Making salad may seem like a no-brainer: Throw some vegetables in a bowl with dressing and you’re done. This is true, but learning how to make salad that tastes great, is healthy, fills you up, and saves you time takes a bit more skill.

After reading this comprehensive guide to making salad*, you’ll have everything you need to put salad on your table.

Here at The Salad Lobby we love salad for many reasons. Salad is beautiful, nutritious, and good for the planet. Humans need a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, and salad is a wonderful way to deliver important nutrients to your body in a delicious, easy way. (If you need more convincing on why you should eat salad, check out our Manifesto.)

So how do you make salad you really want to eat?

Are you salad-ready?

You might want to eat more salad because your doctor or loved one advised you to eat more vegetables. Or perhaps you seek to eat more salad because you think you should, but you don’t know where to start. Maybe you want your family to start eating healthier meals and you’re looking to cut costs and time.

Whatever your reasons, if you’re here to learn how to make salad because you need to make a change in your diet, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re interested in starting with a couple salads a week, or getting ideas on how to make salad for work lunches, or how to make salad that keeps you full, this guide is for you. Our instructions, tips, resources and steps on how to make salad will have you leading a more salad-centric life in no time.

Don’t be intimidated. It’s just salad. We’ll start with the basics and add some advanced tips and tools throughout.

How to make salad - Quinoa Salad with Herbs

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First things first: What is salad?

Before we go into the intricacies of how to make the best salad, it’s important to discuss what salad really is. This answer seems fairly obvious to us, but many people have different definitions of what salad is and what components make a salad a salad.

The Salad Lobby maintains that true salad is vegetable-based, usually with a base of some type of leafy green. This could be a

  • tossed salad;
  • green salad;
  • chopped salad,;
  • composed salad; or
  • simple green salad.

Pasta, grain, potato, and bean salads are types of salad that have starch as the base.

Salads with mayonnaise like potato, tuna, or macaroni salad are sometimes called deli-salads to differentiate them from vegetable-based salads.

Fruit salad mostly consists of chopped fruit, in case that wasn’t obvious.

How to make salad - Salad Bar Salad

Those pesky unhealthy salads

What does healthy really mean, anyway?

“Healthy” is a loaded word these days. Nutrition experts, foodies, clean-eating enthusiasts, and fitness fanatics across the internet have very different definitions of what they think healthy means.

There’s even been some debate lately about whether salad is healthy or unhealthy. The argument tends to be that restaurant salads or grab-and-go salads may seem like a healthy salad option, but in reality are chock full of added sugars, fat, and calories. The conclusion: salads are a scam to make people think they’re getting something healthy when they’re really not.

This is bad logic. Just because some restaurants dupe their customers into buying something that looks to be healthy but is not does not mean salad in an of itself is unhealthy or will “make you fat.”

How to make your salads healthy salads

The Salad Lobby promotes salad’s place at the table.

But we are not going to tell you to run out to your favorite deli and buy a quart of macaroni salad and call it good.

Why?

Because, plain and simple, that’s not the type of salad we’re talking about.

Even though it’s called salad, macaroni salad is not going to help you meet your daily serving of vegetables. It’s not going to give you the quality nutrients you need. And it’s not going to improve your diet. Don’t get us wrong, macaroni salad can be delicious and we support everything in moderation. But it’s just not the type of salad we are promoting here.

How to make salad - Superpower Salad

Focus on plant-based foods

So, what kind of salad are we talking about?

We promote simple salads that are centered around vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. (Nope, we don’t mean whole grain macaroni. But nice try).

You may find a little fruit every now and then, maybe a sprinkle of cheese here and there, and toppings such as nuts and croutons, but vegetables reign.

Vegetables are perfect nutrition delivery systems, evolved to provide us with edible sunshine, water, and soil.

If you’re concerned about how to make a salad that’s healthy, you are pretty safe with piling as many greens, vegetables, and fruits on your salad as you want.

The ingredients you should moderate are toppings such as nuts and cheese, protein, and dressing.

We tend to make not only vegetarian salads but vegan salads as well, so we don’t add cheese very often. Try just a light sprinkle of feta or a small handful of Parmesan or cheddar.

Instead of cheese, we recommend adding nuts. Nuts are very nutritious but, due to their high calorie and fat content, we recommend limiting them to 1-2 tablespoons per salad.

A little flavor goes a long way.

Our salads don’t include meat as a protein, because we focus on dishes that are better for the health of people as well as the health of the planet. If meat is an essential part of your diet, you can add meat to any of our salad recipes.

How to make salad - Warm Brown Rice Salad

Rethink your dressing and toppings

It’s easy to go overboard with dressing, especially if you are not used to eating a lot of vegetables. Your salad should taste like a salad and the vegetables in it, not just of oil and vinegar (or, God forbid, mayonnaise).

Dousing your salad in too much dressing can be a difficult habit to break. Rather than pouring an unknown amount from a bottle, start with a small amount, such as a tablespoon. Taste-test your salad and add small amounts until you’re satisfied.

Vegetables are not high in sodium. If you watch sodium levels in your diet, pay close attention to topping like cheese, nuts, croutons and store-bought dressings. Making your own toppings and dressing can ensure you keep sodium levels at a minimum.

How to make salad - Quinoa Salad with Herbs

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Equipment

One of the many beautiful aspects of salad is that it doesn’t take a lot of equipment to make. You’re not going to have to invest in hundreds of dollars’ worth of pots and pans. You technically don’t even need a kitchen to make healthy salads. You certainly don’t have to go out and buy a whole new set of kitchen tools to start making salad.

But a few pieces of equipment will help you get going.

Before you start looking up salad recipes and planning your life around all the salads you will make, it’s a good idea to assess your equipment needs by taking stock of your kitchen tools.

The basic tools are a good knife and a cutting board.

Then you need something to put the salad in. Depending on your needs that could be a large salad bowl, serving bowls or plates.

For serving, you’ll need tongs.

If you are planning to take your salad to go, perhaps you’ll need some quality storage containers.

Knives

If there’s one kitchen tool we recommend not skimping on, it’s a chef’s knife. A high-quality kitchen knife is the one tool you may want to invest in if you foresee a lot of salad in your future. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but a high quality knife in the $50-$100 range will make chopping vegetables not only a cinch but a joy.

Trust us—the feeling of using an excellent, sharp knife after years of using subpar knives is the cooking equivalent of flying first-class for the first time (which we unfortunately don’t know from experience, but can imagine).

If you don’t have a good knife as part of your kitchen toolbox, start with a chef’s or a santoku knife. A santoku knife is like a cross between a chef’s knife and a cleaver. Many home cooks like santoku knives for their versatility.

We also recommend getting a honing tool to sharpen your knives. Use this grooved metal rod with a handle once a week to keep your knives sharp between professional sharpenings.

There are some excellent resources out there for how to hone your knives. Most companies will say if you hone your knives regularly, you can wait get them professionally sharpened about every 1-2 years. This varies from knife to knife so be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations for whatever knife you decide to purchase.

Check out top selling chef’s knives »

Cutting board

A good quality cutting surface is another must-have for homemade salad prep. There are a lot of options as far as materials go, but the consensus is that wood is best.

We recommend a large wood chopping block that fits on your counter top and can stay in one place, ready to use when salad making strikes your fancy.

Which, after mastering this guide, will be constantly.

A lot of home cooks like plastic and silicone mats because they are lightweight and flexible. However, some studies have shown that plastic and silicone cutting boards are actually less safe than wooden cutting boards as far as keeping harmful bacteria at bay.

See top selling wood cutting boards »

Salad prep bowls

It’s not totally necessary to have a large salad bowl, as long as you have individual serving bowls or plates. However, if you want to make tossed salad, you need some large receptacle in which to toss salad with dressing.

It’s also much easier to serve salad from a large serving vessel for families or groups, or to take to potlucks and picnics.

We have a set of nesting mixing bowls; we use the large bowl for making tossed salads. Mixing bowls, especially a set that nests into one another, are useful because they store easily in the cupboard. You can use the smaller bowls to serve optional ingredients such as cheese or nuts. They also make great bowls for making other non-salad recipes, if you’re into that sort of thing. (We’re joking. Of course you’re not.)

Check out top selling salad prep bowls »

Farro Salad

Salad tongs

Like with salad prep bowls, you can make an excellent salad without a set of tongs—any larger utensil would work just fine. But if you are making large tossed salads for your family, or a group, a good set of tongs is your best friend.

Tongs can range from artfully crafted to basic utilitarian, from separate to attached, from small to large. Figure out what your needs are and choose accordingly.

Browse top selling salad tongs »

At this point, you have everything you need for the main components of your salad:

  • a good knife to chop ingredients with,
  • a board to chop them on,
  • a vessel to put them in, and
  • and tool for tossing and serving.

You’re almost ready to serve, except for one of the most important ingredients of salad: dressing.

Dressing tools

There are a couple of items that can make preparing and storing dressing a bit easier.

We love small Mason jars for a variety of uses such as storing herbs and spices, low-brow wine glasses, tea light holders, and for preparing delicious salad dressing.

Whoa, you might be thinking, I thought you were going to recommend some fancy dressing bottle. Au contraire. Sometimes the simplest tool is the best. Mason jars not only help you measure the dressing ingredients, but the tight-fitting lids are perfect for mixing dressing by hand and storing in the fridge.

Some dressing recipes may suggest a whisk and small bowl. This is where your nesting bowls come in handy. Look for a smaller whisk so your dressing doesn’t splash out all over the counter.

Look for top selling whisks »

Serving platter or bowl

Through careful calculation we have confirmed that there are a million and a half different types of salad, and about a billion ways to serve salad.

Only you can determine how to make salad and how to serve salad based on needs and preferences.

Trying to get your family to eat more salad? A long platter can showcase the bounteous ingredients of a lovingly composed or layered salad.

Check out top selling serving platters »

Are you trying to win over a potential love partner with salad? Try a beautifully, hand-crafted salad bowl and some artistic serving plates.

Eating yummy salad alone on your couch while binge watching The Mind of a Chef? Jazz it up with a special, personal salad bowl of your own.

See top selling serving bowls »

We won’t list all million and a half options, but you get the idea.

How to make salad - Crunchy Apple Turnip Slaw Ingredients Organized Neatly

Storage containers

Meal prep salads, or make-ahead salads, is another level of salad-making science. If you want to start making salads for future meals, the right storage containers will make all the difference.

For green salads, you want a storage container that’s large enough. For most greens salads with delicate greens (basically anything other than kale), have some small containers on hand to take your dressing separately and dress the salad when you’re ready to eat it.

Bean, grain, and pasta salads may fit into smaller containers.

You may want to have enough containers on hand for 3-5 days worth of salad.

There are a ton of options out there, but we love glass containers with snap lids for their durability and versatility. If you choose plastic, look for BPA-free options.

Explore top selling storage containers »

How to make salad

Advanced tools

Advanced tools are not necessary for making even the best salad. But they can make your life a little easier if you prepare lots of tasty salads. And they are quite helpful for leading a salad-centric life.

It’s important to start your salad-making adventure with washed greens that are not soaked with extra water. A salad spinner is a nifty device that includes an inner colander, outer bowl, and lid that spins the colander inside the bowl to spin off excess water from lettuce and greens.

Browse top selling salad spinners »

A food processors are electric appliances that can be used to chop, dice, blend, and shred food in seconds. They are excellent tools for preparing large quantities of vegetables for salads, or for making perfectly blended dressings.

Discover top selling food processors »

Many home-cooks like to use a mandolin slicer for, you guessed it, slicing vegetables. Mandolins have a flat surface on which you slice vegetables against a very sharp blade. Different attachments provide different sizes of cut, and some allow your to julienne (cut vegetables into small, thin pieces the size of matchsticks) or shred. We love them for slicing vegetables thin for different textures within salad.

Check out top selling mandolin slicers »

We use our electric pressure cooker often when making salad. It is helpful in cooking large batches of grains and beans for salad in a fraction of the stove top time. This is definitely a very advanced tool. We don’t recommend using an electric pressure cooker for the salad-making novice unless you think you’ll use it regularly.

See top selling electric pressure cookers »

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What to put in your salad: The ingredients galore

Becoming comfortable with how to make salad starts with becoming comfortable with a variety of vegetables.

Most, but not all salads include greens and chopped vegetables.

Fruit salads are made of fruit, obviously, but some vegetable salads also include a little fruit.

It’s also fun, delicious, and nutritious to add toppings to your salad.

And then there’s dressing, the ingredient that brings everything together.

How to make salad - Superpower Salad

Greens

Greens are the foundation of most salads.

Greens typically come in the form of lettuce. There are many different varieties of lettuce, the most common being iceberg, romaine, and red and green lettuces, which are not very strong in flavor.

Iceberg lettuce has received a bad rap recently but is actually not that bad for you. Iceberg can be a great lettuce to mix with spinach (if you’re learning to like raw spinach) as a way to balance texture and flavor.

Romaine is a classic in Cesar salad because its grooved surface catches the dressing and cheese. It’s a fabulous choice for green salads that stands up well in chopped salads too.

Green leaf and red leaf have curly, broad leaves and are a bit more delicate. Both are excellent choices for any basic vegetable salads.

Finally, butter lettuces have small leaves and an exquisite soft texture.

If you’re ready to get a little more adventurous and nutritious with your greens, check out the leafy greens section of your produce department. Spinach is one of the most nutritious greens on the planet (just ask Popeye). Spinach by the bunch is cheaper but requires a little more labor to clean. Baby spinach sold loose or in bags is an easier route, and the small leaves have a pleasant taste.

Kale has become trendy for salad and there are a lot of easy salad recipes available. Lacinato kale, sometimes called Tuscan or dinosaur kale, is a great variety with a softer texture. Curly leaf kales do well in salad too, especially if tossed with dressing ahead of time and let to sit for a few minutes. You can also tame kale’s rough texture by massaging the leaves gently in olive oil, or letting the salad marinate in dressing overnight.

Arugula has a nutty, spicy taste and has become symbolic of all things healthy and snooty. We still love it, though we were surprised to hear it’s not nutritionally impressive compared to other greens.

Swiss chard and collard greens have a strong taste and can be a little too much by themselves in salads. If you’re a beginner and want to try adding these heartier greens to your salad, use smaller, younger leaves that are a bit more tender, or try mixing them chopped with a milder lettuce such as romaine.

Pre-mixed salad greens such as spring mix or mesclun mix are usually available in the produce section in bulk or bagged. This is a great way to get a mix of greens and eliminate prep time, though you should note that they can go bad quickly. Be use to use up your bulk or bagged greens in a couple of days.

If you’re ready to get radical with your salad, experiment with greens like radicchio (chicory), endive, or watercress. Toss in a little mizuna or tatsoi if you’re feeling fancy.

Vegetables and fruits

We could write an entire book just on the types of vegetables and fruits that can go in salad.

One approach to simplify your salad-making, particularly if you are a newbie to salads, is to go with what’s familiar and what’s in season (a good way to do this is by subscribing to a CSA. Experiment with combining fruits like berries and vegetables like tomatoes in your summer salad, for instance. Make garden salads and use what is growing in your backyard.

Aim to get all the colors of the rainbow for maximum nutrition. Here are some ideas:

  • Red: tomato, beet, red pepper, radish, red berries
  • Orange: carrots, sweet potatoes, orange bell pepper, citrus fruit
  • Yellow: corn, yellow bell pepper, summer squash
  • Green: cucumber, celery, broccoli, green cabbage, kohlrabi, green onions
  • Blue/purple: blueberries, purple cabbage, eggplant
  • White: cauliflower, daikon radish, jicama

Think about texture when planning your salad recipe. Use a balance of hearty vegetables, such as carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli with softer vegetables such as peppers, cucumbers, corn, or even cooked sweet potatoes.

You can always shred or cook certain vegetables to change the texture. For example, beets are pretty tough when raw but excellent shredded, blanched, or roasted.

While technically not vegetables, mushrooms are highly nutritious, delicious raw or cooked, and can add excellent texture to your salad.

How to make salad - Roasted Root Salad

Protein

While your salad should be centered around vegetables, adding protein is important if you want your salad to be more filling and especially if you are making a meal salad.

What kinds of protein you use in your salad depends on your preferences. We, of course, prefer plant-based sources.

Meat (if you must)

If you are regular meat eater and the thought of not eating meat for every meal is like someone canceling your birthday, many salads go well with meat. Think of all the Chicken Cesar Salads on menus across the world. (Actually, don’t. It hurts.)

But remember, just because you’ve done something your entire life, doesn’t mean you always have to do it. There’s actual research (like, for real scientific studies) that show plant-based diets are not only better for people’s health, but for the health of our planet too. Adopting a salad-centric life is one way to reduce dependency on the industrial meat complex and enjoy food that’s kinder to your body and the Earth.

So, if not meat, then what?

We sometimes use fish in small amounts in our salads, but we’re very careful about the source and not eating too much. Overfishing is not good for our lakes, rivers, and oceans. What’s more, environmental pollution means some fish can be high in mercury, which is not great for your body. We try to buy locally, sustainable sources of fish and seafood, and stay away from fish that’s shipped halfway across the world.

Eggs, with conditions

Same with eggs.

Most egg farming is done on an industrial scale in the US. Industrial egg production is not great for the environment and especially not for the chickens producing the eggs.

When using eggs in salad, try to find eggs from small farms that let their chickens roam around enough and don’t use antibiotics, or from your own backyard chickens.

Beans and grains: The ideal protein

If you’re wondering how to make salad with plant-based sources protein, try adding beans and grains. They are excellent sources of plant-based protein, they’re inexpensive, and also contain a lot of fiber.

Add half cup of black beans, garbanzo beans, or lentils to your salad, along with a half cup of brown rice or quinoa. Soybeans, such as edamame, are a rare source of complete, plant-based protein.

How to make salad - Ways to make the most of your CSA

Tofu

Which brings us to tofu. Before you run away screaming, let us just say that tofu is a nutritious source of protein that people in Asia have been eating it for centuries. So it can’t be that bad.

Try marinating and baking tofu before you write it off as a tasteless hunk of nothing. Marinated tofu soaks up a ton of flavor and baking it in the oven for about 30 minutes makes the texture just right.

Dressing

Dressing, the ingredient that ties salad together, can make or break your salad.

Too much dressing and your salad turns into a vinegar-heavy, calorie-laden slop. Too little dressing and you’re left wondering what’s so great about a pile of vegetables.

And here’s salad’s biggest, most scandalous secret: store-bought dressings don’t taste very good.

We would venture to guess that a lot of people don’t like salad because they’ve only made salad with the over-processed stuff that comes out of what looks like a syrup bottle. But, hey, we’re just a tad biased.

The most common type of dressing we use is vinaigrette, which combines oil, vinegar or another acid like lemon juice, an emulsifier. An emulsifier is an ingredient that helps the oil and acid combine to form a dressing that coats your salad. Egg yolk in Cesar salad dressing is a good example. Mustard or honey work really well.

If you’re a creamy salad dressing enthusiast and you just can’t give up your ranch, we hear you. A good ranch dressing is just plain delicious. These are also better homemade, and not hard to make. Try substituting Greek yogurt for mayonnaise or sour cream to make a healthier dressing. Use fresh-chopped herbs for better flavor. Experiment with nut butters and tahini.

How to make salad - Tahini Dressing

Toppings

Once you have your greens, veggies, fruits, and dressing you could stop there.

But why?

Toppings can add texture as well as extra nutrients to your salad. Toasted walnuts, almonds, or pistachios are a delicious addition to salad. Olives add a nice briney taste to your salad. Try some chopped, fresh herbs. Croutons are particularly popular, though again, we recommend making your own.

Some people like to add tortilla chips or strips to a Southwestern salad. Or toasted coconut to Thai or Indonesian-inspired salad.

There are many possibilities. Whatever your toppings, use them in moderation since they can add extra fat, sugar, calories, and sodium.

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How to make salad: Putting it all together

You’ve dusted off you best kitchen knife and cutting board and done your grocery shopping. Maybe you have a few salad recipes bookmarked.

Now for the fun part!

It’s time to actually make salad.

Wash your salad

Start with washing your greens, vegetables, and fruit in clean, cold water.

With lettuce and greens, separate the leaves and rinse and dry using a salad spinner or let drain in a colander.

A lot of prepared greens such as bagged baby spinach or spring salad mix are already washed. You can give them another wash if you’d like, but make sure to dry these delicate greens well before serving. Another trick is to spread the greens out on a paper towel or tea towel and let sit and dry for 30 minutes.

Wash your vegetables well to remove dirt, making sure to scrub root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes (you can also peel them, see below). You can also use a vegetable wash.

Many chefs and vegetable experts will say not to wash mushrooms, as water makes fungi slimy. We have found this to be true and prefer to wipe our mushrooms with a cloth or a special mushroom brush. If you insist on washing mushrooms, just be sure to dry them as best you can and eat them right away.

Chop it, chop it good

Now it’s time to practice your knife skills.

If you’re a novice, the internet is full of how-to chopping videos. Watch a few and learn how to chop like a pro. You’ll save yourself time (and fingers).

How you chop your salad ingredients depends largely on the type of salad you are preparing, and on the texture of the salad you’re going for.

For your average green salad, lettuce and greens should be bite sized. You can use a knife to chop greens into bite sized pieces or hand-tear them, which some people prefer.

Other vegetables should be chopped to give them the appropriate texture in the salad.

A few tips for chopping vegetables to create the perfect balance of texture and flavor:

  • Hard vegetables are hard to chew and if you have a lot of them, eating your salad can be more of a chore. Dice carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and other firmer vegetables into smaller pieces for better texture.
  • Slice strong-tasting vegetables, such as onions and radishes, into thin slices rather than large chunks so they don’t overpower your salad.
  • Unlike hard vegetables, tender vegetables, such as ripe tomatoes and avocado, may go better in your salad in larger chunks.
  • You may want to shred some of your vegetables rather than chopping or dicing them. Beets, carrots, cabbage, and daikon radish are excellent shredded and make the flavor pop. Use a box grater or a food processor.
  • A julienne is an advanced method of chopping that involves cutting vegetables into matchstick-sized pieces. We love to julienne carrots, cucumber, and apples in our salad. You can do this easily with a knife, a julienne peeler, or with some mandolin slicers.

How to make salad - Roasted Root Salad

Making killer dressing

Making your own salad dressing, such as a vinaigrette salad dressing, is easier than you think. This is how you can make salad dressing in minutes:

  1. Start with a small mason jar with a lid.
  2. Pour in your favorite oil and vinegar (or citrus juice) at room temperature. The key is getting the right ratio of oil and acid; a 3-to-1 oil to acid ratio seems to work best for most dressing recipes. For the oil, you can use a combination of a neutral oil, such as grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil with a stronger tasting oil, such as olive, walnut, avocado, or sesame oil.
  3. Add a teaspoon of mustard or honey, which will help the oil and vinegar bind and stick better to your other salad ingredients.
  4. Now this is the fun part. Experiment with different herbs, spices, chopped garlic, lemon zest, soy sauce, Sriracha, chipotle pepper, smoked salt… Seriously, you can get really crazy with salad dressing flavors. It’s OK. Go wild.

If you want to go the super minimalist route, try drizzling a little oil and vinegar on your salad and season with salt and pepper. We recommend a high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil and and aged balsamic vinegar, such as Napa Valley Naturals barrel-aged balsamic vinegar. Yes, it’s a little pricey for a vinegar, but it’s so concentrated you only need a small amount, so the bottle lasts a while.

Browse La Tourangelle oils »

How to make salad - Yogurt Mint Dressing

Presentation

You’ve washed your greens, chopped your veggie, and made your dressing.

Now it’s magic time!

Serving salad

You have options for how you want to present and serve your salad.

  • Tossed salad. We typically prefer to toss our salad in dressing prior to serving so the vegetables and greens are well-coated. We find we use less dressing this way, too.
  • Composed salad. Composed salads are a different animal (vegetable?) altogether. To serve a composed salad, start with a bed of greens, top with small piles or rows of vegetables and other ingredients, and serve with dressing on the side.
  • Layered salad. Layered salads are like composed salads, but with ingredients in layers.

You may want to leave certain ingredients, such as raw onions, nuts, or cheese, on the side in small bowls at the table for your fellow salad eaters who may have allergies or dislikes.

Use your beautiful salad bowl and tongs for presentation, and provide small bowls or plates for side salads and large enough plates for meal salads.

Storing salad

A general rule with storing salad is to never store salad with delicate greens that has been tossed in dressing. Your greens will become a soggy glop by the next day. Soggy glop is not salad!

If you are making a tossed salad and think you may end up with leftovers, set aside some of the salad in a food storage container (preferably glass) before you dress it.

Chopped salads without delicate greens and salads made with hearty greens can withstand being stored with dressing for a couple of days.

How to make salad

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Making salad for a meal

Side salads are a great addition to lunch or dinner time and an excellent way to ease into becoming a regular salad eater.

But if you want to lead a more salad-centric life, you should consider making salad your meal. Yes, you heard us correctly. Just salad for dinner. And lunch. If you want to get really crazy, try salad for breakfast too.

Ultimately, the only trick to making a dinner salad or a lunch salad that’s big enough for a meal is making sure it’s filling enough to last you until the next time you eat, whether that be snack or meal.

This means making a salad that has an ample amount to protein, fiber, and some fat. Use the tips above for adding proteins to your salad. Protein is digested more slowly, and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Same with fat that you can get from avocados, nuts, and olive oil in your dressing. Fiber from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains also fills you up.

Learning how to make salad with a balanced combination of all three is the key to making salad central to your meal time.

A perfect meal salad

Here’s a measurement guide to making an entirely plant-based salad that’s fit for a meal:

  • 2 cups loosely packed greens
  • 1 ½ cup of chopped vegetables
  • ½ cup of cooked beans or tofu
  • ½ cup of cooked grains
  • 1 tablespoon of nuts
  • 2 tablespoons of dressing

That’s four cups of food, with enough fiber, protein, and fat to keep you satisfied for hours.

Don’t believe us. Try it. If you’re still hungry after this giant salad—we’re pretty sure you won’t be—add another ½ cup of beans and another ounce of nuts.

Salad: Food for less

Here’s the beauty of salad. Any other meal of this size would likely be more than 1,000 calories. The same amount of pad thai? A whopping 1,500 calories. Four cups of lasagna? You’re looking at 1,600 calories.

Let’s break down the calories amounts for a typical salad we make in The Salad Lobby’s kitchen using the measurements above.

  • 2 cups spinach = 12 calories
  • ¼ cup chopped carrots = 13 calories
  • ¼ cup chopped red cabbage = 7 calories
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes = 18 calories
  • ½ cup chopped cucumber = 10 calories
  • ½ cup cooked edamame = 100 calories
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa = 111 calories
  • 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds = 51 calories
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette = 150 calories

This entire meal is just 472 calories!

Salad is definitely a great choice if you’re trying to cut calories, lose weight, or just get more plant-based foods into your diet. We encourage you to start out by having salad as a main course at least once a week.

How to make salad - Farro Salad

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Make-ahead salads

Make-ahead healthy salad recipes are all the rage these days for people who are trying to improve their diets and eat more plant-based foods.

If you’re changing your diet, it makes sense to make meal time as easy as possible, especially if you work a day job.

Most of the best salad recipes can be made ahead of time for a grab-and-go lunch, easing the transition to a salad-centric life.

Here are some tips for how to make salad ahead of time:

  • Store pre-made salads for up to 3 days for maximum freshness. We like to do prep on Sundays and Wednesdays so we’re not eating five-day-old salad on Friday.
  • Hearty, firm vegetables do best in make-ahead salads. Some ingredients, like tomatoes and avocados, can get mushy or brown after a couple of days. You can add them when you are ready to eat the salad for maximum freshness and texture.
  • Store dressing in a separate container, especially if you are using delicate greens. You can buy small dressing containers or, if you have a place to store it, bring a large container of dressing to work to use all week.
  • Make sure your greens are fully dry before preparing your salads to avoid premature rot. Invest in some larger food storage containers with good, tight lids, such as glass containers with locking lids, to make great salads large enough for a meal.

Because we liked to add cooked grains, beans, and roasted vegetables to our salads, we usually set aside an hour to prep salads for lunches during the week. But we make enough for our mid-week salad prep, which only takes about 30 minutes.

That’s an hour and a half for 10 meals (there’s two of us), some extra money in the bank since we don’t have to eat out, and at least one plant-based meal we can rely on every day.

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Go forth, make salad!

You now have all the resources you need to make delicious, nutritious salads for sides, meals, lunches to go, or just hanging out watching your favorite show.

You may have noticed we are really excited about salad! It’s because we think salad is a perfect meal; salad provides lots of nutrients, which is better for our bodies, and uses fewer resources to make, which is better for the planet.

Whether you seek to make a change in your diet or just have more creative options for dinner or lunch, we hope this guide will get you on your way creating beautiful, colorful, amazing salads.

Let us know your thoughts or additional tips in the comments.

Go forth, make and eat salad!

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9 Responses

  1. Erin (Platings and Pairings)

    This is by far the most comprehensive guide to making a salad that I have EVER seen – and the recipes at the end look amazing! Can’t wait to check out more of your great salad and dressing recipes!

    Reply
    • Lindsay

      Thanks for reading, Erin! It was a lot of work – hopefully it’s helpful to readers.

      Reply
  2. Michele

    After HATING salad as a kid (iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing, no wonder huh?), I love them as an adult. In fact I’m eating a huge one for lunch as I read your guide. With the warmer weather kicking in and plenty more salads in the near future, your guide is a helpful reminder to use my mandolin and make my own dressings. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Lindsay

      I think a lot of people hate salad because of bad childhood salads. My parents bought this terrible low fat dressing that tasted horrible. When I started making my own dressings it changed everything!

      Reply
  3. Melissa Chee

    WOW – what a great post – such a good point realizing salads don’t just have to be what we typically think of!

    Reply
    • Lindsay

      It’s always good to use what you have in your fridge too. When I’m in a rut I look to switching up proteins in salads or adding fund new toppings.

      Reply
  4. Jen

    Your photos are beautiful! What a great how-to guide. I want breakfast salad!

    Pro tip we learned from farmers to keep bagged lettuce fresh: keep plenty of air in the bag and shake the leaves around now and then. And fresh spinach can be a pain to clean, but it’s so much tastier than pre-bagged. We double wash it in a water bath, rinse gently, spin, and lay it in thin layers on tea towels and roll up the towels, and it lasts much longer. Time consuming but worth it!

    Reply

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