Salads – Big and Beautiful and Healthy

Homemade salad with onions, cucumber, peppers, mushrooms, red onion and ice berg lettuce.

Salads are a dieter’s best friend…if done right. They are so very healthy, but I know so many people that refuse to eat them, turn up their noses. It’s “rabbit food.” There are so many things you can put on a salad, make a salad out of, that I would think there’s something for everyone, but maybe that’s just me.

I happen to love salads and eat them at least once a day, usually twice a day. I’m referring to green salad, the healthy stuff with lettuce, mixed greens, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, peppers, etc. Putting lots of stuff on salad keeps it from getting boring, and besides that I find they can be very pretty and appealing.

Two salads; One salad bar

When I was growing up, we had a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, and my mom would take me there and we’d just get the salad bar. Later we had a Sizzler. I don’t ever remember ordering anything off the Sizzler menu, we just went for the salad bar. To this day one of my favorite things to eat out is a good salad bar, but finding one in Canada is very difficult. When I am in the States, I go often, and Round Table Pizza in Bellingham, WA is one of the salad bars I hit on a regular basis.

Spinach “Greek” salad with tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives and feta cubes

When I’m at home, I do one of two things. Either I buy bagged “American Blend” salad, or I buy a head of iceberg and romaine hearts and cut it up and mix it together in a big Tupperware to keep handy in the fridge. I find certain seasons of the year the actual heads of lettuce you can find in the grocery store doesn’t taste very good, and the last romaine hearts I bought were so bitter I wound up throwing them out – which was very sad because I hate wasting food! I will also buy a bag of baby spinach and either add it to my lettuce or just make a spinach salad. My daughter likes arugula, but I’m not a fan.

In my veggie crisper drawer I always have a big selection of items to chop up and put on the salad. I don’t pre-mix the salad because I made a big batch of lettuce, and if I cut up the peppers, cucumbers, etc, sometimes they get soggy or slimy, or make the lettuce rust faster.

Side salad I ordered with a bun-less burger at a pub.

Just today in my fridge, I have: cucumbers, zucchini, white mushrooms, yellow sweet peppers, green sweet peppers, tomatoes (I have to have tomatoes on my salad!) red onion and green onions, broccoli and celery. I will also put on sliced dill pickles (zero calories), I keep a jar of sliced banana peppers to throw on a little spicy bite or green olives. I also keep a big container of crumbled feta in the fridge to toss on now and then.

I don’t put everything on one salad. That’s how I keep interested in eating my greens; mix it up.

That’s also the fun part about salad bars! See the picture of two completely different salads? Two trips, same day at the Round Table Pizza salad bar.

Romaine topped with cooked shrimp and spicy cocktail sauce

When I need some protein, I love to put on some shrimp and then use some spicy homemade, low-carb cocktail sauce as the dressing. Or I’ll throw on some canned tuna (drained of course). And of course, a great way to use up last night’s leftover chicken is to chop it up and toss it on.

So I said it’s a dieter’s best friend, if done right. What I mean by that is that the biggest downfall on a beautiful salad is the dressing. Most store-bought and especially restaurant dressings are super high fat, high sugar, high calorie. Some places will have low-cal ranch or Italian, but in my opinion those just don’t taste good. I’m not saying I never use their dressing, but I make sure to get it on the side and use it as a dip, rather than pour it over my salad and drown my veggies, as I sometimes do at home with my low-cal dressings (recipes to follow). I really, really like dressings. The one thing I do when I’m at a salad bar is mixing blue cheese (which I never have at home) and a sweet French dressing. My mom taught me that when I was young, and I love it, but do not have it at home because of the calories in blue cheese dressing.

For being healthy, there aren’t many things you can’t put on your salad. Go to the market and find some new stuff. Avocados are very high fat, but if you use a dressing that has zero fat, then it’s really not a problem to slice up a ¼ of an avocado on your salad. If you’re on a very low-carb diet, carrots are not good because they do have a high natural sugar content, but any green leafy veggie is great and there are a ton of varieties to choose from, peppers, onions, cucumbers have practically zero calories, but tomatoes are higher carb, and mushrooms are very, very good for a body. I have never stopped eating tomatoes, and have about 1 a day, and it hasn’t hampered my weight loss.

My four favorite low-cal, homemade dressings/dips I always keep in the fridge.

Since keeping the calories low for dressings is the biggest issue with eating salad, I’ve come up with a few recipes I love and always keep made in the fridge. Sometimes if I know I’m going out to lunch or dinner and will be eating salad, I’ll take a little container so I can have a low-cal dressing other than oil and vinegar, which is about all you can get at most restaurants. I use these as dressings and dips. My daughter loves ranch to dip her chicken in, and the “honey” mustard is great for dipping my protein chips in, along with veggies, and hubby likes it instead of mayo/mustard on his sandwiches.

Ranch

This one is really simple. I love, love, love Hidden Valley Ranch dressing/dip, and this is just as good, and a lot less calories.

  • 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1 cup Hood Calorie Countdown milk
  • 2 Tblsp mayo (this will give the good ranch flavor, and keep it from being 100 calories per serving)
  • 3 Tblsp (or one package) Hidden Valley Ranch mix.

Honey Mustard Dip

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup Splenda (or more to taste)
  • 1/8 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/8 cup Kraft fat free mayo (optional, just to add some creamy-ness)

Russian/French Dressing

This is a mix of two recipes, one for Russian one for French, but this is my favorite combo. The French doesn’t have the onion or celery seed in it, but it’s creamier and you add mayo.

  • 6 tablespoons granular Splenda or equivalent liquid Splenda
  • ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • ¼ cup oil (I use grape seed)
  • ½ cup low carb ketchup
  • ½  teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ cup grated onion
  • Pinch celery seed

I throw this in the food processor so I don’t have to actually grate the onion. Put in all ingredients and blend till smooth. For some reason I love the way this one tastes with broccoli as a dip.

Italian Dressing (with variations)

  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup oil (most often, I leave the oil out and just replace with water)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 package Good Season’s Italian Dressing mix

Greek variation

  • Add ¼ cup crumbled feta and 1 Tblsp oregano

Asian variation

  • Add 1/8 cup light reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1/8 cup Splenda, tiny bit ground ginger
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