly.)
- About 250 calories per serving
- About 11g protein (with about 2 oz of chicken)
- About 45 g carbs
- 6.2 g fiber
- 590 mg potassium
- 290% daily value of vitamin A
- 42% daily value of vitamin C
- 7% daily value of calcium
- 10% daily value of iron
*The above values were determined using myfitnesspal.
*See here for the dietary reference intakes for various vitamins and minerals!
So there you have it. My comprehensive guide to making the best homemade salad ever! Let me know if you have any useful salad hacks to share! Enjoy!