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How to Make the Perfect Salad

A colorful salad with a variety of textures and flavors thanks to a mix of vegetables.
Liliya Kandrashevich/Shutterstock

Salads don’t have to be a sad, soggy, bland affair. Whether you’re striving to eat a fresh salad every day or just enjoy them more whenever you do, these 12 tips can help you build perfect, delicious salads.

Salads get a bad rap, given the poor quality of those served at fast-food and casual dining spots and the premade selection at grocery stores. If you can look beyond the classic house or Caesar salad (not that these can’t be good) and learn how to make the perfect one for you, it might just change your opinion.

Why should you take my salad-crafting advice? Well, I might not be a professional chef, but I’ve been eating salad almost every day for years. I mix it up constantly, but always stick with a few basics.

Making a salad that tastes fantastic and is genuinely good for you is easy, and it’ll totally change the way you view this lunchtime staple. Here’s how to eat tons of salad without getting bored out of your mind.

Use Better Lettuce

Step one of building the perfect salad is to toss out the iceberg lettuce. While it’s certainly not bad for you, it’s not as healthy as other options. Plus, it basically tastes like crunchy water.

To instantly make your salad more interesting and flavorful, try dark, leafy greens, like kale and baby kale, arugula, watercress, or spinach. These are all packed with nutrients, taste better, and might even leave you feeling fuller.

If you really need some crunch, butter or romaine lettuce are more nutrient-dense than iceberg. A mix of leafy greens and a crunchy option is a great place to start—try kale and romaine.

Add Something Crunchy

Speaking of crunch, you definitely want some in your salad. The best salads offer a mix of textures, and something crunchy is just really satisfying, especially if you’re using leafy greens.

Croutons are an obvious go-to for many, but they can get soggy fast. Plus, if you’re trying to eat something healthy, a bag of croutons isn’t it. Try some nuts (roasted walnuts or almonds work great), sunflower or pumpkin seeds, crispy quinoa, parmesan crisps, or even crushed tortilla chips.

Get Creative with Protein

A colorful salad topped with grilled salmon.

Ever noticed how most restaurants default to tossing chicken or bacon on top of a salad? While these can definitely be delicious, they’re also not the only options. If you eat meat, steak and turkey also taste good on a salad.

Seafood is another option. Something that isn’t too flakey, like salmon, tuna, shrimp, or scallops work best.

If you’re a vegetarian, add some roasted chickpeas or hemp hearts to get some protein (these are also nice and crunchy). Black beans, eggs, or tofu are also options.

Be Picky About the Cheese

There’s nothing wrong with adding cheese to your salad. It tastes satisfying and can even be a decent source of protein. Instead of the shredded cheddar, though, pick something with more flavor.

Feta or freshly shaved Parmesan both add tons of flavor and mix really well with veggies. You can also opt for Gorgonzola, blue, Asiago, or sharp cheddar if you prefer.

Toss in Some Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are a game changer! They can instantly give a salad so much flavor. No matter what else is you put in there, you can add some dill, cilantro, or mint. These three herbs are packed with flavor and make a huge difference in the way your salad tastes.

You can also try thyme, basil, parsley, or anything else you like.

Grain Will Make Your Salad More Filling

A hearty raw kale salad, loaded with quinoa grains.
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Want your salad to be more filling? Add a hearty grain, and it instantly becomes dinner-worthy. Try adding some quinoa or farro. Grains hold up especially well with dark greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, or arugula.

Just don’t add too many, or your salad will become more of a grain bowl. A small amount added to mostly lettuce and other veggies will ensure it remains salad.

Remember Your Veggies Don’t Have to be Raw

Get creative with your vegetables. You don’t have to stick with shredded carrots and sliced cucumber. You can literally put any vegetable in a salad, and no, they don’t have to be raw.

Grilling or roasting veggies is a great way to elevate your salad and add tons of flavor. Try roasting a big batch of veggies on Sunday, and then add them to your salads throughout the week.

Some delicious options include broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, brussels sprouts, eggplant, carrots, parsnips, and green beans. But you can truly put whatever you want on a salad.

A Healthy Fat Is a Good Idea

A healthy fat is a nice way to round out your salad. Some really great choices include avocado (which can bring everything together), olives (and not just black; try greens and kalamata, as well), and nuts.

Something Sweet

A salad loaded with finely slices apples and walnuts.

It’s totally fine to leave your salad full of savory items, like crunchy greens and healthy fats. But if you have a bit of a sweet tooth, you can indulge that, as well!

Dried cranberries are a popular choice, and for good reason. But other dried fruits, like apricots or cherries, work as well. Try them all, and see which you like best. Sliced fresh fruit is another tasty option. Apples, pears, and berries all go surprisingly well with leafy greens.

Make Your Own Dressing

Making your own dressing is absolutely the key to a truly delicious salad. It’s also so quick and easy, you’ll be surprised you’ve never done it before.

There are tons of recipes online for fast salad dressings, but my personal favorite is a blend of olive oil, lemon juice, honey, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and fresh garlic. It’s tasty and healthy, if that’s what you want. Plus, it goes with literally anything.

Research some options, discover your favorite, and stop spending money on bottled salad dressing!

Massage the Dressing into Your Salad

A well tossed salad with the greens evenly coated with fresh salad dressing.
Avirut S/Shutterstock

Speaking of dressing, avoid just dumping it on your salad at the end and half-heartedly mixing it. The best way to incorporate dressing is to really massage it into the lettuce—especially if you used heavy greens, like kale.

Pour most of your dressing over the greens, wash your hands, and then gently massage the dressing into the lettuce with your fingers. Then, add all of your toppings and mix everything gently with a fork.

This prevents sogginess and the dressing from pooling at the bottom of the bowl. Everything will taste better, too!

Mix It Up

All of these suggestions will help you make a great salad, but you can (and should) mix it up. Every single salad doesn’t have to include a variety of veggies, cheese, something crunchy, something sweet, a grain, a protein, and fresh herbs.

Choose just a few of these options and your salad will taste way better than it usually does. Sometimes, you might just be in the mood for something simple, like some Arugula with lemon and Parmesan. The idea is to expand your idea of what you can include in your salad and keep adding more from there.

Salads don’t have to be a borefest you either completely avoid or only eat due to a sense of dietary duty. Some (or all) of these tips can make salad something you actually look forward to eating.

Jessica Booth Jessica Booth
Jessica Booth is a freelance writer for LifeSavvy. She has been working in the editorial world as a freelance writer for over two years and previously worked as an editor for over eight years.  Jessica writes about travel, beauty, wellness, health, food, home decor, and parenting, and has reviewed and tested out products for all of those verticals over the course of her career. Read Full Bio »
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