Senior Health

8/4/2023 | By Laura Fisher

Salads may get a poor reputation for being simply “rabbit food” or not satisfying enough to be more than a side dish. But you can learn how to make a salad that is more than just a side if you know what components to include. Our general formula is helpful to have on hand for creating a healthy, hearty, meal-sized, satisfying salad; then take it in endless directions by using whatever ingredients you have in the fridge.

Of course, you can always add to the basics listed here: shredded cheese, chopped scallions, and roasted vegetables make excellent salad toppers. Using seasonal produce keeps salads enjoyable and varied throughout the year. Follow our guide with six simple steps for creating a satisfying salad every time.

  1. Start with greens.

Greens are the starting point for a crisp, bright, balanced, satisfying salad. Don’t limit yourself to iceberg or romaine — there are various greens to choose from, including spicy arugula, tender baby spinach, creamy butter lettuce, and many more. If you’re preparing a salad in advance (like for lunch the next day), choose a sturdy green, like kale, that won’t wilt in the fridge.

Include enough greens to create a solid base, but don’t overload the bowl so much that the other components get lost in a sea of green. A good guideline is roughly two cups of greens per person for a meal-sized salad.

  1. Add protein.

Including a protein source is the key to transforming your salad from a measly side to a hearty meal. Grilled chicken, steak, or fish are all fantastic options, especially if you have leftovers from a weekend cookout. For vegetarians, tofu, tempeh, eggs, and beans are the way to go. Aim for at least 15 grams of protein per eater, and say goodbye to the stereotype of the skimpy salad.

  1. Incorporate grains.

Grains are often overlooked when thinking of salad ingredients, but they add heft and substance to a bowl of veggie goodness that ups the satisfaction factor by multitudes. Chewy farro is a favorite salad addition, but quinoa and brown rice are also good options.

senior man with an apron on making a very satisfying salad.
  1. Introduce a little sweetness.

Sweet and salty combos are a fave for many folks, and salads are no exception. A touch of sweetness in an otherwise savory salad adds a complexity of flavors, making it more crave-able.

Dried fruit (like cranberries, cherries, or raisins), fresh fruit (like crispy apple chunks or sliced strawberries), or glazed nuts all work. Even a handful of corn kernels will get the job done if you want something slightly more subtle.

  1. Bring in some crunch.

Texture plays a huge role in creating a balanced and memorable salad. Toasted nuts or seeds, carrots or radishes, or homemade croutons all add that satisfying bite. Wait to add any crunchy bits until after tossing the salad in dressing to prevent any sogginess from ruining the mouthfeel.

  1. Finish with dressing.

A good rule of thumb for a basic dressing recipe is one part acid to three parts oil, plus a little salt and pepper to help bring out the rest of the flavors.

Olive or avocado oils are excellent choices for dressing, combined with lemon juice or vinegar. Try balsamic for a subtle sweetness or red wine for a tangier dressing.

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Read similar articles on Seniors Guide about nutrition like this one: Tips for Becoming a Vegan

Laura Fisher

Laura Fisher is a contributor to She is sustainability and health professional with a passion for good food, the outdoors, and fitness. She has a Masters degree from NYU in Environmental Education and is a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges.