One of the good things that’s come out of the recent chaos and disruption of the 2020 pandemic is that many people are becoming more health-conscious. Incorporating salads into your daily diet is undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to strengthen your immune system and start practicing healthier eating habits.
Still, one can only eat so many leafy green foods before one grows tired of salads altogether, right? If you’re looking to step up your salad game, you might want to try some of the ideas in this post.
Most salads begin with lettuce, so let’s start there
The most common type of lettuce to use in a salad is iceberg lettuce. It gets a bad rap for lacking nutrients, but it actually contains vitamins C, A and K, as well as folate, potassium and calcium. However, if you’re tired of iceberg, there are several other varieties of lettuce you can add to your salads that are both tasty and nutritionally dense. Here are just a few:
- You might like iceberg because it is crispy and has a nice crunch. A lettuce that is similar in texture but contains greater amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium is Romaine. It also has high levels of beta carotene (which we usually associate with carrots) and vitamin K.
- Butter lettuce can add lots of flavor to your salads. It is less crunch than Romaine, but its buttery, rich flavor is delicious. It’s also a great source of vitamin A, iron and calcium.
- Arugula looks similar to dandelion greens (which we’ll talk about later in this post). It definitely has a more pungent flavor that other lettuces. If you find its flavor a bit too peppery to use it as the sole lettuce base in your salads, you can mix in small amounts with other types of lettuce. One of the greatest nutrient benefits of arugula is that it contains dietary nitrate, which boosts athletic performance.
As I mentioned, you need not limit your salads to one type of lettuce at a time. If your goal is to transform an ordinary salad into an extraordinary, healthy meal, try mixing several types of lettuce together!
Additional greens can also add flavor and nutrients to your salads
If you’ve been following my posts on The Hot Mess Press for a while now, you may have read some of the articles I’ve shared on foraging foods. While caution is indeed necessary to avoid eating anything toxic, there are a multitude of foods growing wild outside your door that can boost the health factor in your salads. The following list includes a sampling of greens that may be foraged, as well as greens you can grow (or buy) to add color, texture, flavor and nutrition to your next salad meal:
- Dandelion greens are a food you can likely find in abundance around your house every spring. (Just make sure you harvest from an area you know is never sprayed with chemical weed killers.) Do you know that one cup of dandelion greens contains approximately three times as much calcium as the same amount of spinach? You can eat the flowers, too!
- If you grow radishes in your garden, do you discard the leaves like most people do? Well, guess what? You can treat them like a potent herb and use them in salads! The greens of radishes have more than five times the nutrients than the root bulbs of the plant do!
- Swiss chard is not only packed full of vitamins K and A, it is beautiful to look at, as well. You can chop the leaves and stems to sprinkle throughout your salads, adding texture, color, flavor and nutrients.
- Kale is a power-house green that is rich in antioxidants. Just one cup contains more than 133% of the recommended daily intake for a healthy diet. Side note: If you’ve never made your own kale chips, you’ve got to try it! It’s a super easy way to make a healthy snack that tastes amazing!
Spinach, watercress and mache are additional greens that help turn plain old salads into something more!
Salad toppings can make all the difference
The key to a great salad is in the toppings. You can make a good-enough, tasty dish out of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, for sure. BUT — you can make it so much more with these toppings:
- Sunflower seeds are basically brain food. You can buy them at the store or grow a field a sunflowers to roast your own seeds. I highly recommend the latter because you’ll be amazed at how much more flavor homegrown seeds have! Sprinkle generously on your salads.
- Other nuts and seeds add texture, flavor and nutrients to a salad as well, such as walnuts, slivered almonds, pomegranates or chia seeds.
- Golden raisins can satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Cranberries, blueberries and strawberries are loaded with vitamin C. Berries turn a basic salad into a colorful work of art!
- If you want your salad to be a main meal, you can add protein by topping it with cubes of seasoned chicken breast or strips of steak.
- You can also use seafood, such as tuna, crab meat or shrimp to turn ordinary salads into something special!
- Salted avocado is quite possibly one of my most favorite foods on the planet. You want an amazing salad? Top it off with some of this!
- Mandarin oranges, sliced grapes, hard-boiled eggs, or cubes or shreds of feta, pepper jack or other cheeses add a special touch to an ordinary salad.
Be careful of the dressings you choose. There’s not much point in creating a healthy salad, then dumping unhealthy dressing all over it. Check out these easy-to-make recipes for healthier salad dressings!
A strong immune system is the single most important factor to good health. By incorporating salads into your diet, you can give your immune system a great gift. And, when you start stepping up your salad game and getting a little more creative, you’ll be surprised at how filling and satisfying a salad can be!