A well-constructed side salad is a welcome addition to a meal because the dish accomplishes many things: adds vegetables to your diet; adds color to your plate; and also can be gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or tailored to cater to many diet preferences or needs. The Dietary Guidelines encourage us to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits — in fact, for an average 2,000-calorie diet, one should consume about 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily. Those vegetables and fruits featured in a salad can add plenty of nutrients to your plate with minimal calories (or as nutritionists like to say, nutrient-dense), plus the filling fiber may help with satiety. Here are some tips for composing the best side salad.
Greens can be white or red, too
The Guidelines, as well as many nutrition experts, recommend eating a variety of colors of vegetables to ensure you obtain different nutrients (and we like the Instagram-worthy bowls). So don’t limit the “green” portion of salads to kale, spinach or romaine; iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, radicchio, endive and red leaf lettuce will enliven your salad mix. Try this option, full of colorful leaves, and a make-ahead homemade dressing. This cabbage and carrot slaw is a great side to a Mexican-inspired meal and is colorful without too many calories.
Vary the vegetables
And just as you should vary the greens in a salad, it’s a good idea to play with the veggie offerings, too. This method is a great excuse to use those leftover roasted vegetables, what’s in the crisper or seasonal produce offerings. Plus, a broccoli, carrot or tomato salad is a great way to reach your daily vegetable goal. This asparagus salad forgoes leafy greens altogether, and this Mediterranean salad is a great example of a veggie-centric salad (leftovers are great tucked into a whole wheat pita). This tasty, quick salad features grated carrots, which you may find in produce. A cabbage-pepper salad is colorful has a good five grams of filling fiber to boot.
Frozen and canned vegetables are your friends
Embrace some convenience products. Plain frozen vegetables are a boon to cooks: Much of the prep is done for you and you can measure out just what you need and freeze the rest of the bag. Think corn, peas, edamame, green beans and more. Besides the freezer options, low-sodium or no-added-salt canned beans can also work in your favor for easy, high-fiber additions to salads. Rinse and drain canned hearts of palm or artichoke hearts to minimize sodium for interesting and easy out-of-the-box salad additions. Try frozen green peas for a pretty, quick weeknight salad; leftovers are great as part of a to-go lunch. This green salad uses canned garbanzo beans, which helps bump up the fiber and protein counts.
Round out with fresh fruit
Add fresh, seasonal fruit to your salads for fiber and flavor for relatively few calories. (Dried fruits are more calorically dense and less filling because they don’t have the water fresh fruits provide.) The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming two cups of fruit daily, so that means strawberries, raspberries, diced apple or pears, sliced peaches or mangoes help you gain fruit servings and your salad nets flavor and texture. This pretty spinach salad is a great way to incorporate fruit with your salad.
Traditional dressings are delicious because of the rich-tasting oils used in them. While the oils provide Vitamin E and help absorb other fat-soluble nutrients and vitamins in your salad, this is an instance where less is more because calories add up quickly from the fats. Whip up this basic vinaigrette to make salads a reality any night of the week (it tastes great and you can control the amount of sodium added, if desired). But if you want to curb calories, try a vegetable-based dressing, such as this zesty carrot offering or a tangy, oil-free balsamic option.
Inspired? Check out more salad inspo from our healthy salad recipe collection.
What are some of your favorite side salads?