Summer is salad season. With the abundance of great seasonal produce that sometimes only needs a hint of fresh lemon or lime juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a salad is the light, filling food we crave. (In fact, we talked about how to make a fabulous side salad opens in a new tab recently.) A salad as your lunch or dinner is an ideal way to get those 2½ cups vegetables daily the Dietary Guidelines recommend. Here's our take on how to make a filling main dish salad with smart choices whether you're a vegetarian, vegan or omnivore.
Load up on plant-based proteins legumes and beans
To keep a salad full of plants, choose legumes and beans to bump up protein and fiber and also provide potassium, folate and zinc. Beans and legumes are the hard-working stars of vegan and vegetarian salads that supply satiating protein. For example, one-half cup of rinsed, drained cooked chickpeas has nearly 20% of your daily fiber needs as well as 10% of your protein needs. Try chickpeas in a vegan salad opens in a new tab, which has enough fiber and protein to make a filling lunch with whole-grain pita and fresh fruit or yogurt. Beans and corn combine for a vegan entrée opens in a new tab or a fiber-filled side to cheese quesadillas. The beans in a Mexican-inspired entrée salad opens in a new tab add protein and fiber. Lentils, which require no soaking, add heft to salads; try them in this filling, portable salad opens in a new tab. Make a vegan riff on egg salad opens in a new tab with leftover roasted tofu, which adds satiating protein.
Choose quality animal proteins
Keep the salad on the healthy spectrum by using quality proteins, such as salmon, eggs, chicken breast or canned tuna. These animal-based proteins add protein and iron, and salmon provides essential omega-3 fatty acids while an egg delivers choline. Using a palm-sized portion of meat or one egg is plenty to add enough filling protein to a salad. A 5-ingredient kale and salmon salad opens in a new tab is nutrient packed and comes together quickly with baked salmon and pre-washed greens. Judicious amounts of tuna and egg combine for a smart Niçoise salad opens in a new tab entrée. A rotisserie chicken makes quick work of a refreshing, mayo-free chicken salad opens in a new tab. Or use leftover chicken breast or poach one to create a green salad opens in a new tab.
Add a whole grain for the win
A half-cupful of cooked red quinoa, farro, wheat berries or whatever whole grain you have on hand (or thawed from frozen!) added to salads helps achieve those whole grain goals and can up the fiber quotient. (For instance, one-half cup of cooked quinoa or pearl barley contains about 10% of daily fiber needs!) Tabbouleh opens in a new tab is a great option for netting whole grains, and you can use quinoa or brown rice for a gluten-free version. Add chopped chicken breast of canned to tuna to turn a refreshing spa salad opens in a new tab into a meal. A hearty grain such as farro or wheat berries would also work in place of the pearl barley used in a make-ahead salad opens in a new tab.
Know your nut and seed portions
Nuts and seeds provide needed textural contrast and rich flavor to salads, but they can also be caloric because of their fat content. For example, about 23 whole almonds, a serving size, contains 165 calories and nearly 10% of daily fiber needs. You can always use less than the standard serving size and chop coarsely to extend the flavor without going calorie crazy. A half-teaspoon of pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp or sesame seeds is also plenty to spread texture and flavor.
Inspired? Check out more salad inspo from our healthy salad recipe collection opens in a new tab.
How do you bump up the nutrition — without going overboard — to your entrée salads?