If you love salad bar flavors but not salad bar prices, this one’s for you.

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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where associate nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Salad bars are my kryptonite. I get hypnotized by the organized and colorful containers of veg, proteins and crispy toppings… and I load up. No cleanup! So many options! It's all fun and games until I get to the checkout where my exciting lunch salad decidedly breaks the bank. As much as I love getting salads at restaurants, they can get expensive when you put them on the scale. As a dietitian on a budget, I try to reserve a takeout salad for special occasions or to treat myself. But that doesn't mean I don't regularly nosh on a crispy bowl of greens. In many cases, you can make things just as flavorful at home for a fraction of the price. Here are five salads you should be making, not buying. 

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1. Caesar Salad

The Caesar salad is an icon for a reason. It even tastes good in the airport, which is saying something. That said, Caesar salads at restaurants and salad bars can be really expensive and loaded with added salt and fat. Instead, make your own so you can customize it with the crispy and crunchy ingredients you like. My go-to is our Best Caesar Salad with Crispy Parmesan. Though the Parmesan crisps are a bit of extra work, their flavor is well worth it. Top it with grilled chicken or salmon to add extra protein and make it a meal. Really any salad can be a Caesar salad with homemade Caesar Salad Dressing, so don't hesitate to keep it simple too.  

2. Tabbouleh Salad

Do you have a huge bunch of parsley from the grocery store that's on its way out? Don't toss it! Tabbouleh is a healthy and refreshing way to use up a lot of herbs and boost your veggie intake. Plus, when you make it at home you can control the salt content compared to premade containers at the store. For something more filling, try our Tabbouleh with Chickpeas that gets a boost of protein and fiber from the legumes. 

3. Grain Salad

I'm not much of a meal prepper, but I try to always have a container of grain salad in my fridge. Whether it's Quinoa Salad with Feta, Olives & Tomatoes or Whole-Grain Salad with Charred Broccoli, Spring Onions & Parsley-Sumac Vinaigrette, it functions as a quick, filling and healthy lunch in a pinch. This helps me boost my whole grain and vegetable intake during the day without having to cook daily. It also makes a great side to bulk up dinner and can even work as breakfast with a fried egg on top. Make it your own by adding any whole grain, chopped vegetables and a dressing together. It's a great way to use up what you have on hand, and you can even make it go a little further by using it as a topping over a bed of greens. Bonus: it gets even better the longer it sits in the fridge (up to a week, that is). 

4. Simple Green Salad

One of the easiest ways to increase your veggie intake is by adding a side salad to your meals. When I am low on groceries and inspiration, I have an herby side salad formula that I turn to again and again. I make about half of the volume of my salad lettuce and the other half herbs like parsley, cilantro or dill. Then, I top it with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, honey and Dijon mustard. Season it with a pinch of salt and pepper, and *voila* the easiest and most flavorful salad is ready to pair with any meal. 

5. Chopped Salad 

I love a chopped salad for a lot of reasons: versatility, crunch, nutrition and more. Unfortunately, a salad like this that is loaded with a variety of toppings is one of the most expensive options at the salad bar (mostly for weight reasons). Making your chopped salad at home can save you money and allow you to use only the ingredients you are excited about. Our Eat-the-Rainbow Chopped Salad with Basil & Mozzarella is just as delightful to eat as it is to look at, if you're interested in impressing your friends or family members. Another favorite of mine is our Italian Chopped Salad, which pairs perfectly with pizza (if I do say so myself!).

Bottom Line

As much as I love salad bars, they are so expensive that they aren't viable for me to go to often. Instead, I make these salads from home to boost my veggie intake on a budget and help me cut down on food waste. Making your food at home allows you to customize flavors and have really delicious leftovers, too. For more inspiration, check out EatingWell's Best Salad Recipes from the Last 30 Years