6 Tips For Getting Green Salads on the Table More Often

6 tips to help get you and your family eating more green salads

Growing up, I always thought I wasn’t much of a salad person.

But that’s because my idea of what constituted a salad was very limited and sad.

The only salad I’d ever encountered was that of the Kraft variety — gluey bottled dressing drizzled over iceberg lettuce, wedges of watery greenhouse tomatoes, and slices of cucumbers, sprinkled with solid blocks called croutons. As far as I knew, there were five types of salad in the world: Ranch, French, Italian, Caesar, and Thousand Islands. All of them were pretty meh.

Even when I got older and started experimenting with other flavours from the bottled dressing aisle — creamy poppyseed, sweet onion, raspberry vinaigrette — I found myself terribly dissatisfied. Everything tasted flat and plastic-y. They would sit in my fridge door for literally years before I’d finally toss them.

And honestly, if that’s all there was to salad, I wasn’t missing out on much nutritionally. Iceberg lettuce and imported or hydroponically-grown vegetables are almost useless to the body, and bottled dressing is mostly just preservatives. No thanks.

In my later twenties, when I started getting serious about food, I finally discovered the glorious variety and spectacular flavours of real green salads. Garden-fresh romaine, spinach, mesclun, arugula, kale, and broccoli; tossed with zippy creamy dressings or sweet and zingy vinaigrettes. Salads topped with tangy fruit, crispy nuts, grilled meats, fresh herbs, and crumbled cheeses. They were packed with vitamins, protein, probiotics, and intrigue. They could even be a complete meal!

broccoli salad

But they were a lot of work. Composing a salad with hand-shredded leaves, homemade dressing, toasted nuts, and some kind of fruit took a lot of planning and hands-on time. It was too much effort for a side dish when I was already cooking the main dish from scratch. So salads were still pretty rare in our house, even though we loved them and they were so good for us.

Until I discovered that having a few key ingredients on hand at all times made me salad-ready anytime the passion for something crisp and cool took over.

See, the problem is that the main ingredient in most salads — greens — are terribly perishable. They don’t last long once you pick them and or/take them home from the market. So the key to seizing the salady moment is making sure you always have all the other ingredients handy when you get your hands on some fresh, crispy greens.

Here’s what I do and what I recommend, so that you always have the necessary elements on hand to make delicious, fresh, homemade salads all through salad season. (I’m just going to point out that winter is not green salad season here in Canada. I don’t eat green salads in winter, unless you count cole slaw. Although I sure do long for them!!)

So here are my tips for getting salad on your table on a more regular basis:

Experiment with different homemade salad recipes until you find some that you love.

If you’re not a big salad eater already, keep trying new ones until you hit on a favourite. It took me a long time to find ours. Even try kinds that you think you don’t like due to early exposure to the Kraft version.  I always thought I hated Greek salad until I tasted homemade Greek salad. Not even the same category!!

They’re a ton of work at first but persevere until you find a few your family loves. There is hardly anything more nutritious and refreshing you can serve your family. And they will get easier once you are comfortable preparing all the other parts.

Once you have these figured out, you can start prepping big batches of dressing and other toppings so you can throw together a quick salad at meal times without hassle.

The toppings I list below are the elements of our favourite salads. Yours might be a little different.

green salad

Make big(ger) batches of a few favourite dressings to keep on hand.

Ours are Caesar, sweet balsamic vinaigrette, and more recently, Greek. Homemade dressings can be a pain to mix up last-minute, but if you make them ahead of time you’ll be so grateful when you’re scrambling for a last-minute side dish. I like to keep our fridge stocked with these throughout the spring and summer so that they’re always handy.

I also find it essential to always have my fridge stocked with a batch of homemade mayo. With a bit of vinegar and other flavours or spices, homemade mayo can quickly be transformed into some of the most delicious creamy salad dressings you’ve ever tasted.

Toast batches of nuts.

Most salads benefit from a crunchy element. Nuts usually fit the bill perfectly, especially with sweet dressings.

And all nuts benefit from some toasting. It makes them crispier and enhances their flavour. But you don’t want to be toasting nuts while you’re also preparing the rest of your dinner. If you’re like me, you’ll burn them 75% of the time.

So here’s what I do.

My favourite nut is slices or slivered almonds; chopped pecans also make a terrific change.

I do about a cup or two at a time, which will last for quite a few salads.

Just pour your nuts into a dry large pan, and heat them over medium heat. DON’T LEAVE THE STOVE. Attend to them, stirring gently but continuously, until they’re a light golden colour. Remove from stove to cool, and store in an airtight container. (I like to keep them in a small mason jar.)

They’re ready to sprinkle onto a salad at a moment’s notice.

Keep your pantry stocked with nonperishable fruit.

I adore fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, sliced apple, etc) on my salads. But I don’t always have fresh fruit on hand. (Canada, remember? We only have fresh fruit available five months out of the year). Dried and canned fruit are a wonderful, convenient substitute when fresh isn’t available.

I find we eat salad much more often when I keep canned mandarin slices, canned pineapple, and dried cranberries on hand. They are a delightful addition to leafy salads!

Keep your fridge stocked with feta, fresh Parmesan and/or other cheeses.

Feta cheese is another ingredient I try to keep on hand during salad season. It really zips up an otherwise boring salad, and takes little effort to crumble on top of your greens (or tomatoes or cucumbers.) If you don’t care for feta, you might prefer goat cheese or even Parmesan. Just a suggestion.

Our Favourite Salads

To get you inspired, here are our favourite salad varieties that use combinations of the above ingredients:

  • Fruity: mixed sweet greens (lettuces, baby spinach, field greens, etc), sweet balsamic vinaigrette, fresh cilantro leaves, toasted almonds, and any fruit (fresh berries, dried cranberries, mandarin slices, pineapple chunks, etc)
  • Greek: romaine lettuce, sliced cucumbers, garden-fresh tomatoes, Greek dressing, crumbled feta. (For a small batch of dressing: 6 Tbsp olive oil, 1.5 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 pressed garlic gloves, 1 tsp oregano)

What are your favourite salads? I could always use some more ideas!

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  1. Yummm. Although, to be honest, even though it’s salad season right now, I never want salads! I’m 12 weeks pregnant, and salads have just sounded totally blegh to me lately. I’m hoping that’s going to pass soon.

    I LOVE adding avocado to my salads! I know I’ll never be able to buy local avocados, living in Ohio, but they are so. delicious. Also hard-boiled eggs, which I need to start keeping more on hand, since they’re also great snacks.

    • I definitely enjoy the occasional avocado myself. SO YUMMY. And I love adding hard-boiled eggs, too, especially if salad is the main course. But I USUALLY make it as a side, so there’s usually another source of protein in the meal somewhere.

    • Rachel, I was the same as you earlier in my pregnancy. The salad aversion went away around mid-point, thankfully. Just in time for summer and farmers markets.

  2. Coriander says:

    Arugula with grape tomatoes and avocado is always a winner at our house.
    Greens with fresh dill and cucumber and olives is great too.
    Greens, grapes, and feta is excellent.
    Romaine, tomato, onion, cucumber, and peppers get chowed down too.
    Salad is almost always the most popular item at our supper table. I find the more I make it, the more people eat of it.
    Salad is very very popular at our table. I owe it to the homemade dressings and fresh fresh local veg. We get a CSA share of fresh veg every week and I get the best use out of and the most salads made from our greens and lettuces when I wash and dry and store them ready to go into a salad in the refrigerator.
    My favorite dressing is about 2 parts extra virgin olive oi, 1 strong part tasty vinegar (sherry, cider, red wine, white wine, or rice), bloop of dijon-style mustard-country or smooth, crushed garlic, tiny drizzle of maple syrup, honey or pinch of sugar, heart pinch of dried or good amount of fresh chopped herbs, salt & pepper, warmed to room temperature and whisked before using.

  3. Coriander says:

    Also, I toss our salads with the dressing instead of pouring it on top of each serving. Better coverage with less total dressing=more salad enjoyed and devoured.

  4. PepperReed says:

    I make a Salad Nicoise a lot during the summer. It’s a ‘composed’ salad with all the ingredients laid out on a bed of Romaine (or other crisp lettuce) and is a meal in itself:

    small boiled potatoes (split or whole depending on size)
    quartered hard boiled eggs
    sliced or cherry tomatoes
    green beans (blanched, but homemade dilly beans are the BOMB in this)
    nicoise olives (I can’t always find these and have used kalamata or black olives)

    It usually has tuna (either high quality from a can or grilled fresh tuna), but we most often use a grilled, sliced chicken breast and rarely grilled salmon or tuna.

    I make a herby vinaigrette style dressing and dress the potatoes while still warm, so they absorb some of it. I also use it to ‘marinade’ the chicken etc. for grilling. I dress the greens and green beans, if using fresh, and then lay it all out on the bed of romaine and drizzle the rest of the dressing over.

    It’s a bit of prep work, but goes quickly if you’re used to slicing and dicing and it’s DELICIOUS! Just the essence of Summer. It’s pretty enough for guests and still easy for after work or on date-night weekend.

  5. I take my salads *very* seriously. I eat what I call Big Ass Salads (meal-sized) pretty much every day. Here are my favorites:

    my Green Salad: romaine, spinach, broccoli, scallion, peas, avocado, pumpkin seeds, and a dressing made of lemon juice, miso, tahini, and nutritional yeast.

    my Nikki Salad (because I stole the idea from my friend Nikki): romaine, baby mixed greens, kraut (a mix of cabbage, carrot, and beets – SO GOOD!), cherry tomato, avocado, walnuts, and a dressing made of lemon juice, tahini, and nutritional yeast.

    my Favorite Kale Salad (because it’s my favorite): kale, cherry tomato, avocado, scallion, sunflower seeds, and a dressing made of lemon juice, miso, harissa, tahini, and nutritional yeast.

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    • YUM! Thanks for sharing, Rebecca. I make one Asian noodle salad (the word “salad” is used very liberally) that uses tahini, and I LOVE the dressing. I never thought to try it before, I now i think I really need to try it on green salads, too!

  6. I love chopped salads to death. Whatever you have on hand, chopped up in a bowl, dressed with whatever else you have on hand.

    One of my favorite salad recipes is for a strawberry chicken spinach salad. Spinach, sliced strawberries (dried would work too), candied pecans/walnuts (very easy to do stovetop and keep forever), and sliced chicken (I like to use a lemon pepper seasoning on mine, breasts or thighs, or even a whole chicken pulled apart). If it’s in season, red pears are divine on this as well. The dressing is very simple and comes together in a flash with a cherry vinegar I made with cherry pits last year, olive and/or sunflower oil, dry mustard, salt, sugar, and poppyseeds. The base recipe is on Penzey’s website if you’re interested; but I’ve tweaked mine along the way.

    One of our family favorite meals is to cook up a bunch of quinoa in bone broth. Roast broccoli and cauliflower in the oven. Toast up some garbanzo beans. Make a thick dressing with tahini, sunflower seed butter, lemon juice, garlic, a touch of olive oil, and water to desired consistency. Stir everything together. Die and go to heaven. So good!

  7. Oh, and I’m starving now. Even though I just ate. Thanks a lot! ;-)

  8. I highly highly recommend the recipe book Fresh (by Kimberly Harris? I think?). It’s a whole book full of recipes for salads and it is delicious. It taught me how to make salad dressings and gave me lots of great salad ideas.

    I would also add that we would never eat salads unless we made it a main meal. Too much work for just a side dish. I even converted my husband, who is a carnivore, into loving salads, so I am now convinced that anyone can enjoy salad as a main meal (just add in some meat or cheese or beans or nuts to make it a little more filling).

  9. Okay, I know this post was from a while ago, but I thought of another way to eat salads more often. We will sometimes substitute lettuce for rice. And we’ll use whatever meat/gravy we have made as toppings for a salad. Yum! You can eat anything with lettuce! My friend used to put soup on her salads as a salad dressing.

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