Salads don’t have to be a basic and boring diet food. You can add so many different textures (roasted, raw, steamed veggies) and flavor balance (sweet, salty, bitter, umami, sour) to make salads more fun and flavorful!
How to Build a Powerhouse Salad
Let’s take back the power of salads. They no longer need to be a staple diet food. Salads are a great way to give you both immediate and sustained energy. The protein, carbs, healthy fats, and plant micronutrients are what our bodies crave, from our brains and muscles, down to cellular health – we need plants!
Textures change it from a side dish to a meal that provides you mental and physical energy, satiety, and satisfaction. When creating your salad, remember to add as much texture as you can to not only make it more interesting, but more satisfying as well. Even the same food – think broccoli – can have different textures if roasted, raw, steamed, ect.
Having flavor balance is really helpful in making healthy food more exciting. It can also help reduce that sugar craving many people face after meals. Incorporating flavor balance (umami, sour, salty, sweet, even bitter) is key to providing satisfaction and reducing cravings.
All the salads below have a recommended dressing to pair with. Feel free to choose your own – even it’s a basic balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Of course, you don’t need to make your own dressing, but if you’ve ever made some, you know that it’s totally worth making – they taste so much better than bottled dressing! And you get to control the ingredients that go in.
While making dressing you might come across some problems:
If it’s too sweet: add a pinch of salt, soy sauce, or something savory
If too salty: add a little honey, maple syrup, fruit juice, or just make it into a larger batch (without adding salt)
If too acidic: add something basic to neutralize it – avocado, oil, peanut butter, tahini
If it doesn’t have enough flavor: add in some salt and pepper, minced shallots, garlic, lemon, or even cheese
While making dressing allows you make your own creation, it’s helpful to have a little science understanding to avoid kitchen fails. The traditional formula for dressings is 1 part acid (vinegar or lemon juice or a combo) to 2-3 parts oil and sea salt or kosher salt (table salt can leave an aftertaste according to some).
Lemon does seem to lose it’s punch – so it’s best to not make a big batch if using lemon. You can also add in a little sweeteners, even minced shallot, to help round out the sharpness of the acid. Adding in mustard, Dijon, or garlic can help emulsify the dressing as the oil and acid will naturally separate – at least emulsify long enough to pour on your salad! About 1 tsp per tbsp. of acid is good! Garlic’s flavor tends to get more pungent as time goes on, so go light if you plan on keeping it for the week.
My favorite tool
I recently got the Utopia Kitchen Mezzaluna Chopper and Knife Double Blade* and I. AM. OBSESSED. And it’s only $7.99.
It’s seriously so nice to eat a salad when cut up in bite-sized pieces. My jaw thanks whoever gave me this recommendation awhile back, even though it took me months to order. It’s incredible how much more enjoyable eating salad could be when chopped. I love that it doesn’t take long to use either, just a few cuts and you’re done!
*The link provided is an Amazon affiliate link.
One of my favorite ways to meal prep is by putting together a few salads in jars that I can just dump and eat throughout the week. Here are some techniques:
- Be sure to use a wide-mouthed mason jar. You can use a regular one, but it’s easier to put the ingredients in (and take out of) a wide-mouthed jar.
- Pint or quart-sized mason jars are the most chosen size for salads. If you are wanting more of a “side”, choose the pint. If you want the salad to be the main part of your meal, choose the quart (2x the size of a pint).
- You can shake the salad and eat in from the jar, or the more popular/easier way is to dump it in a bowl. Dumping in a bowl allows the dressing to better coat the veggies.
Layering your Salad
- Layer one – Salad dressing (traditional dressing, salsa, hummus, olive oil & balsamic vinegar), about 2-3 tablespoons. This is the most important step if you don’t want soggy greens. You can also just add the dressing when you decide to eat the salad.
- Layer two – Hard veggies (carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, bell peppers, celery, onion).
- Layer three – Soft veggies or fruit (green onion, zucchini noodles, tomatoes, mushrooms, strawberries).
- *Layer four – Greens (lettuce, kale, spinach, etc). Be sure they’re chopped or pulled apart to bite-sized pieces to make things easier. You can also throw in some fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, basil).
- *Layer five – Protein (nuts, cheese, shredded beef, pulled pork, shredded chicken, tofu.)
*If you like your salads super fresh, wait and throw in layers 4 & 5 on the day you want to eat your salad.
Now on to the salads…
Benefit Bowl – Fiber Packed
This salad is packed with fiber to help prevent constipation, promote natural excretion of toxins, lower cholesterol, and feel fuller. Plus all the micronutrients are linked to reduced risk of disease. This salad provides 26g fiber. Daily recommendations are 25-30g per day, and most adults average only 15g fiber per day – only meeting half the daily recommendation. Be sure to drink water with this one! And maybe ease into the below serving size.
Benefit Bowl Ingredients
- 1 cup kale, chopped
- 1 cup spinach, chopped
- ½ cup black beans
- 1 cup chopped broccoli
- 1 medium apple
- ½ avocado
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp dijon
A quick note on apple cider vinegar…
While acetic acid in vinegar (all vinegars, not just ACV), has been shown to boost metabolism, it’s only by 1-2 calories – which is unlikely to result in any meaningful change. Acetic acid can partially block digestion of starches, somewhat blunting the blood sugar spike, but people who are taking diabetic medication should check with their doctor before having consistent consumption of ACV.
ACV won’t purify your blood or eliminate toxins. It’s basically fermented fruit juice. To reduce toxins in your body, reduce excessive alcohol consumption, first and second-hand smoke exposure, and reduce items placed on the body with unnecessary/excessive ingredients, like phthalates, parabens, ect.
The low pH in vinegar may cause the lower esophageal sphincter to close more tightly, blocking acid leaking up into the esophagus, allowing a little relief from heartburn or even stomach pains after a large meal. Also, the live microorganisms from the fermentation may help us maintain a healthy microbiome. So while it is tasty, and may be beneficial, it’s not a cure-all and should be diluted to reduce tooth enamel erosion and possible esophageal damage. Too much may also cause low potassium levels, so keep it to 1-2 tbsp in 8oz water.
Energy Bowl – Quick and Sustainable Energy
Sustainable energy is important. When aiming for energy, it’s important to look at macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, other phytonutrients).
It’s important to reiterate, we should focus on overall diet and whole food versus keying in on specific nutrients from specific foods.
Carbs: Sweet potatoes not just for the micronutrients but because it’s a healthy source of dense carbs to provide quick energy. There are also carbs in all the veggies!
Fat: the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in the dressing is filled with monounsaturated fats that help keep you filling full for a longer time between meals.
Protein: While all the salads in this post are animal-free, adding a salmon fillet would be a great addition to this salad for even more energy. Adding salmon would not only help us feel full while eating, but to give us sustained energy to get you to your next meal. Salmon also provides omega 3’s, which help build up the mitrochondria’s protective membrane. More on mitochondria in the next paragraph. Mitochondria break down fatty acids (and carbs) to create ATP (energy) and poor nutrition can diminish ATP production and overall health – one reason why good nutrition is important!
Now on to more of the micronutrition: Mitochondrial health is important in energy. Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of the cell. They act like a digestive system that takes in nutrients, breaks them down, and creates energy-rich molecules for the cell.
I wanted to highlight each ingredient listed, but know that each ingredient is so much more than just the highlighted nutrient!
Spinach – Magnesium
Most people aren’t deficient through a healthy, balanced diet. So this salad fits in perfect with a balanced, healthy diet! Magnesium helps our cells create energy (ATP). Some athletes can benefit from intentionally consuming magnesium from food due to higher risks of deficiency, especially if they have a normally low dietary variety and dietary restrictions.
Kale – Sulfur
Most of our sulfur intake comes from cruciferous veggies and other fibrous veggies and it’s a primary source of antioxidants for the mitochondria.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Antioxidants
Antioxidants, including CoQ10 are building blocks of mitochondria. Again, not something most people need to worry about, but fun to know how you get some of the important nutrients in a balanced diet!
Pumpkin Seeds – Zinc
Zinc provides anti-inflammatory properties and is abundant in pumpkin seeds.
Nutritional Yeast – B Vitamins
These yellow flakes offer a cheesy-like flavor and are somewhat easy to find in the bulk section of a grocery store or in the “health section”.
Energy Bowl Ingredients
- 1 cup Spinach, chopped
- 1 cup Kale, chopped
- 1 cup Sweet potato, roasted
- 1/4 cup Pumpkin seeds
- Optional: 2 tbsp Nutritional yeast
- Optional: Grilled Salmon
- Balsamic vinegar
- Optional: Minced garlic or garlic powder
Refresh Bowl – Rehydrate your Cells
Did you know we get a big portion of our daily water intake from food? And even better, veggies and fruits are usually around 85-90% water (some up to 95%)! This salad is perfect in helping you stay hydrated and promoting healthy cellular function.
Refresh Bowl Ingredients
- 1 cup Spinach, chopped
- ½ cup chopped cucumber
- 1 cup strawberries, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped red onion
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1lb Tofu, drained, pressed, cubed
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp pineapple juice
- ½ inch fresh piece fresh ginger, peeled
To prepare the tofu: drain water and place paper towels or a clean dishcloth around tofu on a plate. Cover with more paper towels or another clean dishcloth and soak up as much water as you can. Add another plate on top, and weigh it down with whatever you have. Then cube the tofu. Pour the marinade into a food storage container or plastic bag. Add cubed and drained tofu and mix around so it’s covered with marinade. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. When the tofu is done marinating, remove the tofu and place in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping each piece half way through the cooking time.
Recharge Bowl – Packed with “Superfoods“
Before we go further, lets talk about superfoods. There is no set criteria or definition for “superfood”. The term is often used as a marketing ploy. No one food, even a “superfood”, can offer all the nutrition we need to nourish ourselves. While this is true, there are some foods that stand out, as they are nutritional powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other phytonutrients associated with reduced risk for cancers, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions as well as disease management.
Ever tried chocolate on a salad? The dressing below is one of my new favorites!!
Sweet Recharge Ingredients
- Dark leafy green
- Acai or goji berries
- ¼ cup dark chocolate (I used 85%)
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1.5 teaspoon honey
- salt & pepper
Power Bowl – Higher Protein
I am not vegetarian, but I love plant-based meals and plant protein. This is one of my favorite salad meals that provides my recommended amount of protein, carbs, and fat per meal for a general healthy diet.
Power Bowl Ingredients
- 2 cup spinach
- 1 cup chopped broccoli
- ¼ cup lentils
- ¼ cup chickpeas
- 2 tbsp hemp hearts
- 1oz almonds
All the above without dressing: 25g of protein (and 37g carbs, 16g fiber, and 25g fat) – overall a perfectly balanced meal! To keep fat at the 25g mark, use salsa for dressing!
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper (to taste)
Place the mustard, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Gradually add the oil while whisking. Whisk until the dressing is emulsified. Save extra for additional salad-in-a-jar meals!
The word “detox” has been taken by the diet industry and used to sell expensive pills and other concoctions that ultimately are best at “detoxing” your wallet. But the root of detoxing comes from the very real and innate processes your body does every day.
The first thing I recommend to people who want to detox their body, is to reduce the amount of toxins that goes into their body (alcohol, excess parabens and phalates in products put on the skin, second-hand smoke, other pollutants and so on) and get in more of the things that help our body do its work – like veggies.
While we are bombarded with toxins, our body’s own detoxification systems are great at handling them – constantly working hard to eliminating toxins before they cause damage.
The liver is the most powerful organ against toxins. Our livers filter our blood and deactivate toxins (including ones from additives or even medications) and send them to the kidney or intestines, while also shuttling nutrients into your bloodstream.
The kidneys are kind of like quality assurance for our blood stream, filtering and excreting natural waste material (like broken down compounds from muscle and protein metabolism), as well as excess fluid, medications, bacteria, and other chemicals through our urine.
Our gastrointestinal system is also a powerful defense against toxins. Your colon is charged with both digesting food and eliminating toxins by excrement (aka POOP!)
Even our respiratory system helps to detox us by producing mucus which can be coughed out, as well as expelling CO2 and other waste gases when your breathe out.
Our skin is our largest organ and it plays a very important role in toxin elimination. Sweating helps in the elimination of certain toxins (some heavy metals, phthalates, etc.) and overall, our skin is our first line of defense from toxins.
The lymphatic system’s main purpose is to pull out toxins from the blood and carries the waste to be processed and removed.
While our body’s own detoxification system is powerful, it’s likely under considerable pressure. Chronic stress can reduce detox because of energy and focus being in the survival mode and less priority on detoxification. When you take care and support your organs, you protect yourself from toxins – and the best way is to eat and drink well.
Long story short: WE DON’T NEED TO GO ON A JUICE DETOX TO SUPPORT DETOXIFICATION IN OUR BODY. Our body does an awesome job detoxing and is supported by nutritious food! Certain foods and compounds within them support the body’s wonderful and innate detox processes along with providing other positive benefits. “Detox” has become a massive buzzword used to sell many products and unnecessary services. Remember, the best and safest way to detox is to eat real, healthy foods and to manage products we place on our skin. Also, any vegetables (as long as you’re not allergic or sensitive) aids in supporting your natural detox processes.
The ingredients is this salad were chosen because of high levels of powerful plant chemicals, called phytonutrients which support healthy, normal detoxification.
*Note, the picture is missing avocados!
Detox Bowl Ingredients
- Beets, raw
- 1/2 cup EVOO
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- ½ inch ginger (or to taste)
- 1.5 cloves minced garlic (or to taste)
- Salt and pepper
Instructions: Place all ingredients in a blender and mix well. Blend for 30 seconds, or until desired consistency is reached. Feel free to adjust seasonings as necessary.