4 Steps to Build a Healthy Salad

Pack more nutrition into your day with a colorful, nutrient-dense, and healthy salad. We all know we need to eat more healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables and a salad is a perfect way to accomplish this. Keeping basic ingredients on hand at home make for a quick addition to any meal or an easy lunch to pack for school or work. You can also encourage kids to eat more vegetables by setting out ingredients to make their own salad creations!

Assemble your salad by selecting one or more ingredient from the groups listed below. The number of items chosen and the amounts may vary, depending on whether the salad is eaten as the main dish or a side dish to go with a meal.

Step One: Build Your Base

Select one of more of these leafy green vegetables as the base of your salad.

  • Arugula
  • Boston Bibb lettuce
  • Escarole
  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Kale
  • Mixed greens
  • Napa cabbage
  • Riddichio
  • Romaine
  • Spinach

Step Two: Boost the Nutrients with Extra Vegetables and Fruit

Adding extra vegetables to a salad helps add to the texture and flavor, as well as boost the nutrients. Be creative by chopping, dicing, shredding, or slicing a variety of colorful veggies, such as:

  • Artichoke hearts
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Snap or snow peas
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Fruits may also work well in salads and add a little sweetness to the combination.

  • Apples
  • Fresh berries (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries)
  • Dried cherries (watch for added sugar)
  • Grapes
  • Mandarin Oranges
  • Melon
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Raisins

Step Three: Consider Adding a Protein to Make it a Main Dish

Adding some type of protein food to your salad can make it a hearty main course.

Cooked Meat, Poultry, and Seafood:

Beef, Chicken, Ham, Hardboiled Egg, Salmon, Shrimp, Tuna, Turkey

Vegetarian Options:

Black beans, Chickpeas, Edamame, Kidney beans, Navy beans, Tofu

Step Four: Dress Your Salad

Dress your salad with a small amount of dressing. For options lower in saturated fat, consider oil and vinegar or yogurt-based dressings instead of traditional creamy options. Salsa can also be a fun way to top a salad. Garnish with a snip of fresh herbs, such as cilantro, parsley, or basil, if desired.

Sprinkle on Extras (Optional)

These tasty toppings carry a larger amount of calories in a small portion size. Use them sparingly to top off a salad. You can also get creative by adding cooked grains to your salad. These foods can help balance out your meal. Plus, they add additional flavors and texture to your salad.

Cooked Grains

Bulgar, Farro, Quinoa, Wheat berries

Unsalted Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Pecans, Pistachios, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts


Blue, Cheddar, Feta, Goat, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Parmesan


Avocado, Bacon bits, Croutons, Olives, Tortilla strips

Extra Tip: Build A Healthy Salad Bar in Your Fridge

Gather your favorite ingredients that you would typically select from a salad bar and put them in small containers. Once the items are gathered, place them into a 9×13 pan or other large container in your refrigerator that you can easily remove at mealtime. Include dressings, fruits, toasted nuts, cheeses, vegetables and protein sources that you enjoy on a salad. When meal time rolls around, pull the pan out of the fridge and dress your salad. One simple step to pull it out of the fridge, and one simple motion to put it all away again. Saves extra work and increases your desire for and consumption of healthy salads! Enjoy!

Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics;

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