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How to Build a Meal-Sized Salad

Rachel is a health blogger who coaches other women in diet and exercise. She has lived with chronic migraines for 16 years.

Salads Can Be Satisfying

Salad has a bad reputation for being boring. It's often thought of as a side dish, and it rarely gets the appreciation it deserves as a main course.

We've all tried eating a salad for lunch, only to be ravenously hungry 30 minutes later. Our healthy eating efforts are then dashed as we reach for a bag of chips or other quick snack to quiet our rumbling tummy. It doesn't have to be that way!

This easy-to-follow template will help you build a satisfying and tasty salad each and every time. Personally, I promote the habit of eating one salad per day. With this approach, that practice is not only feasible, but very enjoyable.

Smart Carbs

Low carb diets have been a trend for quite some time now. While limiting processed carbs (white bread, pastries, fruit-juice, etc.) is a good idea, smart carbs should definitely be part of your diet. Particularly if you're working out regularly, you need smart carbs to refuel and replenish what you're losing during workouts.

What are smart carbs? Starchy vegetables, like spinach, asparagus, and green beans are smart carbs. As are whole grains, like oats, quinoa, and brown rice. Oh, and don't forget beans!

My favorite smart carb? Definitely the sweet potato. I prefer them roasted with a little coconut oil, garlic, pepper, and rosemary.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are the key to making your salad satisfying. Foods like avocado, cheese, hummus, and dressings help your body absorb all of the fat-soluble vitamins in the salad.

Watch your portion size with the healthy fats, though. Just because they're "healthy" doesn't mean you can load on as much as you want. For an avocado, for instance, use one-quarter to one-half of the whole avocado.

Avocados are a popular salad choice, and serve as a filling, healthy fat ingredient.

Avocados are a popular salad choice, and serve as a filling, healthy fat ingredient.


Next, pick your favorite healthy protein option and load up! Your protein serving should be about the size of your palm.

For vegetarians, tempeh, hard-boiled eggs, or edamame are great options. Grilled chicken or shrimp work well for meat eaters.

Be careful not to overdo it on the seasoning for your protein. Remember, seasonings have calories, sodium, and carbs, too!


This is the part where you can really get creative with different colors and flavors. Try to include 2-3 different veggies in your salad, preferably ones that are low calorie, high fiber, and have a high water content.

  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Jicama
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions

More color = more nutrients!

Adding 2-3 colorful veggies to your salad will add a ton of nutrients!

Adding 2-3 colorful veggies to your salad will add a ton of nutrients!


Of course, we can't build a salad without the proper greens! Salads are perfect for those who tend to eat in volume. Your bowl is going to be loaded with tons of low calorie, nutrient dense greens.

The darker the greens, the more nutritious. Switch up your greens from time to time to ensure you're getting a variety of nutrients. Give these greens a try.

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Watercress
  • Romaine
  • Red or green leaf lettuce
  • Butter lettuce
  • Arugula

Principles of a Great Salad

If you’re having salad as a meal it needs to be substantial in size, and have enough calories to constitute a meal. Around 500-600 calories is a good target.

You also need the salad to be satisfying, or filling. To do this, you'll want to incorporate a good mix of macronutrients—protein, healthy fat and smart carbs—as well as a variety of flavors and textures.

You'll learn what works best for you through experimentation. Try something crunchy with something semi-sweet. If that's not your style, mix it up the next time you build a salad. The perfect combination is a little different for everyone.

Remember, salads can easily turn into an unhealthy meal if you’re not careful with the toppings. Be mindful about what you add and the portion sizes. It can be helpful to measure some of the higher calorie toppings, like cheese and nuts, just so you don’t overdo it.

This principle is especially important when eating at restaurants. Restaurants tend to serve gargantuan portions, even when it comes to salad. Sometimes, they even add crazy toppings like French fries or melted cheese, which really defeat the purpose of eating a salad!

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© 2018 Rachel Leigh