Salads are usually served at the beginning of a meal, but they can also make healthy, low-calorie meals. Keep them interesting by changing the ingredients each time. Start with a bed of low-calorie greens and add lots of vegetables, fruits, and other healthy toppings:
Most salads begin as a pile of leafy green vegetables. Since greens are low in calories and are a good source of fiber, it’s a great way to add volume to your meal without adding a lot of calories. There are different varieties of lettuce, such as iceberg, leaf, spinach, escarole, romaine, or butter. The darker lettuces offer more vitamins than pale iceberg, for example. Spinach has iron, and all varieties are low in calories. One cup of shredded lettuce has about five to ten calories.
Almost any raw vegetable can be cut up and added to a salad. Green beans, snap peas, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, avocados, slimcados, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all great suggestions. You need five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, so eating a salad is a good way to meet those needs. Brightly colored vegetables have flavonoids, and the dark green vegetables are lowest in calories — about 20 calories per half cup serving.
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apple slices and raisins can add vitamins and antioxidants to your salad. The delicious burst of flavor and sweetness they add may also reduce the amount of high-calorie salad dressing you use. One-half cup of apple slices has 30 calories, and one-half cup of berries has about 40 calories.
Add a small amount of protein with a chopped or sliced hard-boiled egg, or one serving of lean beef, cooked shrimp, tuna, chicken breast, or strips of cheese. Make sure to measure your proteins, since meats and cheese have more calories than fruit or vegetables. Avoid fried meats like chicken strips or battered and fried shrimp. They contain too much fat and lots of calories. A quarter cup of chopped chicken meat or one egg will add 75 calories. Half a can of tuna will add about 80 calories. Two ounces of cubed or shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese may add up to 200 calories.
Sprinkle a few nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds, or cashews for a nice crunch. Just a few nuts will do, about one-eighth cup of nuts adds about 90 calories. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and all the nuts add protein and heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids.
One tablespoon of regular commercial salad dressing will add 50 to 80 calories, so be careful to measure how much you use. A large salad may look like it needs a lot dressing, but remember that one-quarter cup of dressing could add up to 300 calories. Low-fat and reduced calorie dressings are available or you can add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to your salad.
Here’s an example of a big healthy dinner salad:
- Two cups of green leaf lettuce.
- One-fourth cup raw green beans.
- One-fourth cup snap peas.
- One-fourth cup chopped tomato.
- One-fourth cup sliced carrots.
- One-fourth cup apple slices.
- One-fourth cup blueberries.
- One-fourth cup chopped chicken breast.
- One chopped hard boiled egg.
- One ounce of shredded mozzarella cheese.
- One-eighth cup walnut pieces.
- lemon and lime wedges.
This salad has lots of vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber and comes in at just under 400 calories. Serve this salad with a glass of iced tea or a big glass of sparkling water with lemon.