Build a Better Lunch: The Keep-Me-Full Salad

Romaine lettuce, hardboiled egg, cucumber, red bell pepper, celery, and peanut dressing. Not pictured: pearl couscous at the bottom.

Romaine lettuce, hardboiled egg, cucumber, red bell pepper, celery, and peanut butter dressing (recipe below). Not pictured: pearl couscous at the bottom.

This is part three of the Build a Better Lunch series. Here are the links for parts one and two.

We’ve all heard enough about salads to make our heads turn like a salad spinner. They’re your best bet at weight loss. They’re the healthiest thing you can eat. Or they’re the one thing you should avoid on a diet–they’ll leave you hungry or make you fat.

I’m here to say that those generalizations are definitely on the silly side. Weight-loss is achieved by eating fewer calories than you burn (for heat or energy) for the most part–and three ice burg lettuce salads (hold the dressing) a day can probably do that. But ice burg lettuce and a cherry tomato are hardly the picture of health. But on the flip side, salads don’t have to leave you starving. And, if you are careful about the dressings, they won’t wind up being unhealthy.

So, let’s get down to business. Order is important. If you are making, for instance, a chef salad for dinner, you’ll probably start with your greens, then other veggies, cheese, protein, grain, and top it off with dressing. If you are making a mason jar salad for lunches, you start with dressing, then grains, protein, cheese, and other veggies, topping it all off with the lettuce.

This is because the dressing makes the lettuce wilt, so it must be dressed at the last moment. With a make-and-serve salad, you dress it, toss it, and serve it in quick succession. With a mason jar, when you are ready to eat, you just turn it over and shake to toss it. Presto! No wilted salad greens.

Enjoy the Greenery

The greens–the base of your salad. It doesn’t have to be boring, and it doesn’t have to be lettuce. Trade in your boring lettuce for red cabbage, or mixed greens–you might like it better. I have personally found that my favorite greens are butter lettuce, romaine lettuce, and thin sliced cabbage. As much as I like spinach steamed, I don’t love it raw, and that’s okay. The trick is to try things out and find what you like.

If you are looking to get a full serving of vegetables out of your leafy greens, plan to get two cups of ’em. For the sake of our example, let’s go with some romaine lettuce–about a cup of it. Adeline from our first example plans to balance out that veggie serving with other veggies.

Crunch Factor

But a salad of plain lettuce would be really boring. So, we as other things for texture, taste, and heartiness. First up: extra veggies. While two cups of raw salad greens is just one serving, a cup of other vegetables raw is a serving.

Not to mention fruit options: sliced apples and grapes. I hear that pineapple + feta + orange vinaigrette is good. Cuties (clementines) and melon and strawberries–though not crunchy–can round out the flavors in your salad. One fresh fruit serving is about a cup. One dried fruit serving is a half cup–and one of my favorite salads has dried currants in it.

There are other ways of adding crispy, crunchy goodness. One is the crouton-esque option. Croutons, those fried noodles, crunched up tortilla chips. All of them are grains (and none are whole grain) and prepared with a hefty dose of fats, so be careful with them.

The final crunch-boosters are nuts. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews. Full of polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E to keep them from oxidizing, nuts are nutrient-dense sources of protein in more ways than one. This non-medical professional would recommend sticking to one ounce of these for your serving of protein.

Let’s add some bell pepper, cucumber, and mushrooms to Adeline’s example salad.

Pick a Protein

Nuts aren’t the only protein options. There’s chicken, steak, shrimp, tuna, eggs, even peanut butter dressing. It’s with protein that we begin to really get into “keep me full” aspect. Protein is connected to satiety (which just means a sense of being full) [1].  Basically, protein leads to long-term satiety. This is how you get through the afternoon without endless snacking. I have found that adding a hard-boiled egg to veggie- and grain-rich lunches also helped me to stay awake through my  afternoon classes.

Another addition is cheese. If you are looking to get your dairy serving in via salad, stick to one to two ounces of cheese (depending on the type) or about a third cup of the shredded kinds. Of course, you don’t have to get all the food group servings in your salad. Having yogurt and fruit on the side can be a nice addition.

Let’s add two ounces of chicken breast leftovers to our example salad, and some fresh mozzarella, too.

Get Your Grains

Grains offer substance. The proverbial potatoes of your meat and potatoes. Rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa and other carbs offer the right-now kind of fullness that leaves you satisfied on your lunch break. Between grains and protein, you are covered now and later.

Adeline likes itty-bitty bow tie pasta in her salad, so let’s add about a cup of it (or 2 ounces of grain)

Dress Up

Dressings really make the salad. And there are so many options: peanut butter based, olive oil and vinegar, honey mustard, orange juice and oil. The list goes on ad infinitum. The trick with them, though, is not to overdo it. Few things are grosser than an overdressed salad. Besides: dressings tend to be the key source of fat

There are thousands of recipes that you can find but here are a two of my favorites. Both involve adding all the ingredients and stirring vigorously to mix.

Peanut Butter Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1.5 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoons lime juice (lemon is an acceptable substitute)
  • freshly grated ginger
  • a dash of white wine vinegar
  • black pepper to taste
  • a pinch of curry powder

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar, depending on tastes
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • salt and pepper to taste

Adeline tosses her example salad with some honey mustard vinaigrette. Served with an apple and some water, it’s a full meal.

Remember: salads can be delicious, filling lunches to keep you going for the rest of the day, just as long as you include the right food groups in proper proportion.

What kinds of salad will you build?

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