With the weather warming up, I’ve been trading in steamed veggies for salads. But a salad can easily pack as many calories as a burger and fries if you load it up with extras like cheese, croutons and dense dressings. Case in point: a Waldorf Chicken Salad with Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette from California Pizza Kitchen packs 1,485 calories – that’s about 400 more than a quarter pound burger with cheese and large fries from a fast food joint!
To build the most balanced bowl and avoid calorie overload, I use a 5 step salad strategy:
STEP 1. Start with a veggie foundation made from (preferably) organic greens like field greens, Romaine, arugula, spinach etc. and any other raw veggies you love (grape tomatoes, red onion, shredded carrots, etc., not the starchy ones like potatoes or peas). Aim for about 2 cups total, the size of 2 baseballs and at least 3 different colors, like green, red and orange. Antioxidants are associated with the pigments that give veggies their color. Eating a rainbow of hues means you expose your body to a broader spectrum of these disease fighters and anti-agers.
STEP 2. For protein, add a scoop (about the size of half a baseball, which equals about half a cup) of either lentils or beans, cubed organic firm tofu, chicken breast or seafood. I don’t eat meat so I rely on plant-based protein, especially beans. They’re loaded with filling fiber in addition to protein, as well as antioxidants and important minerals like iron and magnesium. Plus they always fill me up and keep me full without making me feel sluggish.
STEP 3. Next, add a whole grain. I love cooked, cooled whole grains in garden salads, like barley, wild rice, quinoa or organic corn (yup, whole corn counts as a whole grain). Again, aim for a half cup, the size of half a baseball. Eating at least 3 serving of whole grains each day (a serving is a half cup cooked) is linked to preventing nearly every chronic disease (including heart disease and diabetes) as well as staving off weight gain and reducing belly fat.
STEP 4. For “good” fat, add either a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, no more than a Tbsp (the size of your thumb, from where it bends to the tip), 2 Tbsp of nuts or seeds, a quarter a ripe Hass avocado, or 10 large green or black olives. A healthy, plant-based fat significantly boosts the absorption of antioxidants. In fact studies show that without fat, very little antioxidants are absorbed.
STEP 5. Season it up with balsamic vinegar, which adds a ton of flavor and even more antioxidants for just 10-15 calories per Tbsp (a few Tbsp is plenty), fresh lemon juice and herbs, from cracked black peppercorn to fresh basil.
Lately my favorite concoction has been:
- 1 cup organic mixed greens
- Quarter cup each grape tomatoes, red onion, shredded carrots and sliced mushrooms
- Half cup cooked, chilled broad beans
- Half cup cooked, chilled quinoa
- A quarter of a ripe Hass avocado, sliced
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- A squeeze of fresh lemon
- Freshly ground pepper
Total: 345 calories
This “salad strategy” prevents overload (e.g. too many carbs, fat or calories) and ensures a balance of nutrients that will leave you feeling full, satisfied and energized.
Do you tend to top your salad with too many high cal toppings? What do you think of this 5 step approach? Please share your thoughts!