As a general rule, you really can't go wrong eating salads filled with leafy greens. They're low in calories, high in fiber, loaded with nutrients and a great way to lose (or maintain) weight, right?
Sure, the benefits of your leafy greens go far and wide… the problem is, greens don’t taste all that great on their own, so we often end up adding all kinds of unhealthy toppings to make them palatable.
- Consider this: A chicken Caesar salad with parmesan cheese, store-bought dressing and croutons can cost you upwards of 1,000 calories and 70 grams of fat. Basically, your plate of greens became a portion of creamy chicken topped with fatty cheese, fried bread and an array of ingredients you’ve never heard of.
So, what makes a diet-friendly, yet satisfying salad? Below are some simple suggestions that allow you to create a healthy, delicious salad that’s worth celebrating.
Well hello there, highly processed!
We decided to try a simple experiment at the store by checking the ingredients in an array of salad dressings. What we found was mind-blowing.
Most of the bottles we picked up contained anywhere from 5 to over 14 unnecessary ingredients. Some said natural but contained ingredients that were ANYTHING but natural. Others said low-fat but were filled to the gills with sugar, excess sodium, coloring and an array of ingredients we’d never heard of. The most frustrating thing was, all of these brands used savvy words as a marketing tactic to lead you to believe their dressing was the real “healthy” deal.
Next time you go to the grocery store, rather than trusting the label and simply tossing a salad dressing in your cart, spend some time looking at the labels. A common theme you’ll find is that many companies use sneaky words to trick us (the consumer) into thinking that their product is actually healthy.
Pro tip: Experiment by making your own dressing at home. It’s extremely easy and often much healthier.
Steer clear of creamy dressings.
We hate to break it to you, but this is where many salads turn from healthy to a heart attack. While drenching your kale salad in ranch or blue cheese may taste delicious, it’s also doubling your (fat) calories, while dialing down the benefits of an otherwise healthy salad.
If you’re craving that creamy consistency, opt for a dollop of hummus or a dressing that’s made with yogurt, rather than mayo. You’ll add good fats and lean protein without kicking up a surplus of calories.
And how about those crunchy toppings?
We’re talking about carb-loaded crunchies such as croutons, fried wonton strips or crispy sesame sticks. These little guys may look innocent, but they’re often loaded with refined carbs and empty calories. One handful can quickly add an extra 200 calories to your salad. Basically, they’re highly processed calorie killers.
So, if you like a few crunchy toppings (yes, please!), do this instead—add a tablespoon of roasted chickpeas, almonds, pepitas or sunflower seeds. If you’ve got a little extra time, try baking your own strips of whole grain bread. Another awesome alternative (and one of our favorites)—add broccoli slaw or cole slaw (we’re talking about the shredded cabbage kind).
Drenching your salad with dressing, no matter what kind, is a sure-fire way to fill your bowl (and belly) with fat. The purpose of a salad dressing is to enhance the flavor of your food, not drown it.
There are a few ways you can do this… two favorites are to measure out and toss your salad in 1-2 tablespoons of dressing OR set your dressing off to the side and dip the tines of your fork in it, then spear the leaves of your salad. If you need a little more flavor, add some additional vinegar such as apple cider, red wine or balsamic. Salad spritzers, such as this one, are GREAT for this!
Hey, we love cheese too, but piling your salad high with it can cause your bed of leafy greens to have as many calories as a Big Mac. Rather than completely depriving yourself, because putting cheese into exile just doesn’t sound enjoyable, pay attention to the amount you’re adding. A serving of cheese is about the size of two dice (and adds on about 50 calories per cube).
Another great option? Choose a more flavorful cheese such as blue, feta or goat so you can back off on the quantity.
Dried or dehydrated fruit
Sprinkling a few dehydrated cranberries or raisins on your salad is totally cool, but slapping on 1/4 cup can easily add several servings of fruit in one sitting, which is A LOT of sugar. So, rather than eating four cookies worth of sugar in one sitting (without it even tasting like dessert), swap out dried fruit for fresh. You’ll get that sweet flavor without the same amount of added sugar.
Side note, have you ever wondered why so many dried fruits, like Craisins, have excess sugar added to them when they already taste like a sweet treat (head scratch)?
So, how can you quickly make your salad worth celebrating, without all the crazy calories?
Sure, you’ve heard that nuts, fresh fruit and veggies are important to include in your diet, but they’re especially important to add to your salad. Using the right combination can amp up your nutritional intake, help fill you up and take a salad from bland to grand. A general rule is to pick two or three that blend well together.
A few favorites:
- Diced apple, blue cheese and almonds
- Blueberry, goat cheese and pistachios
- Onion, green pepper and sunflower seeds
- Tomato, cucumber, feta cheese and pepitas
With a little awareness and a few modifications, any salad can help you lose weight (or maintain that sexy sleek shape you already have). Simply start with the dressing, take a look at your toppings and then remember that balance is key!
Let’s create diet-friendly yet satisfying salads – together!
What are some of your top tips to creating a healthy salad? Share them in the comments below!
P.S. It can be difficult enough to introduce whole foods into your family’s diet without disarray, let alone serve up a salad filled with veggies and greens. If you want to get your family on-board, try incorporating our 6 Tricks for Getting Your Kids and Spouse to Eat (and Enjoy) Salad!
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