Your ultimate guide for what to put in salads is here! If you're looking for healthy entree salads you can eat for an easy dinner or lunch, I've got you covered. We will create so many salad topping combinations that you will never get bored! Download your free printable Build a better Salad Guide to make it even more simple!
What to Put in Salads to Keep it Interesting
We all know that eating salads is good for you - lots of veggies, healthy fats and lean sources of protein. However, eating salads can get boring!
This is your ultimate guide for what to put in salads to make it tasty, unique and healthy! This article will give you literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ideas for making tasty salads that you will actually want to eat.
It's like creating a salad bar at home. When you have these ingredients on hand you can mix and match toppings to make a different combo every day.
Summer dinners like salads are one of our favorite easy meals during the summer time. If you like to eat salads during the summer too, be sure to check out these 37 healthy summer salad recipes for even more inspiration!
How to Build a Salad
Finding out what to put in salads has never been easier. Building a delicious and crave-worthy bowl at home is doable with these 6 easy steps!
- Base layer
- Crunchy toppings
- Soft toppings
- Fun & unique items
The base layer begins with a leafy green. There are several choices to choose from.
- Lettuce: varieties such as iceberg, butter, leaf, romaine can be found in your local grocery store. Epicurious shared more information about 18 types of lettuce that you may find useful when selecting.
- Spinach: There are many benefits to eating spinach according to Healthline and this power leaf can be found in both bagged and loose form in pretty much any grocery store or farmer's market.
- Kale: Kale is a leafy and cruciferous lettuce that makes an excellent and hearty base for salads, especially winter salads. You may consider massaging the kale to break down some of the fibers and remove some bitterness.
- Chard: Swiss chard is another leafy vegetable that has beautiful stalks and is full of flavor. Similar to kale and collards, Swiss chard has a slight bitter taste when eaten raw so you may consider massaging it to remove some of the fibers and bitterness.
- Collards: Collard greens are another delicious leafy choice that is of the same family as cabbage or broccoli.
- Arugula: Tangy and peppery, arugula is a stiffer leaf with great flavor and makes a great base layer.
- Pea Shoots: Pea shoots are often times a part of stir fry recipes but can also make a delicious base layer.
- Cabbage: Shred this cruciferous leaf and consider massaging to tenderize the leaves.
- Coleslaw Mix: Great to use in a pinch and can be found in many grocery stores.
- Mesclun or Spring mix: Spring or Mesclun mix is a mix of 10 tender and young leaves. It can be found prepackaged or is also very easy to grow at home in your garden.
- Beet greens: Beet greens are the leafy part of the beetroot and are a great way to use up the entire veggie.
Toppings for Salad
There are hundreds of toppings you can put in salads. These are a few of my favorites that work well in many different combinations.
Crunchy Salad Toppings
Crunchy salad toppings consist of crunchy raw vegetables, nuts and seeds. Some of my favorite crunchy salad toppings include:
- Pea Pods
- Brussels Sprouts (raw)
- Water Chestnuts
- Croutons, pita chips or tortilla strips
Soft Salad Toppings
Soft toppings give a great texture balance to your salad. Pairing soft and crunchy salad toppings gives salads more flavor and taste.
Fun & Unique Items
Fun and unique toppings are the best way to add flavor and texture to your salad. Whether they are soft or hard, these toppings are a must have!
- Soft or hard cheeses
- Cooked pasta
- Cooked quinoa
- Fresh fruit
- Dried fruit
- Cooked rice
- Cooked farro
- Cooked barley
- Fresh herbs
- Pomegranate arils
Below are a few examples of protein and plant based protein for salads. Adding protein is a great way to make a salad filling and well balanced.
- Grilled chicken
- Rotisserie chicken
Whether using store bought dressing or making your own vinaigrette at home, dressing is one of my favorite parts to add major flavor to a salad. Below are a few ideas for how to dress your bowl.
- Bottled dressing
- Oil & Vinegar
- Greek Yogurt
Expert Tips for Making the Best Salads
- Use kitchen shears to cut lettuce and veggies into bite sized pieces. This is the easiest way to make a chopped salad at home.
- Don't be afraid to experiment. Sometimes the best combinations come from a mixture of what you have on hand in the refrigerator and pantry and is an excellent way to use up leftovers.
- Use a printable graphic like my Build a Better salad free printable to mix and match recipes and toppings to keep track of your favorites. This is my favorite way to come up with fresh ideas for what to put in salads.
Expert Tips for the Best Ways to Store Salad
If possible, keep ingredients in separate containers and assemble once you are ready to eat it. This is a great way to let your family pick what they want on their salads and create a salad bar at home.
I like to prep my ingredients and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator. If stored properly, many salad ingredients will store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Mason Jar salads are a great option if you want to meal prep and keep your veggies crisp and fresh as long as possible. To make a mason jar salad, layer the ingredients in the order as depicted below:
- Hard Veggies
- Cheese & Eggs
- Soft Veggies
- Nuts & Seeds
Most Popular Types of Salads or Flavor Combinations
Here is a a guide to some of the most popular flavor combinations and what they include:
- Greek: Lettuce, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, kalamata olives, lemon.
- Thai: Cabbage, kale, soy sauce, peanuts, onions and peppers.
- Tossed or garden: Generally lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, carrots and sometimes red onions.
- Caesar: Romaine lettuce, croutons, parmesan cheese, caesar dressing and sometimes anchovies.
- Cobb: Lettuce, chicken, egg, bacon, avocado, blue cheese.
- Wedge: Iceberg lettuce, blue cheese, bacon, cherry tomatoes.
- Caprese: Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.
- Chef: Ham, tomatoes, egg, turkey, lettuce and cucumber.
- Southwest: Lettuce, black beans, avocados, red onion, pico de gallo or salsa, corn cilantro and peppers.
- Italian: Lettuce, tomato, red onions, pepperocini peppers, black olives, cherry tomatoes, parmesan cheese.
Toppings like nuts or seeds along with fresh herbs and a zesty vinaigrette is the best way to add tons of flavor.
A basic lettuce salad, also known as a garden or tossed salad generally consists of a lettuce base, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and sometimes red onions.
If you are making creamy chicken salad my favorite thing to add is grapes, celery and Everything Bagel seasoning. If making a grilled chicken salad, check out the listing of most popular salad combinations above and just add in grilled chicken.
To add protein you can add in any source of lean meat like cooked chicken, eggs, shrimp, salmon, turkey or even lunchmeat. Lentils, chickpeas, edamame, tofu and tempeh are all excellent sources of vegan or plant based protein.
Although this guide for what to put in salads is not exhaustive, it does give you hundreds if not thousands of unique salad topping ideas to spice up the flavor and texture. Tag me on Instagram @mommafitlyndsey if you make any of these creations and find your own unique ideas for what to put in salads!