How to Turn a Healthy Salad into a Satisfying Meal

A healthy salad is so much more than lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. And a main dish salad can be way more interesting than a hunk of dry grilled chicken over lettuce. If you want something simple and versatile, follow my blueprint to a delicious, nutritious, satisfying main dish salad. A graphic and 6 steps are below.

healthy salad of greens, berries and salmon

This healthy salad was my dinner at the Philadelphia airport. Airport food has come a long way!

Why make a healthy salad?

  • You have so many creative options, you’ll never get bored. Just say NO to drab or ho hum salads!
  • You’ll have less food waste because salads are a perfect way to use leftovers.
  • They keep the kitchen cool in the extreme heat of summer.
  • You can get a healthy salad meal on the table lickety split with the assistance of bagged salad greens and other wisely selected convenience foods.
  • Nutrition! My mantra, “more vegetables, more vegetables, more vegetables” becomes a reality with a healthy salad. Actually, a main dish salad can cover healthy food choices from every food group!
Just say NO to ho hum salads! Use this blueprint to make a delicious healthy salad that's a full meal.Click To Tweet

Turn a healthy salad into a meal

A meal is a balance of several food groups that provide protein, fats and fiber-packed carbohydrates. Think variety, more plants than animals and more vegetables than anything else. Here are the 6 steps in my blueprint to a healthy salad.

1. Pick your greens. Work your way from arugula to watercress or combine common greens – like iceberg lettuce – with the less familiar – like kale or shaved Brussels sprouts.

  • Not sure what to pick? Iceberg lettuce is mild and crunchy. Arugula, escarole and watercress are pungent and peppery. Romaine lettuce and spinach are in between. They all pack a nutritional punch. Even iceberg lettuce – with its potassium, vitamin C and hefty dose of vitamin K – isn’t the nutritional dud most people think it is.

2. Pile on the produce. Create an enticing salad with a variety of colors and textures. Enjoy – but think beyond – the usual carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and bell peppers.Use whatever you have on hand. A few of my favorites are radishes, cauliflower, purple cabbage, snow peas and jicama. And don’t forget the fruit. Liven up your dish with berries, sliced apples or peaches, citrus segments or whatever is in season.

The most popular recipe on my site is this Mediterranean Chickpea Salad.

  • Look around your whole kitchen for yummy fruits and vegetables. I love adding jarred marinated artichoke hearts to a salad. Canned manadarin oranges have been a favorite in my house since my girls were very little and enjoyed a side salad with them while we were vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.How to Turn a Salad into a Meal Graphic Collage

3. Go wild with whole grains. Whole grains dish up flavor, fiber and a host of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. I’ll toss in a couple spoonfuls of whatever is sitting in my refrigerator – leftover brown rice, quinoa, farro, wheat berries, barley, even pasta. Add just a little grain for texture and taste or toss in a lot for a heartier salad.

Check out my Bean and Barley Salad for inspiration.

4. Pick your protein. Choose plant protein, animal proteins or both. I always have canned beans, tuna fish, frozen edamame beans, and lowfat cheese and cottage cheese on the ready. I’ll also use hard boiled eggs, leftover salmon or tofu or any protein food in my fridge.

Add grilled shrimp to Farro Waldorf Salad.

5. Add something crunchy or something fun. For a flavor and texture boost, sprinkle your salad with some nuts, seeds, dried fruit or diced avocado.

6. Dress for success. For a homemade vinaigrette, whisk together olive or canola oil with half as much vinegar or citrus juice. Add salt, pepper, garlic, your favorite herbs and a touch of Dijon mustard.

Inspiration for Healthy Salad Meals

Here are some combinations that go together nicely. Add other components according to your tastes.

  • Grapefruit, avocado, wheat berries and salmon
  • Tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, jalapeños with black beans (add chicken if you need a little more protein)
  • Artichoke hearts, tomatoes, cucumber, and chickpeas, feta cheese, and grilled shrimp, chicken or turkey
  • Tomatoes, red onion, white beans, steamed broccoli and salmon
  • Steamed green beans, red onions, walnuts and tuna
  • Arugula, farro, lentils, orange segments and avocado

Got a healthy salad? What is it?

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Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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  1. Maria Nissen on August 28, 2019 at 9:26 am

    I like to start my salad with kale (which is very sturdy) and end with Romaine or some other lettuce on top. That way, I can pack my salad the night before and it’s not smushed.

    • Jill Weisenberger on August 28, 2019 at 10:45 am

      Oh that’s a great tip. Yes, kale is much sturdier. Thanks!

  2. monika on September 17, 2019 at 6:50 am

    Nice blog! It’s helpful for getting fit. Thank you so much for giving this information.

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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.

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