How to Build the Perfect Salad
Building blocks of a perfect salad
Greens: Every salad starts with a base of leafy greens, but there are lots of options out there! Light green lettuces like romaine or iceberg have the mildest flavor. Darker greens like spinach and kale are more nutrient dense, and have a stronger (sometimes bitter) flavor. “Spring” or “baby” greens are darker greens that are picked when the plant is young, so they have a milder flavor. Try adding shredded cabbage or carrots to your greens for a little crunch, or arugula for a peppery taste.
Vegetables: Carrots, celery, cucumber, bell pepper, broccoli, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, etc, etc.—almost any vegetable can be tossed into a salad. Experiment with whatever you have in your fridge!
Fruit: Fresh fruit adds a great burst of sweetness to any salad. Try chopped apples or pears for something mild and crunchy. Fresh berries, orange or grapefruit slices, pineapple, peaches, or grapes also make great additions.
Protein: Adding protein can turn a side salad into a satisfying meal. Cooked chicken, steak, or fish make great additions. For a meatless salad, add hard-boiled egg or beans like chickpeas, lentils, or cannellini beans.
Grains: Adding grains can give your salad an extra boost of protein and fiber, and add a chewy texture to balance the crunch of fresh veggies. Try something a little different like quinoa, barley, buckwheat, farro, or wheat berries.
Flavor boosters: Just a little bit of these can go a long way toward adding texture or flavor to your salad:
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pecans, pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, etc. add a nice crunch.
- Dried fruit adds a chewy texture and nice burst of sweetness. NOTE: be sure to measure out how much you add – Just 2 level tablespoons of dried fruit like raisins or cranberries contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates.
- Something briny such as olives, pickled banana peppers, or capers can add a savory flavor. NOTE: Leave these out or use sparingly if you are watching your sodium! Briny foods like this are made with a lot of salt.
- Cheese can add a variety of textures and flavors, depending on the type of cheese. Try grated parmesan, crumbled feta, goat cheese, blue cheese, shredded cheddar or mozzarella.
Need more salad inspiration? Browse through our collection of recipes!
Dress it up!
Most people turn to the bottle when it comes to dressing their salad, but salad dressing is incredibly easy to make at home. Bottled dressings can be surprisingly high in sugar and sodium, as well as other fillers and preservatives. When you make your own, you can control what goes in (and what stays out!).
A basic vinaigrette consists of 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. If you like a tangier dressing, or want to cut down on the fat, try 3 parts oil to 2 parts vinegar. Combine by whisking the ingredients together in a bowl, shaking in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, or blending in a blender or food processor.
Here are some ideas for experimenting with your salad dressing:
Oil: Olive oil is the gold standard but other oils like canola, sunflower, or corn oil work just as well for a milder flavor. Nut oils like almond, pecan, or walnut oil add a nice nutty essence.
Vinegar: Any vinegar can work here – balsamic, red wine, apple cider, or rice – or you could try another acid such as lemon, or another citrus juice. Try puréed berries for something sweeter.
- Fresh or dried herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, or rosemary
- Minced fresh onion or garlic, or onion or garlic powder
- Dijon mustard or mustard powder
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Blend in an avocado, silken tofu, or tahini for a creamy dressing without the cream
- To add a little sweetness, try a dash honey, agave, or maple syrup
Want more ideas? Try some of these salad dressing recipes:
10 Easy Ways to Reduce Added Sugars
Science tells us that sugar does not cause diabetes. Eating too much added sugars can mean missing out on healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, and not getting enough essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also difficult to stay within a reasonable number of daily calories. A high calorie diet can result in weight gain, making it more difficult to manage your diabetes or prediabetes.
When you decrease the amount of added sugars in your diet, you may notice:
- It's easier to maintain or lose weight
- Improved blood glucose levels
- Less processed foods that have no nutritional value in your diet
- Easier to include healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy
Having diabetes or prediabetes doesn't mean you can't indulge your sweet tooth now and then within a healthy eating plan. Check out these quick and easy tips, brought to you by Equal, about how you can reduce added sugars in your meal plan.
1. Swap your toast and jelly for a combination of healthy fats and protein, like an egg cracked into an avocado and baked.
2. Use the bold flavors of extracts and spices to compensate for less sweetness. Sugar substitutes are also a great alternative.
3. Swap your bottled coffee for homemade, cold-brewed coffee so you can control how it's sweetened. Bonus: one batch can last all week!
4. Look for salad dressings with 0-2 grams of sugar per serving, or make your own using oil and vinegar.
5. Many full-calorie sodas contain lots of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Try zero-calorie sparkling water instead.
6. Make your own smoothies instead of buying premade. Tasty tip: berries and melons are lower in carbs than other fruits and high in fiber.
7. Use fruit to sweeten drinks like lemonade and iced tea.
8. Prepared pasta sauce can have a surprising amount of sugar. Whip up your own using canned tomatoes and fresh herbs.
9. Yogurt can have 15 grams of sugar or more per serving! Choose plain yogurt with 5 grams of sugar or less, then jazz it up with fresh fruit.
10. Use unsweetened applesauce in place of maple syrup on pancakes and waffles.
Quick and easy tips brought to you by Equal