Salad has been a mainstay in my diet since I was four. As a kid, I loved salad because it was a mish-mash of all my favorite veggies with yummy dressings. When properly built, salads are a fresh, delicious way to get your veggies, fruit, protein and dairy in one plate!
Greens There are lot of greens to choose from. Iceburg lettuce is crisp and cold but contains very little nutirional value. Go for dark greens, like mescaline, romaine, baby spinach or arugula. Or try a mix of different types of greens; my personal favorite is romaine, arugula and iceburg.
Veggies Just because you have a plate of greens doesn't mean you have enough vegetables. The sky is the limit. Bright strips of bell peppers, carrot, onion, peas, cucumber, tomatoes, zucchini, even cubes of baked potato are great additions to your salad. The extra fiber helps you feel full and keeps your digestive tract healthy.
Fruit Yes, fruit! Fruit adds a sweetness and tartness to salads, as well as additional fiber and nutrients. Mandarin orange segments, pears, apples, sliced strawberries or any type of small, whole berry are quick and easy to toss on top of your greens.
Cheese This isn't an occasion to break out the Brie. Hard or semi-soft cheeses are best, like cheddar, manchego, colby jack, swiss or munster. Soft cheeses, like Brie, mascarpone or goat cheese fall apart too easily. But cottage cheese - low in fat and high in protein - is a good pairing.
Protein Keep it simple and lean - save the loin of pork and brisket for your next cook out. Grilled chicken, sliced lean steak, tofu, fish, even beans work well. Protein is important to any salad because it rounds out the meal and helps you feel full.
Crunch To me, no salad is complete without a little extra crunch. Croutons are a nice once in while treat for me. Try nuts (sparingly!), seeds or whole grain crackers. Remember, these are to accent the salad, not to be the star of the show.
Dressing I don't care what type of dressing you like - ranch, red wine vinaigrette, honey mustard, Italian, whatever - serve it on the side. Drenching your salad in dressing will make your greens mushy. Instead, pour a little dressing into a small ramekin or cup and serve on the side. That you can dunk in a forkful at time.
Salad is not for vegetarians or health nuts. It should be a major part in everyone's diet. It's the perfect vehicle for delivering the nutrients necessary for you to survive and thrive!