Build a Salad With an Registered Dietician

Build a Salad with an RD

Paige Heiden, MS, RDN

  1. Choose your base: romaine and iceberg provide excellent crunch, but dark leafy greens like spinach, spring mix, baby kale, etc. contain more nutrients including: Vitamin A, B2, Vitamin E, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium.
  2. Choose your lean protein: examples of lean proteins include: grilled chicken, turkey, fish and hard-boiled eggs. Examples of plant-based proteins include: almonds, walnuts, chickpeas and black beans.
  3. Load up on your veggies: Experimenting with different vegetables can help increase your intake of different vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A (carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers), Vitamin C (citrus fruits, leafy greens), and Magnesium (green vegetables).
  4. Be aware of starchy vs non-starchy vegetables. Both starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables can and should be part of a balanced diet! Starchy vegetables contain ~15 grams of carbohydrates in ½ cup (sweet potato, corn, peas, butternut squash). Non-starchy vegetables contain ~5 grams of carbohydrates in ½ cup (broccoli, carrots, cucumber, artichokes, peppers). Both, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, can range from ~1-4 grams of fiber in ½ cup.
  5. Add a grain or a crunch: whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice offer extra fiber that can help keep you fuller for longer while also increasing your intake of nutrients such as Vitamins B1 and B2. For extra crunch, taste, and texture, roasted chickpeas or broad beans are a great substitute for croutons (look for the brand Bada Bean Bada Boom in stores!) Crisp fruits and vegetables can also be a nice addition to salads (apple slices, red cabbage).


  • Add healthy fats: Almonds, walnuts and avocado can contribute healthy fats to your salad.
  • Keep in mind, dressings can also add additional fat to your salad. So…dress for success! Order your salad dressing on the side to control the amount you use. Aim to use ~1-2 Tablespoons.
  • To “stretch” your dressing, you can also try adding balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar and/or lemon juice.
  • Try choosing low-fat dressings, as they will be lower in fat and calories. Bolthouse Farms Cucumber Ranch is a delicious Greek yogurt-based dressing, which also offers extra Calcium.


Additional tips and tricks

    1. Take advantage of the “special instructions” sections on websites when placing an order for a salad online. You can often ask for certain ingredients on the side to better control the portions you use. This is a nice strategy for “higher ticket” items higher in calories such as nuts, cheeses and croutons. 
    2. Refer to chain restaurants of a similar cuisine to access nutrition calculators online. Some examples include: Tossed, SweetGreen and Chop’t.
    3. If you are using a food tracker such as LoseIt or My Fitness Pal to track your intake, take advantage of the “create your own food” or “new recipe” features. Add your ingredients separately into your tracker when creating a new food. If you’ve already tracked your salad using a chain restaurant menu calculator online, add a new recipe into your app and plug in the nutritional information that the website’s calculator provides you with!