How to Make a Great Salad: The Ultimate Guide

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How to Make Salads Work for You: Everything You Need to Know

“I want to eat more salads, but they are so boring and unsatisfying.”

Does this sound familiar?

I hear this all the time. And I used to think the same thing myself. So, you need to learn how to make a salad.

If you like to eat healthy, then you know it can be challenging to make a salad satisfying and tasty.

Some people are okay with sacrificing taste and fulfillment for health benefits. But, most of us aren’t.

It goes like this: You start to eat a salad for lunch every day, then after a few weeks, you get bored of eating the same unsatisfying thing over and over. So, you go back to eating leftover pizza or takeout from the night before.

If you understand how to make a healthy salad taste great, then you will be much more likely to eat them.

And if you understand the simple process for making a great tasting and healthy salad, then you’ll be much more likely to make them.

Because if your food doesn’t taste great, your healthy diet won’t be sustainable.

When you understand how to make a healthy salad, you’ll want to eat them all the time. They will make you feel healthier, more energized, and mentally sharp.

What You’ll Find in this Guide

Jump to the section by clicking on its name below.

What is a Healthy Salad?

Basically, salads are pieces of food mixed with other pieces of food and then topped with a dressing.

There are countless different salad types. Salads be composed of meat, fish, pasta, vegetables, grains, beans, and pretty much any other food. Add “salad” to the end of the recipe name and it will probably pass.

Just because something is a “salad” does not mean it is healthy.

You will learn how to make healthy vegetable salads from this guide.

Specifically, this guide focuses on vegetables combined with other healthy ingredients and topped with a dressing.

Why Are Healthy Salads Unsatisfying?

First off, healthy salads don’t have to taste “healthy” (or boring and unfulfilling). But more on that as you work through this guide.

Let’s look at the most common reasons that you probably don’t crave healthy salads:

  • Low quality produce – I’m looking at you iceburg lettuce, canned black olives, and tomatoes from the grocery store in the middle of winter. If you wouldn’t eat one of the ingredients in your salad on its own, then it shouldn’t go in your salad.

  • Vegetables aren’t prepared properly – Have you ever had raw broccoli or cauliflower? It’s not very good. But add some heat to them and they turn into caramelized goodness. Some vegetables, especially leafy greens, are great just tossed in some dressing. But others need some more care.

  • Not dressed and seasoned properly – Most store bought dressings aren’t healthy. So, topping your salad with one of those can be risky. Homemade dressings are more healthy and delicious. They will balance out all of the ingredients and add a burst of brightness. Don’t worry, they’re deceivingly easy to make too.

  • Lack of complex flavors and textures – You can get away with just leafy greens and dressing for a simple elegant salad like this one. But, I don’t think you want to eat that every day. Topping your salad with nuts, seeds, cheese, meats, fishes, fats, etc. will hit all kinds of satisfaction levels.

This guide will show you how to make healthy salads more satisfying like these.

Why You Should Eat More Salads

Salads can be incredibly healthy when they use vegetables as their base. Adding salads to your diet is an easy and delicious way to get the vitamins and minerals you need.

Here are the top 3 reasons to eat healthy salads:

Reason #1: They are loaded with healthy vegetables.

There are reasons why our parents and doctors tell us to eat vegetables.

According to Harvard University, a vegetable packed diet can help protect against heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, and high blood pressure. Vegetables are packed with nutrients including potassium, fiber, folic acid and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables also have a positive impact on digestion and blood sugar control.

Reason #2: They are low in calories.

Salads composed of mostly vegetables are low in calories, but high in vitamins and minerals. Meaning you can eat a large volume without eating a large number of calories.

If you are trying to lose weight, then consider eating a green salad before your main course. According to WebMD, studies have shown that individuals who eat a salad (the bigger then better) as their first course eat a less calories over the entire meal.

Reason #3: Their dressings and toppings are high in healthy fats.

Eating healthy fats from olive oil or avocado with your vegetables actually helps your body absorb their beneficial nutrients.

According to WebMD, a study from Ohio State University showed that eaters that included a healthy fat like avocado with their salad absorbed eight times more alpha-carotene and 13 times more beta carotene compared to eaters who did not include a healthy fat. Both of these are phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Many dressings used for these salads contain extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is high in healthy fats, contains antioxidants, reduces inflammation, and even helps protect against strokes and heart disease. Read more about each of these benefits here on Healthline.

arugula salad bowl

Components of a Healthy Salad

One of the best parts about salads?

There are only 4 parts that going into making a great tasting and healthy salad. And all of them aren’t always required. Once you understand these 4 components, then you’ll be able to master salads in no time.

Base

The base of a salad is the primary component. Think of this as the foundation that the rest of the components are built on.

The base of the salad is something that can take on flavor well. It should also be packed with nutritional benefits since it will be most likely be the most abundant ingredient. For instance, you don’t want to use a bag of Cheetos as your salad base (but, that would be delicious).

Here are some common examples.

  • Leafy greens

  • Other vegetables

  • Grains and beans

  • Potatoes

  • Chicken or tuna

You’ll be sticking to leafy greens and vegetables for this healthy salad guide.

Body

If the base is the foundation of the salad, then the body is the walls.

The body of the salad is another primary component. This component is more calorie dense than the base. It is used in a lower amount, but plays a large role in the taste, mouthfeel, and substance of each bite.

Some common examples:

  • Meat

  • Fish

  • Avocado

  • Egg

  • Tofu

  • Cheese

Garnish

The garnish is the inside ceilings of the salad.

These are the final toppings that are added to a salad to add a balancing flavor note, color, or texture.

A few common garnishes:

  • Fresh herbs

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Dried fruit

  • Cheese

  • Croutons

Dressing

Finally, we get to the roof: salad dressing.

Dressing may be the most important component in building a healthy and great tasting salad. It brings out the best in all of the other components. It makes every bite flavorful and filled with joy.

You can certainly not have a garnish, component, or base for a salad, but you wouldn’t want to skip the dressing.

For instance, you can make a delicious salad with lettuce (base) and vinaigrette (dressing) like this one. Or dipping a piece of chicken (body) in honey mustard (dressing) is delicious.

Dressing typically falls into 2 categories: vinaigrette and creamy dressings.

Want To Learn How to Make Homemade Dressings?

Check out the below guide for everything you need to know about making your own homemade salad dressings:

How to Make Home Dressings: The Ultimate Guide

Or skip straight to simple, meal prep friendly dressing recipes:

10 Health Dressing Recipes

Salad Components: Examples

salad component comparison

See the two different salads in the picture above. Let’s take a look at their components:

Roasted Broccoli Salad with Tahini Sauce (left)

  • Base: Roasted Broccoli

  • Body: None

  • Garnish: Dried dates and roasted almonds

  • Dressing: Tahini Sauce

Arugula, Mango, and Avocado Salad (right)

Note: Every salad doesn’t need every component to be healthy and delicious.

 

Where to Buy Salad Ingredients

A salad (and any other dish) begins with high quality ingredients. The better ingredients, the better the salad.

Where to Buy Fresh Produce

Your local farmer’s market is one of the best places to buy fresh produce and other salad items like meat and cheese. However, that isn’t always an option if you live someplace that is cold for half of the year like me.

Contrary to popular belief, I have found Whole Foods to have the cheapest organic produce and meat of any grocery store near me. Plus, they deliver for free if you’re a Prime member.

Where to Buy Fresh Produce Online

The most convenient option is to buy your groceries online.

The produce delivery service industry is growing rapidly. And for good reason: it’s super easy and convenient to order groceries at the click of a button and have them delivered to your doorstep.

There many services already out there that will deliver fresh, high quality produce directly to your door.

I write all about them here in the best places to buy produce online.

Where to Buy Other Salad Items Online

Nuts, seeds, oil, vinegar, dried fruit, meat, seafood and pretty much anything else you would need to add to your salad is available at Thrive Market.

Think of Thrive Market as an online Costco, except all of their ingredients are much higher quality. Better for your health, taste buds, and environment. They also have meat, fish, and household items so you can do most of your shopping in one place.

Click here to get $20 shopping credit at Thrive Market when you purchase a membership.

Where to Buy Sustainable Meat and Seafood Online

Another option for sustainable meat and seafood to top your salad is Crowd Cow.

This online shop has a wide variety of delicious chicken, pork, beef, and seafood that is raised with animal and environmental well-being in mind. Their meat tastes great and comes from hand-picked independent producers. They have a much larger selection of meat and seafood compared to Thrive Market.

Check out Crowd Cow’s online store here.

 

Tools You Need to Make a Great Salad

In reality, all you really need are your hands and maybe a knife to make a salad. But, these tools will make your life much easier and your salads more delicious.

  • Salad spinner – To easily clean and dry leafy greens. No more sandy salads. I use this Zyliss salad spinner and it has made me eat more salads since I don’t have to hassle with cleaning greens. Check out this article on how to use a salad spinner.

  • Mason jar – So you can make and store your homemade salad dressings in one container.

  • Mandoline – Do you wonder how restaurants get such thin and uniform slices of vegetables on their salads? They use a mandoline like this one. You’ll have perfectly shaved vegetables in a fraction of the time it takes you with a knife.

  • Serving bowl – You want a large shallow bowl like this one so you can easily toss your salad.

  • Serving spoons – It’s nice to have serving spoons for a salad. But, I often just tip the bowl and use a fork to scoop a salad onto my plate because I’m too lazy to wash additional utensils.

How to Make a Healthy Salad

Once you learn the process of making your own delicious salad, you’ll want to make and eat them all the time. They will increase your health, energy, and save you time. Plus, your taste buds will be happy.

Step 1. Select and Gather Ingredients

Pick Your Base

Select a leafy green or vegetable to use as your base. This is the foundation of your salad so it should be very nutritious. Here are some ideas:

  • Lettuce

  • Arugula

  • Cabbage

  • Spinach

  • Broccoli

  • Kale

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Vegetables that you can roast, saute, or grill like broccoli, carrots, or root vegetables

Pick Your Body (optional)

The ingredient you choose for your body should add flavor and depth. It should also make your salad more filling.

Pick Your Garnish (optional)

Top your salad with a delicious garnish to add flavor, color, and/or texture. Some healthy ideas include:

  • Dried fruit

  • Roasted nuts

  • Roasted seeds

  • Fresh herbs

  • Cheese

  • Croutons

Pick Your Dressing

Match your dressing to your salad base.

For light greens (arugula, spring mix, etc.), use a lighter vinaigrette. For heartier greens like romaine, kale, and spinach, use a creamy dressing or vinaigrette.

You’ll find a dressing on this list of 10 Healthy Homemade Dressings.

Step 2. Prep and/or Cook Ingredients

There are no limits on raw, cooked, or marinated ingredient combinations.

With whatever ingredients you selected, select how you want to cook them or not cook them at all.

Do you want a combination of cooked and raw ingredients like in this roasted cabbage and apple salad (pictured first below)?

Or a fully raw salad like this this shaved brussels sprout and kale salad (pictured 2nd below)?

Or what about a cooked salad like this roasted vegetable salad with shallot vinaigrette (pictured 3rd below)?

How to Prep Ingredients

When cutting cooked ingredients, make sure you cut them into similar sizes for even cooking.

For raw ingredients, a mandoline like this one is an amazing tool for thinly sliced ingredients. It makes thinly sliced radishes, turnips, carrots, and other root vegetables a breeze.

For light greens and lettuces, you can leave them whole or give them a rough chop or tear for larger leaves. For heartier greens like kale and spinach, these are great thinly sliced for easier chewing.

Step 3. Combine Your Ingredients

Lastly, combine all of your ingredients and season. Depending on your ingredients, the method for combining the final dish may differ.

Leafy Salads

Add all of your ingredients to a large bowl, top with the dressing and season with salt. Use your hands to gently toss. Make sure each leaf is coated.

Leafy Salad Recipes:

Salads with Cooked and Non-Leafy Ingredients

Add all of your ingredients to a serving bowl, plate or dish. Then drizzle the dressing over it and season with salt. At this point, it is preference whether to toss all of the ingredients together or not.

The appearance is generally more striking if you do not toss together. But, each bite will be more consistent if you mix the dressing with the ingredients.

Non-Leafy Salad Recipes:

 

  How to Make a Salad process

How to Make a Healthy Salad: Tips to Get Started

Use a Salad Spinner to Make Cleaning Your Greens Easy

Owning a salad spinner will increase your leafy green consumption.

It will decrease your leafy greens cleaning time and paper towel waste.

I used to hate cleaning whole heads of lettuce, delicate greens, and herbs. I felt like no matter what I did, they would still be dirty and sandy.

Then I got this Zyliss Salad Spinner.

It changed the way and how often I eat salads. It’s so easy to just cut up an entire head of lettuce, let it soaked in the water filled spinner for a few minutes for the dirt to fall to the bottom, drain, and spin. I can’t recommend it enough.

Check out this post on how to use a salad spinner for step-by-step instructions on the right way to clean your greens.

Use the Right Containers for Storage

Salads should be stored, covered in the refrigerator.

The key to storing salads that use leafy greens is to keep the dressing and greens separate. Otherwise, you’ll have soggy leftover salads. Luckily, there are many containers that were designed specifically to store salads. I write all about the best salad containers here.

For salads that can be dressed ahead, I love these OXO glass containers for storing completed dishes like this salad. You can store, cover, and serve all in one container.

Know When to Dress and Season for Make-Ahead Salads

Some salads keep well after dressing, while others do not.

More delicate greens like arugula and spring greens don’t keep great dressing. But, more hearty greens like kale or roasted greens keep well. They may even taste better after a day or two.

Seasoning with salt will remove water from leafy greens. This can make them soft and slimy.

For salads that don’t keep well, you can combine the salad ingredients and prepare the dressing separately. Then, when you’re ready to eat it, just dressing and serve!

Don’t sweat it, storage and make-ahead details are outlined in each salad recipe.

Meal Prep Your Dressings

A great salad needs a great dressing. If you learn a homemade dressing recipes, you will never eat a bad meal again!

The best part?

Dressings store great in the refrigerator.

Make a dressing at the beginning of the week so you can use it to spruce up salads at a moment’s notice.

Here are 10 Healthy Homemade Dressing Recipes.

These dressings will make everything, including these salads taste better. Plus, they are all incredibly simple to make. Most take 5 minutes or less. A few even last up to a month!

Having a delicious dressing waiting for you in the refrigerator is a great feeling. It will give you the confidence of knowing that whatever you make, it will be tasty.

Prepped dressings are your best friends.

What Next? Let’s Make Some Salads.

You learned that salads are one of the healthiest types of dishes you can eat, they can taste delicious, and are easy to make.

Find out for yourself with one of these 11 Healthy Salads That You’ll Actually Want to Eat.

You will definitely find at least one salad on that list that you’ll want to make. All of them are healthy, quick, and taste amazing. Plus, you’ll feel great after eating your veggies!

Or, if you’re up for a challenge…

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