this could also be called “How to Yummify Your Salad” because I don’t know about you, but the common advice of eating STRAIGHT-UP SPINACH LEAVES with freshly squeezed lemon as “dressing” makes me want to skip eating altogether and go hungry instead.
And yet, many fitness pros and magazines tout this, because “you should watch out for hidden calories IN SALADS.”
But … don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Ok, it’s true. You *can* overeat anything I guess and yes, there are going to be hidden cals in almost any processed foods (i.e. dressings). But my main problem with this argument is that Americans are hardly eating vegetables as it is and isn’t a salad–even if it’s a Caesar salad–still better than nothing? I call Caesar salad “the gateway veggie” because often people who don’t like vegetables will still eat it. So what if there’s a creamy dressing on top? The alternative is forgoing the salad altogether because it’s not “ideal” and probably eventually eating something even worse later.
This is the same argument I have with people who tout only plain steamed veggies. Really? The people who enjoy plain steamed veggies likely have been eating lots of veggies for a long time and have grown to like that taste. But rarely people love it right out of the gate. They may need to start with a little butter or sprinkle of cheese. So what? The alternative is skipping the veggies and going for worse starches and sweets later.
So, bottom line, are veggies all by themselves healthy and fat loss friendly? You bet. They’re “ideal.” But very few people can eat them like that sustainably. If you can, then good for you. But the average person will need something more substantial to satiate them and keep them satisfied for longer.
I love enormous salads because when you do them up right, they can not only be healthy, but also legitimately satiating and a great way to down lots of veggies in a single sitting. They can actually make you feel FULL! Amazing, I know, right?!
With a few quick rules, and a few gimmes, you can make a delicious #BAS (Big-AssSalad) that will, well, make you want to actually eat it!
Here are some of my tips for you:
1) Start with a ton of greens (at the bare minimum romaine, but add in mixed greens, spinach, arugula, etc) and chop it all up. I love the OXO Salad Chopper because it increases the palatability of the salad (I actually add all ingredients in, then chop). Rather than having to STUFF LEAVES into your mouth, the chopped-ness of the salad makes it so that you can even eat it with a spoon. Sooo nice. Plus, you can also fit waaaaaay more greens in effortlessly.
2) Add as many and as much fibrous veggies as you want. Don’t limit things like broccoli, cucumber, onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, chopped tomato, celery, etc. Pile as many fibrous veggies as you want on that thing
3) Add 1-2 servings of protein. I hate to cook so I opt for convenience options here, like pre-sliced grilled chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken meat pulled from the bone. Or some quickie sautéed ground turkey, lean beef or bison. Or a can of water-packed tuna or salmon. Add enough lean protein to make you feel full. I usually do the equivalent of two small chicken breasts (8-10 oz total). No counting, just eye-balling. I don’t stress about “too much protein” or cals from the protein because I know that if I eat to feel satiated then I won’t need anything else later. I always have at least one #BAS every day.
4) Add 1-2 dietary fats. When I eat salads, I normally opt for dietary fats INSTEAD OF STARCHES. Why? Because they help me to feel more satisfied and fuller for longer (the taste, plus they slow digestion). Choose 1-2 of the following to add on top: 1/2
avocado, sprinkle of parmesan (remember the harder cheeses will be better fat-loss wise, stay away from the fetas and blue cheeses in general), few strips of bacon or Bacon Bites, pepperoni, hard-boiled eggs or nuts (non-candied).
5) Skip sweet additions and use portion control for other starches. Skip altogether the suuuuuper-sugary additions like dried fruit/cranberries, raisins, candied nuts, granola, etc. Sorry, but that’s pretty much a hard and fast rule–too much sugar for too little a portion (basically candy). And if you want to add starches like regular fruit or tabbouleh, quinoa, rice, beans, corn, succotash, chick peas, etc then a) cut back on the fatty toppings (remember, choose starch OR fat, not both) and b) watch portions. I usually do about 5 big bites worth of a single starch (appx 1/2 cup black beans for example).
6) Often the best salads have a texture we enjoy, so add a lil’ crunch to your salad. Best ways to add crunch: cabbage, sprinkle of slivered almonds or other nuts, or a sprinkle of seeds, even a small amount of bacon bits. Skip: croutons (no one needs hard, stale bread), dried fruit and granola-ish items. The chopped nature of the salad helps here too. .
7) As for dressings, choose a vinaigrette variety as often as possible. The vinegar helps blunt the insulin response of the meal and the oil will slow digestion. I also like oil-based dressings because a little goes a long way and you can (actually) get away with the recommended 2 TB. Other options are lighter dressings like Italian or Greek. Mustard-based dressings are usually fine too. Skip the heavy stuff–bleu cheese, creamy Italian, ranch or thousand island. However, if you find you can’t do anything but a creamy dressing, fine, but have it on the side to dip, instead of drenching the whole salad right off the bat. Usually we don’t need as much as we think.
Finally, here’s the moment I tell you how lazy I am, and how much I really don’t like cooking or prepping food. I usually–gasp!–get take-out salads (Subway chopped salad with no cheese & double chicken breast with red wine vinegar and a teeny bit of olive oil is my fav) or even do the Salad Bar at Whole Foods 3-5 times each week!
Now you might be asking, “Jolene, how can you know that there’s not a bunch of crap in take-out salads?” Well, the good news is that:
a) salads are the one food where you can actually see every single item because it’s made up of all whole food parts, so you can remove anything you don’t want, and
b) I don’t stress about a little marinade (as long as it's gluten free) or salt on the meat–it’s a small concession to feel more satiated and satisfied. Which is always my goal. Because I know that the more satisfied I am with my everyday eats, the less likely I will need to binge later. Simple.
As for dressings, I always opt for a vinaigrette (vinegar has been shown to reduce the insulin effects of a meal) variety and since it’s take-out I can even use the brand I like that I keep in my fridge at home.
So that’s it! Go forth and yummify those salads! There’s no excuse for not eating a huge #BAS every single day now and getting your requisite 5-8 servings of fruits and veggies. And if anyone asks you why you’re eating a salad as large as your head, just tell them I said it’s ok #justsaynotolemonjuice