Nutrition Articles

How to Turn Salad into a Healthy, Filling Meal

Build a Better Salad!

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Consider the salad to be the ultimate expression of your creativity in the kitchen. The bowl of greens is your canvas; the ingredients are your paints and brushes. A good salad--one that's packed with wholesome foods and tastes great, too--is a study in contrasts: cool lettuce, crunchy vegetables, soft cheese, hearty proteins, tangy dressing. It's a party for all your senses!

But watch out: Salads run the gamut when it comes to healthfulness. Skimp on the good-for-you greens while you load up on bacon, ranch dressing and croutons, and you might as well eat a burger and fries. But fill your bowl with the right ingredients and you've got a meal that's as nutritious as it is delicious.

If you thought your salad days were behind you, think again. We're going to show you how to turn a humble bowl of greens into a satisfying meal that will fill you up without filling you out—one that will have you looking forward to your next salad!

Pick Your Base 
Start with your biggest bowl (think of a large "pasta" bowl).  Fill it up with a combination of leafy greens or just one variety. If bitter greens like radicchio and endive or spicy greens like arugula or watercress are too intense for you, try mixing them with crisp Romaine and iceberg, soft mesclun greens or Bibb lettuce. A serving of leafy greens is one cup, but use at least two cups for an entrée-size salad.

Dark leafy greens like kale, chard and spinach also make great salad bases. Try "baby" varieties of these greens for ease of preparation and a milder flavor.

Tip: If your greens aren't prewashed, only wash as much as you'll eat in one day to avoid spoilage. Pre-washed bagged greens are particularly convenient, especially when building a salad with more than one type of green.

Add Color 
Once your bowl is full of greens, bulk up your salad with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Use a ratio of 2 parts greens to 1 part veggies and fruit. Choose at least two kinds of vegetables, preferably in different colors for maximum nutrition. If you're just learning to like vegetables, dice them finely, or shred them. You can add contrast and texture to a salad by varying the cutting technique you use. Whether you chop, julienne, slice or dice them, remember to keep all your vegetables bite-size. Fruit, such as halved grapes, chopped pears, or fresh berries, adds nutrition and a sweet contrast to pungent or bitter vegetables.
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

  • Back when I was doing salads more (I'm getting back to that now); I put anything in a salad. If I was making something for family (healthy of course, I don't mean cheetos or anything), I would top my greens with it and add some veggies. Voila! I'm not making two meals. - 4/22/2015 5:19:40 PM
  • Great article, and ADGIRL below had a great suggestion. My problem is buying all the "extras" because I buy too much and they end up going bad for just 1 - 2 people. i like the idea and convenience of buying things from the salad bar. I am trying that next time! - 8/25/2014 12:12:42 PM
  • CASS20132
    I have salads at least 5 times a week and I am never hungry, or constipated and the homemade dressings are limitless; oil and vinegar are a staple but add nuts in a food processer, or orange juice (fresh), apple, carrot, lemon, ginger, avocado (remarkable guac salad dressing.) I have fun with my blender, juicer and food processer everyday. - 2/27/2014 11:41:50 AM
  • I love salads but sadly have a problem eating them in the winter months. I love this article because it gave me some ideas of how to keep from being hungry an hour after I eat by dressing with healthy protein packed things I love (like Hummus) which I had never thought about for salads before but is going to be my new salad staple, less stinky than boiled eggs at work. Love sunflower seeds in my salads but only when I am at restaurant but am going to incorporate as well. I am happy I don't like so much salad dressing like I used to and I don't really like pre-bottled, I make my own. Got a great Salad Dressing Recipe from Trisha Yearwood's show on TV Food Network (Olive Oil, Red Wine Vinegar, Chopped Garlic Cloves, Salt & Pepper) I don't have the precise measurements but I make equal parts and love that the Garlic Cloves can't come out through the spout of my salad dressing Cruet so its a very flavorful dressing. Just enough to coat the greens. - 2/27/2014 11:19:29 AM
  • I LOVE my salads. Tips for the people who said it gets really expensive buying all the extras for salads...if you are just getting the produce for one or two people and like lots of variety, try going to one of the salad bar buffets or the salad bars at your local grocery store and filling up your container with all the extras. They usually charge by the pound so put the stuff in there that are the pricier items...such as your cauliflower, broccoli, seeds/nuts, zucchini, etc. Buy your own lettuce and carrots and celery since those are typically cheaper salad ingredients and you can eat the carrots and celery as snacks with hummus you get from the salad bar! Also when you like dressing but don't want to go overboard (I like my full fat ranch and my olive garden italian), measure out the amount but use kitchen tongs to toss everything together in a big bowl. Tossing really does ensure you get dressing on every bite and I find I can always use much less dressing than if I just pour it on my salad and don't toss well. Happy eating! - 1/30/2014 3:37:11 PM
  • A very long time ago, while at college, I used to have the cook put the spaghetti sauce over my lettuce salad, partly because the pasta (which I love normally) was not that tasty and the salad itself was nothing to write home about, but together it wasn't half bad and cut bunches of calories. I also didn't care much for their salad dressings so I found this a winner for me. - 1/27/2014 4:15:36 PM
  • Maybe this will bring me back to making salads again. I got really scared reading about the contaminated bagged salads, and putting my own salads together was out of this world expensive. For some reason produce is crazy expensive here. I dreamily recall the days when I used to dig in to salads every day. - 1/27/2014 8:08:06 AM
  • My favorite 'meal' salad is a Mediterranean Bean Salad--greens, kidney beans, chickpeas, corn, onion, garlic, and bell pepper, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. - 1/27/2014 7:48:29 AM
  • I like the spray dressing, but it's getting very hard to find. I don't like salads drenched in dressing, so a serving of the spray kind gives me just the amount of flavor I want for few calories. - 1/27/2014 7:20:59 AM
  • Love this article! I get tired of having the same salad all the time, and I am always starving about two hours later. I will definitely try these tips! Thank you! - 1/27/2014 7:02:42 AM
  • I never was a huge salad dressing person, though I would eat a bit. But now I just drizzle a bit of olive oil and some vinegar on, or I put salsa on salad. Lemon or lime works for me too. For eating out, I always just ask for oil and vinegar and the restaurant almost always has it. - 9/16/2013 9:06:17 AM
    I was out of salad dressing the other day, so I added low fat cottage cheese. I didn't even miss the dressing. Now when I add dressing I drizzle about a teaspoon on, just enough for taste, not to hide the delicious veggies. - 7/4/2013 8:42:56 PM
  • Here is another good one from a food trailer here in town...olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard, minced garlic. I had it over a Kale salad...that consist of chopped up kale & purple cabbage, apple slices, avocado, chicken, sunflower seeds & topped w/ a little Asiago cheese (use a fine shaver like for cinnamon). It was sooo good! I also just had a great salad for lunch with salad greens, purple cabbage, carrots (matchstix), sliced strawberries, feta cheese, blueberries & chicken. It was sooooo good...w/ any type of light dressing. - 6/13/2013 2:04:16 PM
  • The reason for salad dressing (with it's fat content) on salad is that the body needs fat in order to metabolize all the nutrients of the vegetables. So I usually try to mix a little olive oil with something interesting, balsamic vinegar, spicy brown mustard, etc - 4/12/2013 11:50:29 AM
  • My friend from mexico made this for me awhile back and it was yummy. Take an avocado, 1 tbsp milk and a jalopeno pepper (for flavor) blend till creamy. You can adjust it to the thickness and spiciness you like. - 3/19/2013 1:18:03 PM

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