Courtesy of a mid-nineties episode of Seinfeld, the “big salad” or large New York-style diner salad entered the mainstream.
It’s the perfect lunch option for the health-conscious…or is it?
The answer is, it depends.
The bigger the salad, the more add-ins it likely contains. Each add-in ingredient brings its own nutritional value and adds to the total calorie count – and could take a healthy option to an unhealthy extreme. It is not uncommon to find a 1,000+ calorie salad option on a diner menu.
Here are some “salad savers” that I have come up with to keep the calorie count of my salads in check while keeping the volume…well, voluminous:
Consider the Add-Ins
A good salad needs 3-4 add-ins. More than that is really not necessary. Choose a protein, a couple of veggies and either a nut or a fruit if you are going for extra crunch or sweetness. If adding nuts or dried fruits, limit the portion to one tbsp for four cups of greens. Make sure that your protein option is baked, steamed, boiled or grilled, rather than breaded and/or fried. Or choose a bean for protein and added fiber.
Toss Instead of Chop
Chopped salads are great because you can fit so.much.food in to an easy-to-carry container and bring it back to your desk for mindless bowl-to-mouth shoveling. But here’s the thing: the more you chop, the more each individual item loses its own consistency and flavor. This makes the salad less satisfying, no matter how big it is. If you don’t really taste the tomatoes, your brain doesn’t completely recognize that you have actually consumed them. Thus, chopped salads tend to hold you over for shorter durations; and though a purportedly healthy option, may still have you running to the vending machine by mid-afternoon.
I choose to toss my ingredients rather than chopping them. This distributes the ingredients throughout the salad, but leaves them in identifiable condition. It also limits the amount that you can fit in a container, which has its benefits, too.
There have been many times in my life that I have gone with the no-dressing option. Clearly that is a better choice than adding a full serving of a full-fat dressing, but dressing a salad does help to pull the ingredients together and results in a more filling meal.
I like to add one tablespoon of dressing for every four cups of greens. It gives me the flavor without the guilt.
When building salads at home, I will assemble all of the ingredients in a large plastic container with a cover. After adding one tablespoon of dressing, I will close the lid and shake the salad a few times until all of the ingredients have been distributed throughout the salad and the salad is well coated in the dressing. Then I tip it all on to a plate to eat.
Eating on a plate is so much more gratifying than going for it straight out of a container. You have taken time to make your food presentable, so instinctively, you will consume it in a more presentable way. Rather than shoveling, take mindful bites. Drop your fork between bites, too. Having to pick it up again after finishing each forkful gives you a moment to reflect on whether your body actually craves that next bite. More often than not, you may find that you do not even want finish what you have served.
Here’s to happy salad eating!
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, registered dietitian or other health professional. These recommendations are based on my own personal experiences and savvy developed over years of health-conscious eating.