Salads are one of the most nutritious meals you can eat. I probably have a gigantic salad for dinner at least once a week. However, I used to rarely eat salads for meals because they didn’t keep me satisfied. Salads will never become a regular part of your healthy diet if they’re boring or leave you hungry a few hours later. You need to ensure that you incorporate healthy fats, protein, a variety of vegetables, and some tasty extras to make your salads nutritious and enjoyable to eat. Follow these steps to build a healthy salad for a satisfying lunch or dinner.


How to build a healthy salad


1.  Start with a Leafy Green Base (Choose 1-2)


lettuce for salad base


Leafy greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Making greens that base of your salad will ensure that your meal is filled with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. To save time, buy bags of greens that are pre-washed and ready to go.

  • Romaine
  • Baby spinach
  • Mesclun
  • Baby kale
  • Arugula
  • Shredded cabbage (Napa cabbage, purple cabbage or green cabbage)

2.  Add Protein (Choose 1)

Adding high-quality protein will help turn your salad into a meal that keeps you satiated for hours.

  • Grilled chicken
  • Grass-fed steak
  • Grilled or baked salmon
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Canned tuna, salmon, or sardines
  • Tofu or tempeh
  • Beans: edamame, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, lentils
  • Falafel
  • Hard-boiled eggs

3.  Add More Vegetables (Choose 2-4)

Add a few more vegetables to your leafy greens to add some variety, color, and texture. If possible, incorporate vegetables that are in season for optimal taste and freshness.

  • Cucumber
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Bell pepper (raw or roasted)
  • Celery
  • Shredded Carrots
  • Broccoli or cauliflower (raw or cooked)
  • Red onion (raw or roasted)
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Sliced radishes
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Mushrooms (raw or roasted)
  • Roasted eggplant
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Roasted winter squash (butternut, kabocha, delicata, acorn)
  • Beets (raw or cooked)
  • Roasted corn

4.  Add More Flavor and Texture (Choose 2-4)

avocado healthy fat for salad

To make your salad more interesting, incorporate toppings that will add different textures and flavors. Try some cheese for saltiness, nuts for a little crunch, or dried fruit for sweetness. Also, include at least one healthy fat (avocado, olives, nuts, or seeds) to make your salad more filling. The toppings you add can completely change the flavor of your salad. Try including a topping that you wouldn’t normally think to use.

  • Cheese: feta, goat cheese, blue cheese, cheddar, cojita, parmesan, fresh mozzarella
  • Fresh herbs: basil, mint, cilantro, parsley
  • Nuts: sliced almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, pine nuts
  • Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds
  • Avocado
  • Sliced olives or olive tapenade
  • Pickled red onion
  • Chopped or sliced fruit: apples, pears, berries, or citrus
  • Dried fruit: cranberries, apricots, mangoes, raisins, cherries, figs
  • Fermented food: kimchi or sauerkraut

5.  Add a Dressing

Most commercial salad dressings are filled with low-quality oils and excess amounts of salt and sugar. Making a dressing at home is simple and quick. Follow the formula below to make a healthy dressing to drizzle over your salad. If you prefer to buy bottled dressing, try to find one that has olive oil or avocado oil as the base.

A simple formula to make your own healthy salad dressing

Choose at least one ingredient from each section below. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Shake everything in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. For thicker dressings that use avocado or tahini, use a blender to mix everything and add a couple tablespoons of water if you want the consistency to be thinner.

2 parts oil or fat

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Tahini
  • Avocado

1 part acidic ingredient

  • Lemon juice, lime juice, or orange juice
  • Vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, red wine, rice wine)

Flavor enhancers

  • Minced garlic or ginger
  • Dried or fresh herbs or spices
  • Scallions
  • Dijon mustard
  • Miso paste
  • Soy sauce

Optional touch of sweetness

  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice

6.  Salad Combinations


salad with fruit

Here are some ideas for salad combinations using ingredients from the categories above.

Garden salad:

Chopped romaine lettuce +  chickpeas + shredded carrots + grape tomatoes + sliced cucumber + feta cheese + avocado + chopped scallion + orange vinegarette

Spring salad:

Arugula + baked salmon + sliced radishes + artichoke hearts + avocado + shaved parmesan + balsamic vinegarette

Summer salad:

Chopped romaine lettuce + black beans + chopped tomato + roasted corn + chopped red bell pepper + cojita cheese + avocado + cilantro lime vinegarette

Fall salad:

Baby kale + diced roasted chicken + roasted Brussels sprouts + roasted sweet potato  + pecans + crumbled blue cheese + diced apple + dried cranberries + maple balsamic vinegarette

Winter salad:

Musclun + falafel + roasted cauliflower + roasted eggplant + toasted pine nuts + sliced kalamata olives + chopped parsley + lemon tahini dressing

7.  Salad Dressing Ideas

Here are some ideas for salad dressing combinations that you can start with. Depending on how sweet or tangy you prefer your dressings to be, you may want to play around with how much acidic ingredients, sweeteners and flavor enhancers you add. One of the great things about making your own salad dressing is that you can tailor it to your tastes.

Balsamic vinaigrette:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil + ¼ tablespoons balsamic vinegar + salt and pepper + 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard +1 teaspoon minced garlic + 1 teaspoon honey

Lemon tahini:

⅓ cup tahini + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + ¼ cup lemon juice + salt and pepper + 1 teaspoon minced garlic + ½ teaspoon cumin + dash of cayenne pepper + a little water if you want it thinner (start with 1 tablespoon, add more if needed)

Orange vinegarette:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil + ¼ cup orange juice + salt and pepper + 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar + 1 teaspoon minced garlic + 2 tablespoons honey

Sesame ginger:

¼ cup toasted sesame oil + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive  oil + 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar + salt and pepper + 1 tablespoon soy sauce + 2 tablespoons grated ginger + 1 teaspoon minced garlic + 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup

Honey mustard:

½ cup avocado oil + 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar + salt and pepper + 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard + 2 tablespoon honey