• By Jessica DeGore
  • In Uncategorized
  • July 10, 2019

Building a Better Salad

By: Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN

Salads can really hit the spot on a hot summer day.  Light and delicious, they are seemingly a nutritious choice as well.  But if you aren’t careful, they can pack in lots of extra calories and few nutrients.  It just requires a little planning and thought to make a satisfying and healthy summer salad.

Think about building a salad like you are building a house. (My father is an architect, so bear with me here!)  You need a strong foundation, supportive floors and walls and plenty of decoration! 


  • Start with a strong foundation: Skip the iceberg lettuce and look for deep colored green and red lettuces. Baby spinach, kale, arugula or spring mixes are usually readily available and you can augment those with red and green leaf lettuce, romaine or red cabbage.  In addition to being full of color and flavor and they rich in fiber, vitamins A and C; minerals like calcium and iron are a good source of antioxidants and protective phytonutrients. They provide a great foundation to build upon.


  • Add the floors: Start with proteins like beans, lean meats, chicken, fish, or tofu.  2 – 3 oz. of meat (or the size of a deck of cards), is the perfect amount to be filling and satisfying.  Think of protein as adding strength and stamina. Hearty grains like faro, bulgur or even rice add extra fiber and B vitamins for energy.  Top it with lots of colorful vegetables like peppers, broccoli, beets, avocado, red cabbage and carrots for decoration. These nutrient-rich additions will add vitamins, minerals and more protective phytonutrients. Fresh or canned fruit (juice or water packed) or dried fruit will add some “wall coloring” to dress it up a bit.  If you are looking for a little crunch, add a few nutrient-rich nuts or seeds and skip the croutons.


  • Head to the attic:  Finish off with a little flavorful dressing.  The dressing adds more than just flavor to a salad so don’t skip it!  A number of small studies have shown that including a little oil-based salad dressing increases the absorption of the carotenoids and phytochemicals from the vegetables in the salad. But, a little goes a long way.  Just like you don’t want to overload your attic with extra stuff, you don’t want to overload your salad either! 1-2 Tbsp. is just enough to get the nutritional benefits and flavor. Just remember to toss it well before serving to fully distribute the dressing.  You’ll use less than just adding it to the top.    


  • Redecorate every season:  This is the fun part! While salads are perfect for a hot summer day, they can also be delicious in the fall and winter. Keep the base the same but change the supporting elements by looking for vegetables and fruits that are in season. 


Have fun and be creative!  Salads can be a delicious and nutritious addition to your lunch or dinner.     

Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN is a food and nutrition communications professional, recipe developer and brand ambassador for the StarKist Co. She loves learning about food, exploring how food has shaped our culture, and teaching people how to enjoy the food they eat. On weekends she can be found exploring local food shops, wineries, and walking trails with her husband.  You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LauraAli_RD or her website: www.onthekitchenshelf.com