Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Q: Do you have a favorite meal that you rely on—something that is quick to fix, requires little effort, is healthy, and tastes good?
Particularly during the hot summer season, my go-to meal is, without a doubt, a main-course salad. It’s so simple to fix that I encourage you to make it your staple meal too.
I’m not talking about a boring bowl of iceberg lettuce with dressing poured on it. Instead, you can quickly combine assorted greens, chopped vegetables, cooked meat or seafood pieces, cheese, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and dressing in an almost endless variety of tasty mixtures. Plus, you can have fun doing it—and create a well-balanced meal at a fraction of the price of buying a take-out or restaurant salad! If you plan ahead by having meat or fish leftovers or by buying appropriate ready-to-use ingredients for the type of salad you want to make, you can often prepare the salad in as little as 5 minutes.
A main-dish salad is fast food that doesn’t require any cooking. It’s also healthy food that provides a nice mix of slow-burning carbs, protein, and fat that promotes steady blood sugar and energy levels. When you change up items from different food groups, each combination of ingredients provides a wide array of vitamins and minerals that promote health.
To create a super salad, my best advice is to follow your intuition to creatively pull together ingredients—including leftovers—in salad form. You also can use this guide to 12 basic types of salads for ideas. Try to buy the appropriate ingredients ahead of time, but don’t worry if you don’t have all of them. Half the fun is trying different ingredients and substitutions. Just by using whatever you have on hand, you can make a healthy and delicious salad anytime.
All-Time Favorite Salads
While these are some of the most popular salads in American, they aren’t necessarily the best for you. Packed with cheese, meats, and thick dressings, these salads tend to be very heavy, especially in the summertime. When you make them at home, make them lighter by limiting processed meats, using minimal amounts of cheese, adding extra greens or other vegetables, and thinning out dressings with olive oil and/or lemon juice.
Chef Salad—This is an American salad consisting of hard-boiled eggs; one or more varieties of meat, such as ham and turkey; Swiss or cheddar cheese; cucumbers; tomatoes; and lettuce. To prepare this salad in a pinch, try ready-to-use, organic deli meat.
Cobb Salad—This salad usually includes grilled chicken, a healthier choice than deli meat. Cobb salads often include hard-boiled eggs, avocado, bacon bits, and crumbled blue cheese—making them very rich. Summerize your Cobb by cutting back on some of the ingredients, or eliminating them altogether. And toss your homemade Cobb with a vinaigrette—the avocado and cheese already make the salad plenty rich and creamy.
Caesar Salad—This salad is typically made with chopped romaine, croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese, and usually topped with chicken to make a main-course meal. To cut the calorie count: ditch the croutons, use cheese sparingly, and thin out the Caesar dressing.
The following salads are a little off the beaten path, but they’re easy to make and provide unique flavors and hard-to-get nutrients.
Spinach Salad—This salad uses spinach as its base instead of lettuce. The heavier version includes hard-boiled eggs and bacon, but you can skip the bacon and add fresh berries, nuts, and goat cheese for a lighter, summery version.
Salad Niçoise—This traditional salad originated in the French city of Nice. It’s usually made with hard-boiled eggs, tuna or anchovies, Niçoise olives, tomatoes, and sometimes cooked green beans and potatoes, all dressed with a vinaigrette. If you have leftover cooked green beans or potatoes, salad greens, and packaged tuna, this is an easy salad to throw together.
Arugula Salad—To add some excitement to your salad repertoire, branch out from spinach, romaine, or mixed spring greens, and try peppery, spicy arugula. It forms a nice bed of greens for savory-sweet combos of ingredients, such as grilled steak with peaches, or roasted salmon with strawberries. Pull the salad together by tossing everything with a balsamic or lemon vinaigrette.
If you have a favorite kind of cuisine, or if you’re just looking to vary your menu, try creating flavor combinations that make you feel like you’ve traveled around the world. Here are three ideas.
Asian Salad—Combine greens with finely sliced Napa cabbage, sesame seeds or roasted cashews, chicken pieces, diced carrots, and a dressing made with ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and tamari sauce or coconut aminos.
Greek Salad—This tried-and-true combination of romaine lettuce, red onion, cucumber, tomato, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese is dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, or with an olive oil-based vinaigrette. For a main dish salad, top with cooked shrimp or lamb pieces.
Mexican Salad—Give a south-of the-border flavor to salad by topping greens with salsa, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, cooked pieces of beef or chicken, pinto or black beans, chopped avocado, cilantro, organic corn chip pieces, and lime juice and olive oil.
Salads with Fresh Fruit
Seasonal fruits are one of the best benefits of summer, so why not enjoy them in your salads? Add small pieces of sweet, succulent fruits to regular salads to quickly turn them into mouth-watering summertime treats!
Summer Greens and Peach Salad—Combine a variety of lettuces, or simply use Bibb lettuce alone, and top with chopped ripe nectarines or peeled peaches, thinly sliced carrots, roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and chicken pieces or hard-boiled egg slices. Toss with a balsamic vinaigrette or a lemon vinaigrette.
Strawberry Spinach Salad—For a light, refreshing summertime meal, go very berry in your creations. On top of spinach greens, place sliced fresh strawberries and your choice of chicken pieces, chopped avocado, and feta or goat cheese. Then dress with balsamic or lemon vinaigrette. Change up the flavor by using fresh raspberries instead of strawberries and add chopped mango if desired.
Arugula, Cherry, and Goat Cheese Salad—For this seasonal treat, halve and pit fresh cherries and add these pieces of sweetness on top of baby arugula with lightly toasted, chopped pistachios or almonds, goat cheese, and crumbled hard-boiled egg. Toss with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Healthy Bottled Salad Dressings That Can Help You
It doesn’t take much time to make most salad dressings from scratch. But let’s face it: sometimes we just want dressings all made up for us and ready to use!
To make salad preparation even quicker than usual when you’re on the run, keep a few bottled salad dressings on hand. Look for products that have a short list of clean ingredients, and avoid those that contain sugar or vegetable oils, such as soybean, cottonseed, canola, and corn oil. Look instead for dressings made with heart-healthy monounsaturated-rich avocado oil, olive oil, or high-oleic sunflower oil. Peruse the following and choose the ones that sound good to you!
Bolthouse Farms Organic dressings—Made with organic, non-GMO, gluten-free ingredients, some of which are organic dairy-based, these dressings come in a variety of flavors including Organic Creamy Caesar, Organic Signature Blue Cheese, and Organic Lemon Basil Vinaigrette.
Bragg—This company offers four types of USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified gluten-free dressings that are on the sweet side because they contain small amounts of honey or apple juice concentrate. Popular varieties include Vinaigrette and Ginger & Sesame, both of which are made with organic extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, and Coconut Liquid Aminos.
Chosen Foods—Chosen Foods produces non-GMO, gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and canola-free dressings made with avocado oil. Varieties include Ranch, Caesar, Lemon Garlic, and Apple Cider Vinegar.
Cindy’s Kitchen—The choices are almost endless when it comes to these clean dressings. Everything is made with organic, non-GMO ingredients, and if you are following a special diet, there are sugar-free, oil-free, low-sodium, dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan options. Popular flavors include Asiago & Cracked Peppercorn, Avocado Vinaigrette, Almond Sesame Ginger, and Lemon & Shallot Vinaigrette.
Hak’s Organic Dressing Singles—Hak’s sells convenient single-serving packets of gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and canola-free organic salad dressings that are made with organic extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil combined with sunflower oil. Flavors offered include Organic Olive Oil & Lemon; Balsamic; Spicy Thai; and Sesame Ginger.
Primal Kitchen—Primal Kitchen produces 15 varieties of Paleo-diet- compliant salad dressings made with avocado oil. Flavors include Ranch, Green Goddess, Caesar, Sesame Ginger, Thousand Island, and Cilantro Lime.
Sir Kensington’s—Using simple, non-GMO ingredients, this company makes four types of dairy-free Ranch, three of which are made with high-oleic sunflower oil, and one that is made with avocado oil.
Tessemae’s—This food manufacturer offers 17 types of dressings made with high-oleic sunflower oil, 10 of which are organic. They include three types of Organic Ranch, plus Organic Caesar,
Green Goddess, and Lemon Garlic.