• Alison Acerra MS, RDN

Build a Salad You Love That Will Love You Back

I'm welcoming June, the warm, late spring sunshine and markets overflowing with the beauty of nature's seasonal bounty. Yesterday I found myself at one of my favorite salad making spots in San Francisco and couldn't help but conspicuously eye the creation of my neighboring bowl-building enthusiast. Tuna salad, garlic-sauteed spinach, cumin-spiced carrots and...balsamic vinaigrette?” Wonderful options in isolation but in combination, I couldn't help but think, “is he going to eat that?”

Ahh, if only the salad bar came with a road map.

With ever-escalating rates of chronic conditions, the advice, “eat more plants” has become a health imperative. Yet according to a 2015 CDC report, only 1 in 10 Americans get the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Salad bars seem like an obvious answer and they are everywhere these days. But common perceptions about salads (boring! not delicious! hungry in an hour!) and overwhelm with ingredient choice often discourage those who could benefit from them most. Are they really helping those who need them? What if consumers were offered guided options created by trained Chefs or armed with more information on how to combine ingredients to build healthy and appealing plates? Would they opt in more often? Salads can deliver on quick, affordable and convenient - but can a nutritious salad also be fit for a foodie, or the veggie averse?

As a long time salad lover, I’ve got 6 simple steps to building a bowl you’ll love that will put it on permanent rotation in your weekly menu.

Step 1: Keep it simple. Browse your ingredient options, pick a theme (e.g. Asian, Mexican) and go with it! A salad suffers when too many bold ingredients compete to be the star.

Step 2: Keep it seasonal. In other words, let’s enjoy strawberries in June and not January! Eating seasonally is an important way to eat for the health of you and the environment. Produce will be tastier, more nutritious and travel far less (lower CO2 emissions!) to get to your plate. Here’s a great guide to seasonal eating in your area.

Step 3: Choose deep greens as a base. Move over iceberg, the darker the better!

Options like kale and peppery arugula offer depth of flavor and immune boosting, cell protecting antioxidants. Compared with iceberg, kale contains 4x the vitamin A and beta carotene, 10x the vitamin C, 2x the fiber and 2x the calcium making it a far superior choice. Sweet ingredients (e.g. roasted beets) and umami (e.g. a dash of parmesan) can help offset the bitterness of these greens.

Step 4: Pick your protein: Typically mild in flavor, they go well with just about any ingredients. Proteins also help stabilize blood sugars and slow digestion for lasting energy and fullness. Don't forget plant-powered proteins likes beans and lentils.

Step 5: Choose from the rainbow: Veggies are nutritional, antioxidant-rich superstars and will make your bowl look beautiful. Pick at least 3 vibrant colors (hint: roasted veggies will jazz up any salad instantly!) Add more fiber with its endless benefits things options like sweet potatoes or wheat berries.

Step 6: Incorporate crunch. A variety of textures is key, but crunchy nuts and seeds add interest, not to mention loads of heart healthy oils, fiber and protein, upping the salad’s satiety factor.

Step 7: Dress it up (later). Don’t fear the fat, but please don’t over dress your salad! An overdressed salad is just plain not good. Enough fat, however is the solution to the hungry-in-an-hour-salad. Choose a savory vinaigrette, lower in sugar with heart healthy olive oil but enjoy more flavor in every bite by keeping it on the side. I prefer to keep it simple with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper letting the other ingredients take center stage.

What's my spring time favorite? Arugula, seared salmon (salt, pepper, garlic), roasted garlic & rosemary sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus, roasted beets, toasted sunflower seeds, tossed and simply dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

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