As a nutritionist, I am often asked what my favorite salad is. The answer is easy, it’s whatever salad that I didn’t have to make myself. Think about that for a moment. I know that if I was looking at you I would see a smile on your face and a head nod. I love salad, in fact one of my favorite foods to eat (and yes, I have been quoted saying this over the years) is an arugula salad with fresh tahini and lemon dressing. What I do not like doing is making the salad, and clearly many Americans agree if you look at the trend of salad- based restaurant chains and ready-made salads at grocery stores. In fact, many millennials think that salads are something that you go out and buy for $10 or more.
Is this a problem?
You see, I may be a nutritionist but I’m a regular person too, that is working from home, while my 6th grader is remote learning, and doing a million other things all adults have to do. The thought of making a salad doesn’t go on the top of my “favorite things to do” list, but what I do know is that I love eating a salad and I love how I feel afterwards even more. If I could get my 6th grader to make me one, just know that I would.
I believe in picking your battles and in this case I would rather people eat a salad than not eat a salad. If your partner, friend, or child wants to prep one for you- let them! If there is a restaurant that has a great salad, order it. Buy a salad “kit” or vegetables that are pre-cut, throw it in a bowl and ta-da, there is shame in taking short cuts.
But are all salads equal?
No. Most people eat a salad because they want to make a healthy decision for themselves. When you order or make a salad yourself (gasp!) it should follow some simple guidelines to ensure nutritional value:
1. The salad should contain a combination of vegetables and fruit
2. The salad should have some protein, carbs, and fat to make it a complete meal and help you stay full for longer.
3. The salad should have varying textures to help satisfy mouthfeel and entertain your taste buds
4. Go light on the dressing, if the dressing is freshly made or contains high- quality oil or vinegar it makes a huge difference in taste so you shouldn’t need that much.
5. Add fresh herbs to make the flavor pop and to get even more nutrients
6. Watch out for cheese. Sorry friends, but cheese shouldn’t be why you order the salad if you want a healthy meal. A sprinkle or small dollop of a good quality cheese is okay, but don’t rely on it for flavor or nutrients.
Is it that hard to make a salad?
Depends on the context. The truth is that there are several steps to a salad that you just can’t skip. You have to prep the vegetables by washing, drying, chopping, etc. I don’t know about you, but I have zero knife skills and I love when I eat a salad that has vegetables chopped uniformly (remember the chopped salad craze?). You have to be present the entire time you make a salad, you can’t just throw it in the oven and let it roast or add it to a blender and press a button. I love cooked veggies in my salad along with raw, so that takes some additional planning. Is that few minutes of planning worth it? For me it is. We make time for the things that are important to us.
With all this being said, if you do want to make your own salad there are some tips to make it a little less laborious:
1. Buy greens already washed
2. Chop veggies ahead of time (but remember that shortens their shelf life)
3. Decide on your protein and prep that in the beginning of the week (like hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken or tofu, etc.)
4. Ask yourself what herbs or textural additions you want to add that will help you enjoy your salad even more; maybe pistachios, roasted sunflower seeds, or pomegranates seeds.
5. Get a good container for your salads if you want to take to work, personally I refuse to use a glass ball jar for salads as they don’t allow you to really mix your salad up, I opt for a container that is wider, shallower, and lighter to carry.
With the hot-mess of a year 2020 has been, many of us are trying to navigate what our health goals will be in 2021. As a seasoned wellness expert of over 15 years, I recommend shifts in your lifestyle as opposed to changes. Take a few minutes to write down what foods make you feel healthy, and include those in your diet. Do more of what makes you feel good, do less of what makes you feel bad. Whatever diet you follow or trend you try, eating vegetables and fruit will always be part of the foundation of a healthy lifestyle; so, wherever or whomever makes your salad, that doesn’t matter, just eat it.