You head to the salad bar thinking you’re making a healthier lunch choice. After all, fruit and vegetables are what Americans need to eat more of, right?! You start to fill your plastic container with some greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and the next thing you know you’re paying for a two-pound salad composed of roasted vegetables, breaded chicken, Chinese noodles, bacon, croutons, and a creamy dressing. But it’s a salad, so it’s healthy.
Not so fast.
Salad can be a good-for-you and delicious choice – that’s what the Fresh Express Salad Swap is all about. But as with everything else, you have to choose wisely. Before you reach the salad bar for your next lunch break, remember to balance your salad bowl. Like ice cream shops, salad bars offer so many toppings to choose from, but you don’t need all of them on every salad. The base of your salad should be greens and raw vegetables, with one lean protein, maybe a starchy vegetable, and a sprinkling of healthy fat. Here are some ingredients to swap on your next visit to the salad bar.
1. Swap in leafy greens for iceberg lettuce. The darker and leafier the greens, the richer they are in fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C, and iron. Some of the best greens to fill the base of your salad are kale, baby spinach, mixed greens and arugula.
2. Swap in raw or blanched vegetables for roasted vegetables. Roasted or sautéed vegetables can carry a lot of oil with them, which means additional fat that you aren’t aware of. Stick with a variety of crisp, colorful vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.
3. Swap in fresh fruit for dried and canned fruit. Adding fruit to your salad is a great way to get a boost of vitamin C and more fiber, just be careful what you choose. Dried fruits don’t have the same volume as fresh fruits. If you eat one serving of dried fruit, you could end up taking in a lot more calories. For example, 1 cup of grapes has 104 calories, whereas 1 cup of raisins (dried grapes) has 493 calories. If you do choose dried fruits, be sure to reduce the serving size to account for the extra calories. As for canned fruit, watch out for the ones canned in syrup as opposed to water. Find a comprehensive list of Fresh Express recipes that include fruit HERE.
4. Swap in grilled, roasted or baked proteins for “crispy” ones. “Crispy” is code for breaded and fried, which means added calories and fat and less protein. Your best protein choices are grilled chicken, baked tofu, roasted turkey, a hard-boiled egg, baked salmon, and albacore tuna. If you’re looking for more vegetarian options, try beans and edamame, which are good vegetarian sources of protein and will keep you satisfied thanks to their fiber.
5. Swap in avocado, nuts, and cheese for bacon bits, crunchy onions, and croutons. The latter may be tasty, but they’re loaded with sodium and don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. If you want that crunch, add a small sprinkling of nuts or seeds. Other healthy fat options you can add are cheese and avocado – just watch the portions! If you pile them all on, your salad will quickly be out of balance and too high in fat.
6. Swap in a vinaigrette for creamy dressings. Ranch, blue cheese, creamy Italian, and Caesar are some of the highest calorie and fattiest dressings at the salad bar. Opt for olive-oil based vinaigrettes or better yet, drizzle some olive oil and vinegar of your choice on top. If you can’t resist the creamy varieties, look for low-fat and yogurt-based dressings. Find a guide to simple homemade dressings HERE.
By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express