The One Formula You Need to Make a Killer Healthy Salad

By: Carolyn Malcoun

Here are 5 tips for making a killer salad, plus a super-simple homemade vinaigrette recipe that will make you fall in love with salad again.


I try to make a ginormous salad every day for lunch or dinner. Healthy salad recipes pack in a lot of nutrients for not a lot of calories—as long as you pay attention to the ingredients. It's easy to come up with healthy salad recipes in the summer when the market is overflowing with summer-ripe tomatoes, loads of veggies and a variety of salad greens. But dinner salads can be just as delicious and satisfying all year long. This foolproof salad formula will have you tossing up easy, healthy salads all year long.

Don't Miss: 29 Addicting Recipes to Feed Your Salad Habit

Basic Dinner (or Lunch) Salad Recipe

Makes: 1 large salad

3 cups leafy greens (see below)

1-2 cups vegetables (see below)

1/2 cup cooked whole grains (see below)

3-4 ounces protein (see below)

3 1/2 tablespoons vinaigrette (see below)

Here are the 5 steps to the best healthy granola bars:

1. Lay Down the Leafy Greens

Grilled Chicken Taco Salad

Pictured recipe: Grilled Chicken Taco Salad

For a single dinner (or lunch) salad, start with 3 cups of leafy greens.

During cooler months, reach for the sturdy bitter stuff. Try:

  • kale
  • spinach
  • arugula
  • endive
  • escarole

In warmer months, tender greens are available like:

  • lettuces
  • watercress
  • mesculun
  • baby greens (spinach, kale, etc.)

Related: Your Guide to Greens that Aren't Romaine

2. Add a Rainbow of Veggies

Falafel Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dresing

Pictured recipe: Falafel Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dresing

Add 1 to 2 cups of other vegetables on top of the greens base:

In cooler months hearty veggies like roots are in season, try roasting before adding to your salad to make them soft and sweet. Plus, the warmth helps to lightly wilt the sturdy greens for easier digestion. Try:

  • beets
  • squash
  • broccoli
  • red cabbage
  • carrots
  • Brussels sprouts
  • fennel

During warmer months when plenty of fresh veggies are available you can skip roasting and just add them raw, grated, sliced or diced. Or if you have leftover grilled veggies, toss those on! Try:

  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • radishes
  • corn
  • green beans
  • snap peas
  • zucchini

Related: How to Cook 20 Vegetables

3. Go for Whole Grains

Barley Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Baby Bok Choy & Green Romesco Dressing

Pictured recipe: Barley Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Baby Bok Choy & Green Romesco Dressing

Bulk up your plate with up to 1/2 cup of cooked grains all of which are good any season. Try:

  • barley
  • farro
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • freekeh
  • wheat berry
  • sorghum
  • toasted whole grain bread crumbs or croutons

Related: All the Grain Salad Recipes You Need

4. Add Protein for Staying Power

Spring Roll Salad

Pictured recipe: Spring Roll Salad

Top your salad with 3 to 4 ounces of protein to make it even more satisfying. During cooler months use poached or roasted proteins like and in warmer months, try grilling. You can also top with whatever protein leftovers you have in the fridge all year long. Try:

  • chicken
  • shrimp
  • steak
  • hard-boiled egg
  • 1/2 cup beans
  • hummus

Related: Top Vegetarian Protein Sources

5. Dress It Up

Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette with Lemon

Pictured recipe: Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette with Lemon

Now that your bowl o' salad is ready, you need to toss it with a dressing. Don't be a fat phobe! Dressing improves your salad's flavor—and its fat helps you absorb certain nutrients, such as beta carotene. This basic vinaigrette goes with just about any healthy salad recipe:


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red-wine or white-wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon minced shallot

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Makes about 3 1/2 Tbsp., enough for 1 large salad.

Short on time? Use 2 tablespoons of a store-bought dressing with a simple ingredient list.

Try this: How to Make Perfect Homemade Vinaigrette Every Time

Watch: How to Make a Killer Healthy Salad Every Time

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