Create a Salad Strategy

Anyone on a plant-based diet eats a lot of salad. And for good reason! It’s a quick and easy way to get in some greens and put dinner on the table. But if salad plays a major role in your mealtime rotation, it pays to keep in mind that as tasty as lettuce is, it’s mostly water. While there’s nothing wrong with that, if you’re trying to pack in as many nutrients as possible, it pays to swap lettuce for something a little more…well…nutritious.

The good news is that your old, tried-and-true salad formula still works just fine. The trick is swapping that lettuce for something with more substance. While this might mean taking a little more time than popping open a package of greens or washing a head of lettuce, the payoff is a meal that is more nutritionally balanced and often more flavorful.

Stay Green
If you can’t imagine salad without greens, this is the option for you. Simply trade lettuce for other, more substantial greens. Lacinato kale is a favorite, but there are plenty of other options. Mustard greens are peppery and sharp and loaded with nutrients. Collard greens and Swiss chard can be treated just like kale and win out over spinach when it comes to antioxidants. In general, the darker the green, the better.

But even with a turbocharged green salad, you still need protein and some fat to give your salad serious staying power. Load that salad up with filling tidbits like chopped avocado, cooked beans, and chia or hemp seeds for extra nutrition and flavor.

Eat A Rainbow
One simple strategy for more nutritious salads is to follow ROYGBIV to your dinner. Think of your salad in terms of color. In general, the more color you can get into your diet, the better, so with a salad that contains all the hues of the rainbow you almost can’t go wrong. Select one item from each of the colors in the chart below for an eye-opening, mind-blowing, tastebud-tickling rainbow salad. Top your salad with your favorite dressing (for even more color, go for Hilary’s Beet Vinaigrette or Tomato Kalamata Dressing).

Red Orange Yellow Green Blue, Indigo, Violet
Roasted cherry tomatoes Roasted butternut squash Roasted golden beets Broccoli Roasted or boiled blue or purple potatoes
Roasted or shredded raw red beets Shredded carrots Yellow cherry tomatoes Blanched green beans Purple carrots
Grilled red bell pepper strips Orange or tangerine segments Yellow carrots, cut into matchsticks Sliced green apple Blueberries
Shredded red cabbage Roasted sweet potatoes Roasted summer squash Avocado

Roasted cubed eggplant

Great Grains
Vegetables aren’t the only things that belong in salad. Grain salads are perfect for those days when you’ve overloaded on greens and can’t bear to de-stem one more kale leaf. It’s a little something different for your salad repertoire. Quinoa is the obvious choice for salad grains. It stays a little crunchy after being cooked and has a dry, fluffy texture. Or go with millet for something a little different. Even rice can be a good base for a salad. For something a little more interesting, go with forbidden rice or wild rice.

Part of what makes grain salads so appealing is that, because the grains provide the bulk of the salad, you’re free to embellish it with whatever you have. It’s the clean-out-the-crisper approach to salad, which is perfect for those times when you haven’t been able to get to the grocery store and the fridge is looking a little bare.

Veggie Roast
Roasted vegetables to the rescue, again! While roasted veggies are usually relegated to being a side dish, they can easily be the focal point of a meal. This is another one of those “use what you have” salads. Almost any vegetable can be roasted, from dense root vegetables like parsnips, sweet potatoes, and beets, to quick-cooking vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus. Roasting concentrates the flavors of any vegetable, turning them into even better, more flavorful versions of themselves.

Combine several different types of vegetables for a multi-veggie salad, or stick to one thing. If desired, throw in a few handfuls of flavorful greens like arugula, add something for crunch and protein, like pumpkin or hemp seeds, and drizzle on your favorite dressing. Creamy dressings, like Hilary’s Ranch Chia or Remoulade pair nicely with roasted vegetables. If you really need something sustaining, combine roasted vegetables with a grain like quinoa.

The hope is that now, when you hear the word “salad,” visions of lettuce aren’t the only things dancing in your head. A salad can be whatever you want it to be, including whatever you happen to have in your crisper and pantry. The resulting salads will be so beautiful, delicious, and wholesome, your entire family will join the clean plate club.