Hey everyone! I hope you are all taking on 2019 with lots of great energy and solid goals planned out. I figured I'd start out the year with a post that may help some of you who are looking to put the holidays behind you with a bit of clean eating. I wrote up this article to share for a healthy holidays challenge at work, but thought some of you might enjoy a good salad, as well. Especially if you are joining in for Veganuary and need a little inspiration!
I know, I know, salad is rabbit food, right? I was never much of a salad fan myself until I realized how to build a filling bowl that actually satisfied my nutritional needs AND my appetite. Ditch your thoughts of boring iceburg lettuce with sad cucumbers and dry shredded carrots. Let me open the doors to the many options to make your salads pack a punch!
What’s the big deal with salads anyway? For starters, leafy greens are some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Dark leafy greens like kale, arugula, chard, spinach, and mustard greens are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They are also very low in calories, making greens an ideal food to fill up on without breaking the calorie bank. Salads also tend to be a great place to pack in other vegetables that are similarly high in nutrients and low in calories. Think of things like tomatoes, carrots, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, squash and all kinds of other great vegetables. Without even taking any of the bad stuff out of your daily dietary intake, just increasing your vegetable intake will improve your health. That’s why adding in a salad here and there to get more of those much-needed vegetables in can be so beneficial.
Of course if you only load your salads up with the lighter options, you are bound to be left feeling a bit hangry not too long afterwards, especially if you are getting in your @actifit steps or other activity. A lighter salad can be great to consume before your main meal if you want to ensure that high vegetable intake and crowd out room in your stomach for some of the higher calorie options, but if you want to use it as a full meal you need to add some key ingredients to make sure you are taking in enough calories to fuel your body and fill your belly.
Here are some of the basics to add in to your salads to ensure good health and a fully belly:
- Lots of leafy greens: mix it up week to week to try different things and get different nutrients, the darker the better! If you are not a fan of the bitter greens like arugula and cress start out with a milder base like spinach or baby kale and add just a little bit of the others until you develop a taste for them.
- Rainbow of fruits and veggies: not only do different colors have different nutrients (red for lycopene, yellow for vitamin C, orange for beta carotene…), but they also help make you feel more satisfied if you are eating from a beautiful canvas of color. Citrus or other plants high in vitamin C are especially good for salads as they not only add great flavor but the vitamin helps with the absorption of iron from the leafy greens.
- Plant-based protein: things like chickpeas, black beans, tempeh, tofu or lentils all add some solid amino acids and good calories to make a salad a meal versus a side.
- Healthy fats: nuts, seeds, avocado, or even nut butters in a dressing all add some healthy fats which not only keep you satisfied but also help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K). Just watch your quantity as traditional restaurant salads can serve up 2-3 times a normal portion size. That can especially add up if you are adding multiple options like nuts, avocado, and a creamy dressing.
- Small portion of starchy carbs: adding in a scoop of wild rice, quinoa or other whole grains or roasted sweet potatoes, beets, or winter squash can help bulk out a salad with high quality carbohydrates. These help add extra fiber and can help fill out the calorie count to make it a full meal versus a side or starter.
- Flavor-packed dressing: it is actually really simple to make your own salad dressings, or you can go with my favorite option—hummus makes a fantastic “dressing” for salad! An easy vinaigrette might just be good balsamic, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and some herbs. I love making a dressing with tahini, lemon juice, a fruity balsamic and a bit of miso. Again, you want high flavor but watch your portion. You want your dressing to taste excellent but not add a lot of empty calories that mask all of the good stuff you’ve piled in there.
Another trick I like this time of year is to make a salad that can be served warm or at room temperature when I don’t feel like a cold meal. Roasted vegetables make a fantastic addition to a salad, and things greens like mustard and chard hold up well to a little bit of heat. Personally there’s something about a warm salad that just seems to satisfy me more than a cold salad, as well. Oftentimes the warmth brings out the flavors in the dressing and the greens even more than a cold presentation. If you have trouble getting down raw greens, wilting them down a bit may make them easier to chew and then digest.
There really is no wrong combination as long as you are picking whole food, quality ingredients. You can go traditional and mix everything together, or if you enjoy a nice presentation then experiment with more of a Buddha bowl style. Play around a little bit and you might just be surprised at how filling and delicious a not-so-simple salad can be. Heartier ingredients can even hold up well to make a few bowls ahead of time to have healthy lunches all week! Putting your dressing on the side to add later can help keep the rest of the ingredients fresh.
While I know many of you may be motivated by those resolutions right now to eat anything green and healthy, unless you also make those meals taste good you'll fall off the wagon before you know it. However, if you find some rocking combinations that you really enjoy it will make it that much easier to eat healthy for a lifetime! If all else fails, just add greens to any of your regular meals and call it a day. I even put kale in my chili this week...😜🌿