“Think beyond the vegetable aisle.”
Variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to tossing together a salad — it’s easy to get into a rut if you never switch up your toppings and dressings. The good news? There’s a bounty of healthy, simple ways to add a crisp twist to your leafy lunch, and it all starts by opening up your salad-mixing mindset.
“If you think beyond the vegetable aisle, that’ll automatically make your salad more exciting,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, Los Angeles-based registered dietitian and best-selling author of The MIND Diet. “Try playing around with fruits, nuts, whole grains, and moderate amounts of lean proteins and cheese.”
Another way to make a medley of raw greens more appetizing is to assemble your salad like it’s an arts and crafts project. “We eat with our eyes and it’s part of the appeal of a dish,” Moon says. “It doesn’t always work out, but plating is fun: You’re engaging with your meal and the ingredients.”
The beauty of prepping your own salad is that there aren’t any hard and fast rules on how to do it. “You could try aiming for at least five toppings in addition to your bed of dark, leafy greens,” says Moon. As an example, that can look like two different vegetables, a fruit, and your dressing. (But no one’s stopping you from chopping up whatever you have in your fridge.) “The greater variety of plants that you’re getting,” she says, “the more likely you’ll be to meet your nutrient needs.”
Start with a leafy green base
Dark leafy greens, like Lacinato kale, collard, or mustard greens, are nutrient-dense choices for your salad base. “That means that you’re going to be getting more nutrition per bite,” explains Moon. “The dark color is a sign of phytonutrients and antioxidants.” But choosing a base is all about preference. Lighter greens, like fresh romaine and arugula, may not have as many antioxidants, but they help to keep you hydrated. “They tend to have higher water content and contribute to your hydration status, so they also offer some nourishment,” says Moon. “I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to leafy greens.”
Once your base is covered, it’s time to have fun with zesty, crunchy, and flavorful toppings. In celebration of National Nutrition Month, we’re sharing six simple ingredients that’ll spruce up your next mid-day meal.
The naturally bright green snack nut adds a crunchy texture to any salad. “Pistachios are a perfect substitute for croutons,” says Moon. “You cut out the refined carbohydrates and add in high-quality protein and fiber so it’s a nutritional upgrade all around.”
In fact, every serving of Wonderful Pistachios provides six grams of complete protein and three grams of fiber. “They’re one of the highest protein snack nuts, but they’re also a good source of dietary fiber, which Americans are not getting enough of,” says Moon.
There’s even a variety of seasoned Wonderful Pistachios — like Sweet Chili, Sea Salt and Vinegar, Honest Roasted, and Salt and Pepper — that’ll offer additional bursts of flavor to your salad, depending on what you like.
Fresh fruit isn’t always an obvious choice for salads, but it adds a juicy bite. Sweet mandarin slices not only give you a natural source of vitamin C, they also pair well in salads with strongly flavored ginger, soy, or sesame-based dressings.
The trick is to buy seedless and easy-to-peel mandarins, like Wonderful Halos, which are in season from October to May. “Halos are so easy to toss into a salad for some extra vitamin C, but they’re also a perfect match with spinach. They enhance the bioavailability of spinach’s plant-based iron,” says Moon. “It’s not always easy to absorb iron in plants because you have to help release it, and vitamin C does just that.”
If you’re always reaching for a snack post-salad, try adding a healthy grain to your bowl. “Whole grains, like barley or farro, are so underrated as salad toppings,” says Moon. “You’re adding fiber, B vitamins, and complex carbohydrates, which contribute to slowing down digestion which can help you feel fuller, longer. And because you’re adding complex carbs, which are macronutrients, whole grains help balance out the meal.”
Fresh lemon juice
Lemons are extremely versatile in the kitchen, and it’s no secret that their citrus flavor is a key ingredient in plenty of salad dressings. Whether they’re in a Vegan Pesto, Honey Dijon Lemon, or Creamy Lemon Caper dressing, lemons add zest and vitamin C to so many recipes.
“You can decrease the amount of salt or sugar you need in a dressing by adding lemon, and you’re adding something that has no fat, cholesterol, or sodium weighing it down,” says Moon. “The flavor of lemon also cuts through fat and salt, so if you have a heavier dressing, adding fresh lemon is a great way to balance it out.”
Wonderful Seedless Lemons are a game-changer when it comes to prepping salads, because you never have to worry about fishing out pesky seeds from your plate, or accidentally biting into one. “Seedless lemons make life a smidge easier,” says Moon.
Whole-pressed pomegranate juice
Whole-pressed pomegranate juice is another nutritious salad dressing base. “POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice is a little sweet and a little tart, which is in contrast to the earthy vegetables that are typically in salads, so it’s a natural salad partner and works really well in dressings.”
Whether you prefer zingy or creamy dressings (like a Honey Vinaigrette or a Soy-Ginger), pomegranate juice adds an exciting, elevated boost of flavor to any salad. Plus, the superpower fruit juice has antioxidant goodness. “To make POM Juice, whole pomegranates are whole-pressed, so you get unique polyphenols from the whole fruit, including the rind,” says Moon.
Pomegranate-infused vinegar is also a better-for-you substitute for other tart kinds of vinegar. “It’s not as bracing as apple cider vinegar, and it’s delicious,” says Moon.
“Fresh herbs and microgreens are concentrated little bundles of flavor that add a lot of interest to a salad,” says Moon. “Whether it’s chopped up or flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, basil, broccoli, or beet microgreens, they offer a lot of flavors and interesting phytonutrients in a tiny package.”
Any way you dress or top your salad, this year’s National Nutrition Month theme is “Fuel for the Future,” so it’s the perfect time to step back and assess your healthy eating habits. “What you eat today impacts the future,” says Moon, “whether it’s the collective future of our planet, or your personal future and health.”