Let’s start your week off right with some creative alternatives for your healthy meals!
But first, I’m going to shoot straight with you: I have always been an admitted salad hater. I grew up hearing people around me order salads at restaurants as a “healthy substitute” for a big meal, like dinner…something to just help them to lose weight, a la dressing on the side. Now these were just your basic, bare-boned salads with a hint of protein: lettuce, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, shaved carrots, and a light vinaigrette (kept on the side to portion your calories properly, of course). Because I was surrounded by these kinds of salad-eaters, something within me ignited a deep hatred for the salad; so much so that nothing infuriated me more than hearing someone order a salad and I began to mock the salad eaters, vowing to never become one of them.
Now bear with me…I’m a little older and more mature and open-minded in my views now. I understand the reasons why I disdained the substitute-a-meal-with-a-salad eaters and have decided to approach it with the mindset of: “Hey-whatever floats your boat, but it’s just personally not my cup of tea.” It still didn’t make me enjoy eating salads or feel like they could fill me up and fuel my active lifestyle and felt like they should be left to the rabbits to munch on. That was, until I discovered what kind of salad could work for me and my needs.
Those who know me well would tell you that I can take anything from a refrigerator-even things that usually don’t mix well together-and throw it together to create some kind of a hodgepodge of a meal and be thrilled with it; they would also say that I can throw anything together over two handfuls of lettuce and call it a salad. I like to think that I’m just creative and easy-going in that regard. I’ve learned to find what I need from food (protein, veggies, fresh fruits, vitamins, a crunch, etc.) and experiment with hearty meals and snacks to complement my diet for the day and always keep me feeling strong and moving.
And so, for today’s Sunday Snacks edition I’d like to do something different: instead of giving you a new recipe to try out, I’d like to share with you some of my all-time favorite salad toppers, broken down into categories to get your own creative juices flowing. Maybe you are a basic salad hater like me or maybe you’re just looking for something new and different to spice up those boring greens…either way I hope this short list adds color and creativity to your meal prep life!
Please note that I am not writing this post with the knowledge and authority of a nutritionist. I am simply sharing my personal opinions and experiences with playful salad toppers that keep me fueled and happy. For a full disclosure statement regarding what Meg in the Meantime’s purpose is and my personal qualifications, please check out my About Me section or, just consider the image below. 🙂
Meg’s favorite salad toppers to mix up those plain greens:
- Meats/Fish: I love meat so almost every salad I made will incorporate a major portion of protein like steak tips, tuna, salmon, etc. Obviously chicken falls into this category, as well but I try to avoid going the basic route of grilled chicken when you can be so much more creative with your pairings when you use something like a steak or tuna. Steaks are great and juicy and, when combined with the right kind of cheese sprinkled on top, will make you forget you even have greens underneath! Tuna is a great, creamy salad topper and-when mixed with a lite Mayo or Greek yogurt-does not really call for a salad dressing to go with it.
- Fruits: Both fresh and dried fruits can add a sweetness to your salad that can combat the blandness of your basic greens, as well as add a nice, succulent crunch to each bite. Think: apples, pears, grapes, dried cranberries (Craisins) pomegranate seeds, avocado (I just learned that it’s considered a fruit, at its core), etc. You can dice some of these fruits up into little cubes or shave them off into long, thin slices–both will give a nice color and texture to your salad!
- Veggies: When building your salads, vegetables can give you the most bang for your buck in terms of flavor, fiber, vitamins, and crunch. Besides the obviously carrot topping, versatile veggies like corn, sugar snap peas, and beets are some of my favorites to throw onto a salad and usually pair nicely with most cheeses and meats. Diced beets have become a newfound favorite of mine last year when I searching for something to serve as a good anti-inflammator, but you can read more about the amazing health benefits of beets here.
- Cheeses: Of course cheese are not the most healthy addition to salads, but when used proportionately it can add great flavor and serve as a rich source of necessary calcium to your meal. Some of my favorite non-traditional cheeses to put on salads are goat cheese, brie, and feta-depending on what your main protein pairing is. As you can tell, I prefer less crumbly cheese and more creamy/spreadable cheese because it helps fight the urge to drown my greens in a creamy, fatty salad dressing.
- Nuts: There’s no better way to incorporate protein-while doubling your crunch factor-than by adding nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and pistachios, to your salad. While rich in healthy fats, nuts are meant to be more of a light salad topper-whether crushed up and sprinkled, shaved down for an added textural element, or broken up to really add a crunch-so make sure to use sparingly and beware of those drenched in salts, sugars, and glazes.
- Alternative dressings: Let’s face it-a dressing can either make or break your salad, but it’s usually the thing we pile on the most when trying to drown out those greens, like lettuce and kale. Some healthier alternatives from store-bought salad dressings are Greek Yogurt (yes, me again promoting Greek Yogurt) or a DIY light vinaigrette. My personal favorite DIY salad dressing recipes come from Michelle via her blog, Sunshine & Superfoods–definitely check it out if you’re interested in saving some money and making your own creative dressings. You can also always play it simple and add strong flavor (with minimal calories) to your salad by using the juice from a lemon or lime.
While salads are still a symbol of a healthy meal, I’ve come to realize that you have to bring your own personality to the table to really make salad eating more of a willing habit than a dreadful, desperate attempt at cutting calories…keeping in mind the moderation of toppings to still consume a health-conscious meal. But that’s just my opinion–what’s yours? Again, I’m no nutritionist or salad-expert, just a former hater who’s opening up her heart and stomach to the idea of incorporating more salads in her life so I would love to hear your thoughts on my funky salad topping choices, as well as some of your own! Comment below or Tweet at me: @meggielukes.
In the meantime, today is Memorial Day-how are you spending it? I like to consider national holidays, such as this one, a day to not only reflect and be grateful for those who served our country and fought for our freedoms and rights, but also a time to spend in solitude being grateful for the freedom that our bodies entitle us to: to move about, run around, and explore. Today, I’ll be going for a quick 3 miler to stay on track with my 10k training and to relish in all things that running has given to me that I am forever grateful for.
Until Wednesday, wishing you wellness!