5 Steps to Building the Perfect Super Lunch Salad

Fresh salad bowl with shrimp, tomato, avocado
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Making your own salad can be a great way to boost the nutrition and flavor in your day. Use these tips to make a healthy, filling and flavorful salad for lunch.

Start with a Strong Base

Instead of iceberg lettuce, start with a strong base of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, spring mix or romaine lettuce. Or, better yet, mix varieties in one bowl. I love mixing a little bit of spinach with romaine.

Pile on the Veggies

Carrots and tomatoes are standard salad toppers, but there's no reason to stop there. Tweet this Add cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, chopped broccoli, shaved Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and radishes. One of my favorite ways to enjoy veggies in salads is to chop everything into bite-sized pieces so that each bite contains a combination of flavors and textures.

Don't Forget Protein

If you are having your salad as a meal, it's important to include protein for a satisfying, filling and nutritionally balanced meal. Get creative: grilled chicken, thinly sliced steak, fresh fish, canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs and tofu all add great flavors and protein. Beans and legumes — such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils and edamame — are great protein sources for salads, too. When adding protein to a salad, a good rule of thumb is to aim for three ounces of lean protein per serving. How much is three ounces? It could be an average-sized chicken breast, one large scoop of tuna, or about ½ cup cooked beans or legumes. Combinations of different proteins work well, too! For example, try half of a chicken breast combined with ¼ cup beans.

Include Healthy Fats

Healthy fats help you feel full longer, which is important if you are trying to avoid additional snacking after meals. Studies also show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fat can help lower blood pressure and may help control blood sugar levels, which is extremely helpful in people with Type 2 diabetes. Healthy fats are good for hair and skin, too! Add healthy fats found in foods such as diced avocado, nuts, seeds and olives.

Go Light on the Dressing

Many store-bought salad dressings can be heavy on calories and contain added sugars — not to mention expensive. Instead, make your own simple, healthy and cheap vinaigrette using the recipe below. But no matter what dressing you choose, limit the amount you use by dipping your fork into the dressing first, and then into your salad. You'll ensure each bite has the dressing flavor, but you'll use much less than if you simply poured it on.

Super-Simple Lemon Vinaigrette Tweet this

Recipe by Brynn McDowell, RD


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place all ingredients in a jar or bowl. Shake or whisk together until well blended.

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Brynn McDowell
Brynn McDowell, RD, is a dietitian based in Livermore, CA, and owner of The Domestic Dietitian. She blogs at www.thedomesticdietitian.com where she focuses on helping people create a healthy lifestyle in their homes. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.