How to build the perfect salad

Lately, especially since we’re doing March Greens, I’ve received quite a few requests for a salad posts. To be totally honest, a lot of the salads I consume (and I eat a whole lotta ensalada) have no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Leftover black bean burger, swirl of ketchup, sweet potato fries and greens? Totally awesome, but probably not what you’re thinking of when you say “salad.” Basically, I’ll take any meal and throw it on top of salad greens to get some extra veggies. The special salads have a little more thought put into them 😉

Here are my necessary salad components:


The PRO (protein + produce), fats, greens and fun stuff.

PRO: Protein and produce. These are the building blocks for any salad. If I’m lacking in either and just have greens with a couple of veggies, it’s sad trombone. I like to have at least 2 veggies/fruits to choose form and a good quality protein. Sometimes it’s lighter like some quinoa and/or beans, but I also love marinated chicken, steamed egg, deli turkey, fish and tempeh.

Wedge salad

Fats: You can choose any fat you love, whether it’s a drizzle of your favorite oil (I’ve recently fallen in love with Meyer lemon and garlic infused olive oils), a palmful of nuts, nut butter in a creamy nut butter dressing, avocado, cheese, or any combo that you enjoy. For fats, I just try to be mindful of how many components I use. For example, if I include half an avocado or a mountain of goat cheese, my dressing is a squeeze of lemon juice, or plenty of seasonings and a splash of balsamic. I’ve found that if you use quality, fresh ingredients, the dressing is an accessory, not the star of the show.

Salad  1 of 1 6

Greens: The leafier, the better. One of my favorite tips is to rotate salad greens. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and buy the same greens week after week. Experiment with a few different types and you may find a new fave! Bonus: you’ll get in some different nutrients, too. I especially love romaine, chard, kale, spinach and the Super Greens mix that you can find in many grocery stores (Trader Joe’s has their own organize version, too).

Kale salad  1 of 1 2

Fun stuff: This is where you can add anything you’ve been craving. Dried fruit, citrus zest or juice, roasted veggies, fresh herbs, spices, vinegar, croutons, wasabi peas.. endless options!

Caprese salad2

Some of my salad tips:

-Make the various components equal amounts. I used to get really heavy-handed with the greens and just ended up fishing out the “good stuff.”

-Try a theme! This Thai-inspired salad is a fave, and I also love Mexican salads (salsa, guacamole, black beans and/or shredded chicken, brown rice, greens) and lettuce wraps.

-My no-fail combo: protein, greens, 1/2 cheese + 1/2 nuts, basil, balsamic dressing, berries or dried fruit.

-Experiment with temp. In the colder months, warm salads can be an awesome comfort food. Roast some winter vegetables and protein, then sauté with your favorite salad greens and dressing. Honey mustard is a lovely choice for warm salads.

-Make your own dressing. Since I’ve been making my own for quite a while, I don’t enjoy the bottled stuff quite as much. A splash of balsamic, citrus juice and some fresh herbs are usually good enough for me (I usually prefer to get salad fat intake from fat through avocado, cheese or nuts)

Salad 3

-Add a starch. I’m always more satisfied when my salads have an high amount of protein and some kind of starch (some faves: homemade croutons, sweet potato rounds or roasted potato, brown rice, beans). Even if I don’t add the starch directly to the salad, a piece of toast on the side will do the trick.

My favorite salads of all time:

Massaged kale salad

Tempeh Cobb

Balsamic chicken caprese 

Spicy chopped salad 

Salmon Caesar

Trifecta of goodness

Curried chicken

Kale and jalapeño

Cranberry avocado salad

Red and green quinoa lentil salad


Homemade ranch

Caesar dressing

Spicy almond butter

Balsamic Dijon vinaigrette

Asian ginger dressing

Are you participating in March Greens? What’s the last salad you ate? Remember, if you’re not in the salad mood, a green juice or smoothie counts, too 🙂


This is where I say “cheers” and clank my fork against yours.



 NEW on the Family page: Livi’s fave French toast

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  1. Shaina Anderson on March 7, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Greenacolada smoothie for breakfast!

  2. Lucie on March 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Oh my Gosh, that last picture melts my heart. Your daughter is SO adorable!!
    And I love that post, thank you so much!! I am craving salad now big time! 🙂 I totally participate in the March Greens challenge and my last salad was the one I sent you the pic of this morning on Twitter. It was a big bowl from a salad bar with Parmesan, 3 different greens, cucumber, artichokes, grapes and grilled tofu. It is such a great location (Dean&David) since you can choose all the ingredients. Still, I absolutely love my homemade salads especially with spinachgreens and smoked salmon!!

  3. Bonnie on March 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Thank you so much! Such a great resource 🙂

  4. Abby on March 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I’ve been doing a green smoothie a day over here, I’ve found they’re the only way my daughter will consume a cup of spinach in one sitting haha

  5. Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie on March 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Yum! My favorite salads are spinach + pears or apples + quinoa + feta or goat cheese + toasted walnuts. So delicious!

  6. Katie Fox on March 7, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Last salad I ate was a mexican salad: roasted chickpeas, salsa, guac, and romaine! Thanks for this post… I often get in a rut or can’t quite figure out a salad I enjoy so I don’t eat them. Any tips for make ahead prep without ingredients getting soggy?

    • Ttrockwood on March 7, 2013 at 8:28 pm

      I actually pack salad daily and bring greens in one big tupperware, the rest of the veggies/protein in another and the dressing seperate so at lunch i dump into the big greens tupperware with lid and shake shake shake with the dressing!

  7. Kristen on March 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Maybe this post will kick my booty onto the salad train! I have been wanting to participate in March Greens but for 3 solid weeks now all I want is a PB&J sandwich with milk or chicken fingers with ketchup & honey mustard. That’s it. Nothing else sounds good or tastes good.
    I’m gonna give some of these salad combos a try!

    My son LOVED the French toast and dip this morning!

  8. Nadja on March 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Love that post, i think it’s going to help me a lot since i’m sometimes lacking inspiration for my salads 😉 i’m totally into March greens and i just made your avocado cranberry salad for lunch (posted it on IG and tagged you so i guess you saw it or you’re gonna see it soon). It was amaaaazing and i’d never thought it would be so “filling”: i ate it at 12.30 and at 4.30 i still wasn’t hungry! Love that picture of you with Liv too!

  9. Paige @ Your Trainer Paige on March 7, 2013 at 10:55 am

    I love this – and love that you put so much love into your salads. I typically just dump a can of salmon or sardines onto some lettuce, add some lemon and olive oil, and chow down, lol. It’s not pretty, but it is tasty! Sometimes I’ll add some pumpkin seeds on top – if I’m feeling really fancy 😉

  10. Ali @ Peaches and Football on March 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

    I haven’t made a salad in a long time but this post has me itching to do some serious greens shopping. I really like the idea of trying my hand at making my own dressings too. It seems very difficult to buy anything not loaded with nasty or questionable ingredients.

  11. Erica @Love the Leap on March 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I’m the same exact way when it comes to building a salad! Just throw anything together with a bed of greens and I’m good to go. Making my own dressings is also something I love– I think they taste fresher and it gives you the opportunity to be creative! Great tips 🙂

  12. Ashley @ Life and Fitness on March 7, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I’ve definitely been guilty of dumping half the bottle of dressing onto my salad.

  13. Emily on March 7, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Love this post! I eat a salad almost every single day for lunch, so this is a great place to go to for new ideas. Definitely lots of new ideas to try! 🙂

  14. Sarah @ Yogi in Action on March 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I find it very difficult to have salads during the winter, as I’m already so cold that I just want warm food all the time. As such, I try and pair comfort food (like lasagna or any type of pasta) with a salad on the side. Then I still get that warm food AND a salad.

    I’m definitely in a salad rut though so thanks for all the suggestions.

  15. Ashley on March 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I’ve been either juicing or eating a salad a day in order to get in my March greens. I must try the Thai inspired salad soon though! Thai is one of my favorite cuisines!

  16. Heidi on March 7, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Yes, yes, yes to using quality ingredients and not needing as much dressing. The quality greens/fats/veggies give the salad so much flavor that the dressing becomes just a small part of the blend! Your wedge salad looks SO good!!

  17. natalie @ will jog for food on March 7, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I definitely need to start making more salad dressings!

  18. Emily:2:DESIGN:CENTS on March 7, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Awwww, as always, such a cute picture of you and your daughter!

  19. Chelsea @ Chelsea's Health on March 7, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I love this! I do not remember the last time we purchased salad dressing because homemade is so easy and so much better for you. Thanks for sharing all these ideas within one post.

  20. Katie on March 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I love salads and one MUST besides the basics like protein and dressing for me, is CRUNCH! I like to add some crushed whole grain crackers as a healthier crouton style! Crunchmaster crackers or Dr. Crackers, or Mary’s crackers!

  21. Anne on March 7, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Those are all great suggestions! I couldn’t agree more on salad dressings, salsa hummus or just simple balsamic vinegar are my go tos!

  22. Michelle on March 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Great post! I have friends ask me alllll the time how to make good salads. I guess it seems second-nature when you’ve been doing it for a while!

    My last salad was kind of like your kale, jalapeno, and goat cheese salad – it had two kinds of kale, fresh jalapeno, goat cheese, cilantro, radishes, and spicy homemade and gluten-free cornbread croutons. The croutons totally stole the show!

  23. Alisha @ Alisha's Appetite on March 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I loved this post! I am on a huge kale salad kick recently. Gotta put some love in the massage 😉

  24. Beks on March 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I wasn’t necessarily participating in the Greens challenge, but the last three days, I’ve had a salad of some kind, with organic baby greens. They’ve been pretty tasty. Today’s salad is greens with balsamic vinegarette and avocado.

  25. Tara on March 7, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    My favorite salads end up being the end of the grocery week kind, where I just throw in all the odds and ends I have. Half a jalapeño, mushrooms, avocado, red bell pepper and onion. Delicious!

  26. Mo on March 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Beets, goat cheese and kale – along with very thinly sliced brussel sprouts – followed by dried cranberries and walnuts! I thought of you today (for a weird reason) – our Milwaukee Brewers general manager got stung by a scorpion and had to be hospitalized! They are out there for spring training – he says his whole arm is numb! How terrible. Take care and stay away from those little buggers.


  27. Heather on March 7, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I’ve been eating a lot of spinach, goat cheese, pecans, strawberries, and blush wine vinaigrette around here. YUM!!!

    • Ali on March 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      Oh, I cannot wait until strawberries are back in season! This is my fave!

  28. Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat on March 7, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    I love all your salad ideas! I’ve never understood how people do not like salad. Growing up we started each meal with a side salad and I thank my parents for ingraining those habits in me.

    Half the time my dinners wind up on top of a giant bowl of greens – I definitely get my fair share of strange looks but I find any meal can be turned into a salad topper!

  29. Ali on March 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    What perfect timing! I just sat down to eat a HUGE salad for lunch. 🙂 Spinach, mixed greens, raw zucchini, red bell peppers, carrots, black beans, and salsa. So good. Not the most inventive but it’s what I had on hand at home that I could throw together quickly.

    I have to try massaged kale. Raw kale (except in smoothies from the vitamix) scares me a bit…

  30. Jess on March 7, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Great post…as I try to be more aware of what/how I eat, I’ve noticed that my favorite meals are the ones that have lots of stuff mixed together – ie, salads are pretty much ideal for me! I eat at least one salad type mixture every day – I pack one for my lunch at work (all cold based on greens) and often at home I’ll have a repeat, mostly just veggies on top of some rice for a warmer night time meal. I’m trying to mix up my greens (I just don’t like kale, but I’ll eat it if it’s mixed with some nice romaine and spinach), and I tend to stick to the cheaper veggies/fruits to help my budget stretch, but one of the secrets I’ve found for myself is I’m a sucker for just a little bit of sweet in my salad! Carrots and tomatoes (both staples) have their own little sweetness to them, but if I can add a few fresh seasonal berries (blackberries have been on sale regularly at Aldis all winter – YUM), I never get bored with salad choices. I also love adding nuts – sunflower seeds are my favorite, though. I tend to add protein, but I’m iffy with eggs, so usually sliced up deli meets are my go-to. Probably my biggest downfall is dressings, though…I tried for a while to do home made, but I just can’t find a recipe I like enough to use over store bought (though I try to stay away from the Kraft, or anything over sugared). I loveloveLOVE avocado in salads, but since I make salad for my lunch at work the night before, avocado doesn’t last as well and gets kind of a funny taste…super sad face 🙁

    Anyway, thanks for some great ideas for switching it up! Salad lovers unite 😀

  31. Tracy on March 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    She sure is a cutie!!

    Thanks for the dressing links. I’ve been needing some dressing inspiration!

  32. Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries on March 7, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Great post! I am loving all of your ideas. I enjoy salads but find myself getting in ruts with them more often than I’d like. Thinking outside the box with new or different ingredients is KEY I think!

  33. Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries on March 7, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Great post! I am loving all of your ideas. I enjoy salads but find myself getting in ruts with them more often than I’d like. Thinking outside the box with new or different ingredients is KEY I think!

  34. Lauren @ Fun, Fit and Fabulous! on March 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve been craving green smoothies like no body’s business lately. I’ve actually already had two already today. Number 1 – chocolate coconut greeen goddess……. Number 2 – Peanut butter banana green smoothie. I am a huge salad fan too, but I do need them to be pretty festive to be fully satisfying!

  35. cathy on March 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Does Broccoli slaw count as a green? I’ve been doing broccoli slaw, sweet potato, mushroom and chicken salad with a sesame vinegrette.

  36. Cassie on March 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    As usual, scarfed down my food before taking a pic to instagram you, but had to reply because I had an awesome salad combo today! I’m fortunate enough to have a big salad bar at work, so my ingredients change roughly every week (though, the bad part is that dressing choices and sometimes protein choices are limited).

    Today’s BEAST was mixed greens, half a hard boiled egg and edamame for protein, avocado for healthy fat, + tomatoes, mushrooms, and (the best part) GRILLED PINEAPPLE 🙂 Foodgasmic indeed!

  37. Mary Ann on March 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I made a yummy salad for a potluck meeting last night–spring mix greens plus some romaine for crunch, a little feta, crisp green apple, dried cranberries, glazed walnuts, and TJ’s Balsamic Dressing.

  38. Sara @ fitcupcaker on March 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I love making my own salad dressing with lemons and oranges, so fresh and way better than store bought!

  39. Reghan on March 7, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I love big salads and mine are usually equal parts greens and all the fun mix ins as well 🙂 The last one I had was romaine, gr. peppers, cherry tomatoes, feta, a can of light tuna, croutons and some mediterranean style dressing. One of my favs is using leftover taco meat with salsa, cheese and lots of veggies and greens for a taco salad!
    Even at restaurants I enjoy ordering big salads with different things on them that I might not think of or have tried yet.

  40. Liesl on March 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Salads are great any time of the year! Thanks for the new and fresh ideas.

  41. kyla on March 7, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Green juice for breakfast!

  42. Amanda on March 7, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    I like to top my salads off with a big sprinkle of lightly grilled pumpkin seeds too.

  43. Caitlin on March 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I am so happy to say that you are a huge reason I love salads so much now! Through reading your blog the last couple of years, I’ve realized that salad beasts are pretty much my very favorite thing to eat, especially because there’s endless combos you can make 😀

    The last one I had was at dinner alongside a slice of pizza…it was chopped spinach, cucumber, strawberries, shredded carrots, a few walnuts/almonds, dried cranberries, a bit of avocado with a honey miso cherry vinaigrette! It sounds weird kind of but was so good!

  44. Jeannie on March 7, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I love that Liv loves green juices! Great post!
    I’m joining in on march greens and today had a green juice mid morning as well as a big ol salad for dinner – massaged kaled (apple cider vinegar, olive oil, cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon), tomatoes, cukes, orange pepper, shredded carrots, avocado with shrimps and quinoa. So good..

  45. Jay on March 8, 2013 at 12:38 am

    I’ve been working hard to incorporate more green into my diet . .. . at dinner I noticed there wasn’t anything green on my plate. Mid-bite, I got up from the table, rinsed out a bunch of spinach, quickly sauteed it in the leftover bit of butter from making my son’s grilled cheese and presto- half of my plate was now green. Yum. Thanks for the great post. I’m definitely trying some of these!

  46. Mick on March 8, 2013 at 4:22 am

    That wedge salad looks so yum.. i’m going to go shopping and try that one out tomorrow!! Will add Amanda’s tip above about adding pumpkin seeds.

  47. Darien on March 9, 2013 at 3:08 am

    if youre loving delicious olive oils, please check out the temecula olive oil company. its local (to my new home in california) and amazing. the olive oil is peppery and buttery, and the flavorings are so strong and delicious. i adore the lemon (seasonal and limited), the blood orange/citrus, and basil. oh lawdy, lawdy.

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