May is National Salad Month, and what a perfect way to kick off warm weather eating! Salads are a satisfying solution for meals that won't heat up your kitchen. They are also perfectly portable to take picnics, barbecues and even your office lunch. When it comes to salads, the options are really endless. By changing the greens and toppings, they are a veritable international feast! Here are some tips for filling your summer with satisfying salads:
1. Prep produce ahead to save time and money
Washed produce is more likely to be used because it is fast and convenient. Take the time to prep ahead and you won't be throwing away money with your spoiled produce. When you bring your greens home from the store or farmer's market, wash and dry them, then place with a damp paper towel in a re-sealable plastic bag so they are crisp and ready when you need them. Carrots, cucumbers, celery and radishes stay crisp if cleaned, cut and stored in containers filled with cold water. Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and washed only when ready to use. Berries stay fresher longer if they are stored in the fridge and washed right before use.
2. Buy local and in-season produce
Not sure what kind of salad to make? Check out your local farmer's market or grocery to see what is available. Fresh is always best and we are lucky to live in a state where we have access to great produce all year long! Spring is the perfect time for field greens, spinach and tender lettuce. Berries and beets are also readily available, and asparagus is at its peak. Summer brings tomatoes, corn, peppers, melons, peaches and all of your traditional salad fare. Fall's cooler temperatures bring back the greens along with root vegetables, crisp apples and juicy pears.
3. Consider mixing savory dressings and greens with fruits
These combinations are what really make a salad memorable, and are sure to wow guests at your summer gatherings! Spinach and berries are always a great combination. I have also discovered that diced, peeled pears oven-roasted with olive and shallots, then served warm over spinach and blackberries with a light dusting of blue cheese, a balsamic vinegar reduction and chopped pistachios is heaven on a plate! Watermelon, feta and mint and/or basil are another unusual, but tasty combination. Peaches and rosemary make for a great pairing, as well.
4. The brighter the colors the better
From a nutritional standpoint, the brighter the colors on your plate, the healthier your salad is. Iceberg lettuce is the lowest on the rung for health benefits. If you find your family resistant to eating darker greens, start with Bibb or a lighter colored Romaine to ease them in to bolder flavors. I have also found that my girls really enjoy baby spinach leaves, they have a mild, sweet flavor. Other "whites" to try and avoid (or use in moderation) are creamy mayo or dairy-based dressings, cheese (a little bit of a stronger flavored cheese like feta, goat or blue goes a long way!), eggs and croutons.
5. Build from the bottom up
Pile your plate high with greens, fruits and veggies first, THEN add the "whites" sparingly. To boost nutritional value, think of all the food groups. After greens, veggies and fruit, add a lean protein. Beans, tofu, edamame, tuna fish, grilled salmon, and lean cuts of chicken or beef will take your salad to the next level, turning it from a side to a filling meal. Croutons can really weigh a salad down; for crunchy alternatives think of toasted chop nuts or a broken up whole-grain cracker.
6. Skip the greens altogether for a change
A salad does not have to include greens or lettuce. Sometimes kids (and adults) just have an aversion to lettuce. I have one of those, and her time with braces didn't help my cause. But she still eats salad. When I am preparing a salad, I make a bowl or plate for her with the cut up veggies/fruit I am using. She still has a healthy side and we are all happy!
7. Serve your dressing on the side
Go naked! Dressing is a big calorie bomb. Even dressings with a healthy unsaturated fat base (olive or grape seed oil) can pile on the calories quicker than you may realize. Serve your salads with the dressing on the side so each person can control their amount. For the little hands with big eyes, consider serving dressing restaurant style in a cup on the side. Little cups are great for dipping and feeling big!
8. Try a balsamic vinegar reduction for a dressing
This has tons of flavor – a little bit goes a very long ways! I really enjoy it with spinach, berries and pears, but it also goes well with many other greens and veggies. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, bring 1 cup of balsamic vinegar to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer under reduced to a syrup-like consistency. Let cool before serving.
Living in Colorado allows for a bountiful summer salad season – ENJOY!
A Colorado native and mom of two girls, Mary from Fruita lives a gluten-free lifestyle and also blogs about her active life every Tuesday on Fruita Moms.