Lesson #87: How to Toss Your Own Salad

by Rachel on June 27, 2011

As it gets hotter and hotter in Houston, I’ve found myself craving salads pretty frequently. And I’ve also found myself lamenting the lack of salad bar options near my apartment and my office. When I lived in NYC, it seemed that every block had three restaurants where you could get a chopped salad overflowing with the protein, additions, and veggies of your choice. It was never a challenge to get any salad you could think up in 10 minutes for lunch.

But here? Not quite the same.

Eventually, though, I realized that instead of lamenting the lack of salad bar options around me, I just needed to recreate the experience at home. Now, of course, I’m sure you know how to make a salad every day for lunch. But here is my method for creating a mini salad bar in your fridge so actually making the salad each day takes less time than it would to go to a restaurant for a takeout salad.

Step 1. Prep your protein. I usually use chicken or steak, but you may want to use deli turkey, hard boiled eggs, or tofu — it’s up to you! Last week, it was chicken — I pounded about 1.5 lbs chicken breast flat and threw it in a zip-top plastic bag with a little olive oil, a little vinegar, and a generous coating of Montreal Chicken Seasoning. I let it marinate for about 30 minutes and then put it on the grill to cook while moving on to the next steps.

Step 2. Get your lettuce ready. I buy a bag with three big Romaine heads; it’s cheaper than buying it chopped and you get way more out of it. A bag of the pre-chopped stuff just does not sustain an at-home salad bar! I wash it, let it dry (for like two seconds, I’m so impatient!) and then chop it up. Then I put the chopped lettuce back in the big plastic bag it came in so I didn’t have to waste a storage container or plastic bag on it.

Step 3. Chop, chop, chop. The key to making a salad-bar-worthy salad is getting a ton of good veggies, so first you’ll need to hit the produce section of the grocery store hard. Get all your favorite veggies so your salad has all the crunch and flavor of a salad bar salad. And then…chop them.

This is the worst part for me, as I hate chopping veggies, but it’s better to just get it over with once and be done with it for the week! I use my veggie chopper to chop the veggies into neat little cubes. I hate cutting my salad each day before I eat (so messy!) so even though I hate this step, it’s worth it in the long run. (You can also cut the finished salad even smaller with a salad chopper.)

Once they are chopped, I put them into storage containers and marvel at how pretty and perfect they look.

Just like a salad bar! And seeing them all colorful like that always makes me happy, even if getting them to that point was a pain in the ass.

Once my veggies are chopped, I take my chicken or steak from the grill and let it cool and then chop that too and put it in a container.

Step 4. Pick your accessories. The last thing you need for a totally wonderful salad is the tasty add-ons that make it feel special. This includes beans, cheese, nuts, seeds, fruit, and dressing. I like to pick a new cheese or dressing each week and then plan my salad accordingly. With this salad with the black beans, I went with just a creamy chipotle and ancho pepper dressing. The next week it was feta and Newman’s Own balsamic vinaigrette and chickpeas. Sometimes I let a new dressing that sounds tasty guide my accessories, while other times, a craving for one particular thing (like sunflower seeds!) might set the tone.

If you need more inspiration, read menus online! I’m a big fan of  recreating salads I have in restaurants, but just seeing a certain combination on a menu can be enough to inspire you at the grocery store.

The accessories are what makes your salad feel better-than-average and you have to choose things that are fatty and satisfying enough to remind you that eating healthy really is a wonderful thing. Seriously — little bit of feta goes a long way for diet optimism.

So…four easy steps to having your own salad bar at home! The whole process takes like 30-45 minutes and is a perfect Sunday activity. Just add it to your “SUCK IT UP” list of chores like cleaning or doing laundry. It saves so much time (and money!) throughout the week and makes lunchtime a daily opportunity to feel healthy and satisfied.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dori June 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

Great idea! All your colorful veggies look so yum. I can’t eat salad because of my stomach issues, and your post makes me nostalgic for the good old days.

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2 Ali June 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

How long do your veggies stay good for after being chopped? Do you have any tips to get them to last longer after being chopped? I’ve noticed my black beans tend to get stinky after a few days.

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3 Rachel June 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Black beans definitely get gross after a few days…veggies usually last me about five days though. The best advice I can give is to plan ahead and chop the amount that will last…if they will only last five days, don’t chop enough for ten lunches!

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4 ashleigh June 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm

That spread looks delicious! As much as I love salad bars too they can get so expensive so I love to make my own. I get so much inspiration from reading menus too!

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5 Miss Tee June 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

This is a GREAT idea. I’ve been thinking about this myself because I HATE chopping veggies, but really love to eat salad at home! You’ve inspired me to finally get my act together and keep salad bar fixins at the ready. Thx!

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6 Morgan @ Operation Hot Mama June 27, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Love it, love it, love it! You rock!! The salad bar idea would be SO helpful for taking to work…especially on my long 4 day weekends there. The same old salad would get super boring and usually I want something totally different by lunch time than what I packed in the am.

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7 Kristin June 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Am I the only one who saw the title for this post and immediately thought it was about something dirty? oops! haha

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8 Nicole June 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Salad bar in your own fridge= heaven. Not only does that shit look delicious, but it’s also healthy and college budget friendly…
godd i hate having 0 money.

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9 Carrie June 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

That all looks so yummy.

Might I make one suggestion though? Though romaine is the better choice of all the given lettuce possibilities, going with spinach is actually more ideal. There are other greens that I know people use but I’m not sure how those stack up because I’ve never tried them. But I have switched to Spinach. I don’t even buy Lettuce anymore. I looked at the nutritional content and spinach is higher in every nutrient and the caloric count is only slightly higher and I think it’s worth it for all the extra benefits.

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10 Rachel June 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Personally, it’s a matter of taste more than anything! I like spinach mixed in with lettuce, but I’m not a huge fan of just a spinach salad. But that’s just me!

Also, I hope that the calorie difference between lettuce and spinach wouldn’t turn anyone off from eating spinach. Actually…I just hope that no one is choosing their greens based on calorie count!

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11 Carrie June 28, 2011 at 10:07 am

Agreed about choosing based on calories. I was just throwing in all the positives on the slight chance that someone might mention the caloric value being higher.

I used to turn my nose up at spinach, but now I LOVE it. That’s the case with a few different foods. Almonds gagged me, now I munch them happily. I’m hoping I can make that transition on other foods I’m not a fan of because I know how good they are for me. Oatmeal is still in the works. If anyone has any ideas for how I can eat it and not gag… literally.. I would love that, because I know it’s so good for me. I’ve gotten the taste down, I love the taste, but the consistency does me in every single time. It’s sad.

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12 Allison @ Will Run For Candy June 27, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Haha, this totally inspired me to chop up my three pack of romaine instead of letting it rot, like I’ve done…oh, the past 3 times I’ve bought it. It’s currently clean and in my fridge, haha. Thanks!

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13 jenna k June 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm

i always chop the veggies for my salads (bc i’m way too lazy), but never my lettuce. i’m not sure why doing this seems like such a revelation. i’ve pretty much switched to spinach now bc of digestive issues, but i will definitely wash and chop the whole bag next time i buy it!
totally lol-ed and snorted at the title of this post :)

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14 Darcy June 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I go through this process every Sunday! I amost of the time too lazy to get much more than the greens, chopped veggies, and chicken/deli turkey. Not only do I chop enough veggies for the week’s salad, I do a little extra for weeknight meals. I also measure out the dressing and put into 2oz plastic cups (bought at sams club) so I can entirely pack them all sunday and grab and go during the week, especially on those late wakin’ mornings! I have also used canned/pich tuna/capers combo with a vinaigrette. If you can’t tell, Im slightly obsessed with lunch salads. I would say over the last year and half, I’ve ate lunch salad 95% of the time. Then a couple times a week for dinner. Yeah for low calories and lots of food!!!!!

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15 Jackie @ Baking Charms June 28, 2011 at 8:21 am

I can only imagine the SEO visits you’ll be getting from that title… hahaa :)

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16 [SMASH] at Sweat. Style. Swoon. June 28, 2011 at 9:35 am

Great idea and it’s much more money-conscious. On the local news this morning, they talked about how much of a ripoff the store salad bars are.

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17 Elina (Healthy and Sane) June 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I always chop everything for every meal and it really needs to stop. This is so obvious yet brilliant. I wonder if my husband would even make his own salads if I had a bunch of mix-in containers (hmm, probably still unlikely, lol). :)

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18 Kaley [Y Mucho Más] June 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

The convenience of this Sunday chore later on in the week is priceless – it’s so nice to just throw stuff together instead of chopping veggies all the time. I totally agree.

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19 Rachel June 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I’m eating a delicious NYC chopped salad while reading this…it is a luxury I will someday miss. When I don’t buy em (because duh, they’re expensive), I prep and make five all at once on Sunday nights. It can be a little time consuming, but it’s so nice not to have to worry about it each day!

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20 Kelsey July 6, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I’m sad that I’m not a pepper person!

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21 Melinda R. August 1, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Although it is such a great idea, doesn’t the salad seem and taste so much better when someone else makes it? hehe You’re right, suck it up and just do it! I’m pregnant, and have been feeling nauseous all through the first trimester, so by the time I prep food and cook it, I don’t want it anymore. So sad! lol!
I’m originally from Houston and I am not sure what area you work, but some great salad places would be La Madeleine (great chicken caesar salads!), Soup N Salad, and Jason’s Deli (one of my favorite places – they have a salad bar that rocks!) ;-)

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22 Rachel August 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

I didn’t know Jason’s Deli has a salad bar! Thanks for that! And La Madeleine has been on my to-try list for a while! Thanks!!

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