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Sally has salad on my mind a lot these days. At my local grocery’s salad bar, I’ve been inconspicuously eyeing the creations of my fellow bowl-building enthusiasts. Tuna salad, garlic-sauteed spinach, cumin-spiced carrots and…balsamic vinaigrette?” Wonderful options in isolation but in combination, I can’t help but think, “he’s going to eat that?” If only the salad bar came with a road map.

With ever-escalating rates of weight-related chronic conditions, the advice, “eat more plants” has become a health imperative. Yet according to a 2015 CDC report, only 1 in 10 Americans get the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The CDC suggests strategies such as making fresh produce more accessible to consumers at work, schools, hospitals, and retail markets.  

Salad bars seem like an obvious answer and they are everywhere these days.  But common perceptions about salads (boring! not delicious! hungry in an hour!) and overwhelm with ingredient choice often discourage those who could benefit from them most. Are they really helping those who need them?  What if consumers were offered guided options created by trained chefs or armed with more information on how to combine ingredients to build healthy and appealing plates?  Would they opt in more often? Salads can deliver on quickness, affordability, and convenience – but can a nutritious salad also be fit for a foodie, or the veggie averse?

As a long time salad lover, I’ve got 6 simple steps to building a bowl you’ll love that will put it on permanent rotation in your weekly menu.   

Step 1: Keep it simple. Browse your ingredient options, pick a theme (e.g. Asian, Mexican) and go with it!  A salad suffers when too many bold ingredients compete to be the star.

Step 2: Choose deep greens as a base.  Move over iceberg, the darker the better!  

Options like kale and peppery arugula offer depth of flavor and immune boosting, cell protecting antioxidants. Compared with iceberg, kale contains 4x the vitamin A and beta carotene, 10x the vitamin C,  2x the fiber and 2x the calcium making it a far superior choice! Sweet ingredients (e.g. roasted beets) and umami (e.g. a little parmesan) can help offset the bitterness of these greens.  

Step 3: Pick your (lean) protein: Typically mild in flavor, they go well with just about any ingredients. Proteins also help stabilize blood sugars and slow digestion for lasting energy and fullness.

Step 4: Choose from the rainbow: Veggies are nutritional, antioxidant-rich superstars and will make your bowl look beautiful. Pick at least 3 vibrant colors (hint: roasted veggies will jazz up any salad instantly!). Add more fiber, with its endless benefits, with sweet potatoes or wheat berries.

Step 5:  Incorporate crunch.  A variety of textures is key, but crunchy nuts and seeds add interest, not to mention loads of heart healthy oils, fiber and protein upping the salads satiety factor.  

Step 6:  Dress it up (later).  Don’t fear the fat!  It’s the solution to the hungry-in-an-hour-salad, but overdressing will ruin your masterpiece. Choose a savory vinaigrette, lower in sugar with heart healthy olive oil but enjoy more flavor in every bite by keeping it on the side and adding in slowly.. I prefer to keep it simple with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper letting the other ingredients take center stage.  

What do I love? My favorite salad of all time is: Arugula with seared salmon (salt, pepper, garlic), roasted garlic & rosemary sweet potatoes, cucumber, roasted beets, shaved brussels sprouts and toasted sunflower seeds, simply dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.