The One Formula You Need to Make a Healthy Salad

By: Lauren Lastowka

Up your salad game with this step-by-step formula.

You don't need a recipe to make a salad, just a basic formula. This formula helps you mix filling protein, satisfying whole grains and lots of low-calorie vegetables so your salad fills you up, instead of leaving you hungry an hour later.

chopped chicken and sweet potato salad
Pictured recipe: Chopped Chicken & Sweet Potato Salad

Mix and match the categories using the amounts shown so you don't get bored with your salads. Plan ahead and prep your protein, vegetables, and grains, or use what's on hand in the fridge. Bonus points for using up vegetable scraps or leftover ingredients that would otherwise go to waste!

Related: Our Best Healthy Salad Recipes

The best healthy salad formula

Use this as your base "recipe" to make sure you get a satisfying mix of greens and toppings without going overboard on calories or carbs. Then keep reading for delicious foods that fit in each category.

Salad greens: 3 cups

Other produce: 1/2 cup nonstarchy cooked or raw vegetables

Grains or starch: 1/2 cup

Lean protein: 3 oz.

Cheese: 1/2 oz.

Garnish: 1/2 oz.

Dressing: 2 Tbsp.

quinoa deli salad

Pictured recipe: Quinoa Deli Salad

Salad Greens = 3 cups

Escarole

Baby kale

Bibb lettuce

Red leaf lettuce

Romaine

Baby spinach

Spring mix

Related: 5 Reasons to Love Dark Leafy Greens

Other Produce = 1/2 cup, nonstarchy, cooked or raw

Bell peppers

Carrots

Cucumbers

Green beans

Mushrooms

Radishes

Snap peas

Tomatoes

Learn more: Why You Should Eat the Rainbow When It Comes to Fruits and Vegetables

vegetarian nicoise

Pictured recipe: Vegetarian Niçoise Salad

Grains or Starch = 1/2 cup

Bulgur

Whole-wheat couscous

Farro

Baby potatoes

Quinoa

Winter squash

Sweet potatoes

Read more: Why Complex Carbs Are Actually Good for You

Lean Protein = 3 oz.

Chicken breast

Chickpeas

Hard-boiled eggs

Pork tenderloin

Shrimp

Salmon

Flank steak

Tempeh

Related: How Much Protein You Need to Eat Every Day

Cheese = 1/2 oz.

Blue cheese

Cheddar

Feta

Goat cheese

Monterey Jack

Mozzarella

Parmesan

Related: Why Cheese Is Actually Good for You

Garnish = 1/2 oz.

Avocado

Almonds

Dried apricots

Capers

Dried cranberries

Croutons

Olives

Salami or ham

Sunflower seeds

Walnuts

Dressing = 2 Tbsp., olive-oil based

Balsamic vinaigrette

Lemon vinaigrette

Red-wine vinaigrette

Or make your own: Get our best vinaigrette recipes or try this simple recipe.

Combine 2 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice, ½ tsp. minced garlic, 1/4 tsp. dried thyme, 1/8 tsp. pepper, and 1/8 tsp. salt, then whisk in ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Use 2 Tbsp. per salad.

salmon couscous

Satisfying salads to get out of a salad rut


Try new combos to spark ideas for your next salad. Or make a healthy salad based on what you have on hand or what's on sale.

The Vegetarian Niçoise

Spring mix + green beans & tomatoes + baby potaotes + hard-boiled egg + crumbled feta + olives + lemon vinaigrette

Chopped Chicken & Sweet Potato

Escarole or romaine + avocado + apples + sweet potato + shredded chicken + cubed Cheddar + sunflower seeds + apple-cider vinaigrette

Salmon Couscous

Spinach + mushrooms + eggplant + whole-wheat Israeli couscous + salmon + goat cheese + dried apricots + white-wine vinaigrette

Quinoa Deli

Bibb lettuce + red bell peppers + artichoke hearts + quinoa + chickpeas + mozzarella cheese + sliced deli ham + red-wine vinaigrette

Related:
How to Make Perfect Homemade Vinaigrette Every Time
Healthy Lunch Salad Ideas for Work
31 Healthy Salads to Eat this Month
High-Protein Soup & Salad Lunches