Elaine thought she had done a good thing by ordering the big salad. But had she? Build-your-own salad joints are a dime-a-dozen and are a great choice, most of the time…How do you build the healthiest salad?
Why have you done a good thing?
Most of us reach for a salad for our weekly lunches or safe dining-out choice. Salads are a great way to get lots of veggies into your diet, especially if you don’t have time at dinner to do so. They are also a great way to try new veggies and keep your lunches well-portioned. Salads can be a balanced part of your diet, as long as you are making the right choices. Here is a dining out guide to help you navigate that salad bar in just 5 easy steps:
1) Choose dark greens. When picking the base for your salad, the richer the color the better. In general with fruits and veggies, the more colorful, the more phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Choose baby spinach, mescaline, arugula, romaine lettuce or a combination of these leaves.What to skip: Iceberg lettuce.
2) Add a lean protein. Grilled chicken, turkey, shrimp, salmon, 1-2 hardboiled eggs, or ½ cup of beans to make your salad a satisfying meal. Watch carefully when making your salad to keep portions of chicken and fish to be about the size of the palm of your hand.
What to consider: Just a scoop of tuna fish, egg or chicken salad can be really calorically dense due to lots of mayo, especially when made in restaurants. If you are trying to lose weight, this isn’t the best choice. If making your salad at home, limit mayo to 1-2 tsp and this can be a healthy protein choice.
What to skip: Fried proteins as they are very high in fat and calories.
3) Create a colorful plate. Feel free to add lots of non-starchy veggies and fruits such as cucumbers, peppers, carrots, onions, tomatoes, celery, mushrooms, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, beets, apples, pears.
What to consider: Starchy veggies and dried fruits including corn, peas, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and raisins, as well as grain salads, are great to add to your salads you just have to keep the portions under control. Limit this to 1 scoop or about ½ cup serving. Choose whole grains as much as possible.
What to skip: Potato, pasta, or coleslaw salads have lots of mayo and oil, making them not the healthiest choices.
4) Don’t forget some healthy fat! Fat can make your salad very satisfying. Good sources include avocado, nuts such as walnuts or almonds, cheese, or seeds. The important thing here is portion control. 1 serving of avocado is 1-2 thin slices; nuts and seeds should be limited to ¼ cup; limit cheese intake to 1 tbsp and try to pick low-fat cheese if possible (Hint: it may be easier to choose fresh mozzarella balls and only add 1-2.
What to skip: Bacon bits, croutons, crispy noodles excessive amounts of cheese.
5) Dress it up well. The best salad dressing choices are oils and vinegars, rather than prepared dressings. Serving size is the most important thing here, limiting oil to 1-2 tbsp. Feel free to have as much vinegar as you want. Second choice options include balsamic vinegars, vinaigrettes, and Ginger dressings in Japanese settings.
What to consider: Processed dressings like Italian or fat free versions of creamy dressings are loaded with chemicals and sugars. Better to have a little of the real thing or pure oil and vinegar than processed foods!
What to skip: Creamy dressings like blue cheese, ranch, thousand island, Cesar, Russian, French
Feel confident that you making healthy choices the next time you go to the salad bar!
--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN