Making A Salad A True Meal

June 1, 2020

Most often when people think about a salad, they cringe because they perceive something that looks like the picture above. A sad bowl of lettuce with some protein, if they are lucky.

Salads have become the classic 'diet food' or something to eat when we are trying to 'clean up our diet.'

The salad has an unfair stereotype because they hold so much potential. In fact, I used to tell my housemate that I thought of salads as a bowl of endless possibilities.

Hear me out...

Many salads are not true meals. If they are simply leaves in a bowl with some other raw veggies, they are in no way able to keep you full or help satisfy you mentally or physically in any way. Why? Well, despite providing a great deal of vitamins, minerals and fibre, vegetables do not provide enough sustenance in order to satiate the body. As a result, we are often hungry, tired and cranky less then an hour after eating them.

We often think that by having a low calorie meal, like a leafy salad, that we will being doing ourselves a favour, but often it is quite the opposite. Meals that are lacklustre and too low in calories often create a 'wandering eye' for other foods and lead to us snacking as our energy levels crash and we remain hungry. The foods we tend to stumble upon are often ones that are highly processed, heavier in calories and not satiating and so when we thought we were cutting down on our calories, we actually probably over ate them.

So, the best way to tackle those goals is to FEED the body during our meal times with balanced, enjoyable and filling foods to stop the wandering eye and unwanted snacking.

Can a salad really be that balanced and enjoyable?

Yes, they most certainly can! Vegetable-based dishes can not only be filled with nutrients but can be  satisfying to the taste buds and filling if you chose the right components.

What are those components?

1. Carbohydrates - These are your energy-dense foods and what you body is searching for when it is hungry. Don't be fooled by the long list of low to no carbohydrate diets you are hearing about, when we deprive our body of its energy source, cravings and sugar comas are bound to happen. Everyone's specific energy needs are specific to them, so working with a Registered Dietitian can be one way to find out what would work best for you.

2. Protein - This is your filler. Protein is the most filling of the macronutrients, which consist of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, which means that it will be the thing that keeps you feeling full for longer. If you want your meal to last more than an hour, ensure it has a good dose of protein!

3. Fat - Our palates crave something with richness and so meals without a fat component to them are often leaving us wanting more. Ensure you leave the table satisfied by throwing a healthy serving of fat into all of your meals.

4. Fibre - This one is technically part of the carbohydrate family but serves a different purpose, so that is why I mention it separately. Fibre has a number of health benefits, which does also include keeping us fuller longer. Why is this? Well, fibre is slow to digest and that means that our meal will take a lot longer to move through our system and release its energy. The result of that is that hunger is kept away for a much longer time than something without fibre.

So, we need to include all of these things in our meals; that's great but how on earth do you get all of those in a salad bowl? With a bit of creativity and open-mindedness, you can come up with some fun salad options that hit all of our requirements.

Now let's build that meal salad together!

Here's a simple checklist you can use to build your perfect salad:

1. Start with your base.

The choices here are endless! You can go traditional with greens as your base:

- Spinach (iron boosting), mixed greens, arugula, romaine, iceberg, endive and kale varieties

TIP: Try to do a mix of greens. You will get more nutrition from the darker ones, but that crunch from the iceberg and romaine varieties.

Or you can start off with a carbohydrate base. Who said salads have to be leafy in nature?

-Quinoa, rice, Bulgar wheat, couscous, or buckwheat

Did you know that spinach is packed with plant-based iron and calcium.

2. Add a protein.

Leaner choices:

- Chicken or turkey breast, tuna, shrimp, lean flank steak, tofu, tempeh/seitan and even leftover turkey or chicken burgers from last nights grill.

Great for a good dose of fats:

- Salmon, hardboiled eggs and cheese

For a mixture of Carbs and Protein:

-Lentils, beans, chickpeas, edamame, bean pasta, and baked falafel.

3. Have you added a Carbohydrate?

Heartier choices:

- Any of the grain bases mentioned above are great add-ins

- Beans and legumes of any kind

- Lentils

- Roasted sweet potatoes, potatoes or squash

- Various shapes of pasta (aim for whole wheat or whole grain)


Sweeter choices:

-Fresh fruit (Tip: Pick those that are in season!)

- Small doses of dried fruits

- Roasted beets

4. Does your salad have a fat?

- Add avocado, nut oils, olive oil or tahini to a dressing

- 1/4 of an avocado adds a creamy and rich texture

- Cheeses add a salty kick

- Nuts and seeds give a crunch

- Olives, sundried tomatoes and pesto give a mediterranean vibe

5. More Fibre? If your salad doesn't have enough fibre already, here are some more tasty options:

- hemp hearts and chia seeds

- Avocado provides healthy fats yes, but also a huge boost of fibre

-Figs offer sweetness, energy and fibre all in one pretty purple add-on

- Added cooked vegetables such as sweet roasted brussel sprouts, crunchy asparagus and green beans or blacked 'fresh off the grill' vegetable kebabs

So after going through the check lists and creating your salad beast, how does it look?

Does it appeal to your taste buds?

Is it visually appetizing?

Will it be filling?

If you have all your components that a meal should for balance, that old salad that you thought was boring and dull can be an exciting experience for a meal and one that doesn't leave you looking for more. Remember, don't try to skimp on your calories by eating a lifeless and low calorie salad because chances are you will end up finding something else not so great to satisfy that need for sustenance.

So enjoy creating your own combinations and let me know what your favourite is in the comments below! If you do need some ideas, I have some great ideas below as well.

Here are some fun and creative ideas from the Dietitian Blog-O-Sphere that can inspire you no matter what nutrition lifestyle and needs you require.

Did the Easter Bunny leave you any free eggs to use up? This non-traditional salad is fun, creative and full of bold flavours and various textures.

Asparagus Salad with Eggs and Prosciutto

A vegetarian protein takes on an Asian theme in this colourful salad.

Spinach Salad with Baked Tofu and Carrot Ginger Dressing

Fire up the grill and gather all the summer must haves for this tasty and seasonal combo.

Summer Steak Salad

Don't have time to cook anything? No problem! This salad can be tossed together easily and adds a boost of flavour and new fun ingredients, like edamame, to a old classic tuna salad.

Easy Tuna Edamame Salad

Who said salads always have to be lettuce-based? This one has a surprise fibre and protein punch with the chickpea "Banzo" orzo PLUS a great Mediterranean flair.

Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad

Hope you enjoy!