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.