Making Healthy Food Choices (at a salad bar)

02 Feb 2013

So it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. You want something that tastes good, is healthy, and easy. This is easier said than done, right?

I went into Whole Foods and was inspired to share with you what I put in my salads and I figured a diagram was the easiest way to break it down into simple steps.

This is a very easy to follow guide on how to eat healthy at a salad bar.

This is a very easy to follow guide on how to eat healthy at a salad bar.

Start here: A healthy salad bar: I always opt to go to places like Whole Foods because I know the quality is better, it’s organic, and I chose to spend more money on food I know will make me feel happy and healthy over something that might be slightly cheaper but I won’t feel so good afterwards. Once you get to said salad bar (stick to the cold salad bar and avoid the hot foods, as these are typically cooked in lots of oil and have excessive amounts of salt added) look over the whole thing and before you even grab your bowl then pick and choose what you would like the most. Only go for those things your pre-chose when filling up your plate to avoid getting greedy with your eyes.

Step 1: Grab a small size. Our eyes are always much larger than our stomachs, especially when it comes to salad bars because you see so many delicious looking foods. However, your stomach is not as big as you think it is so unless if you are planning on splitting your salad into two, then always go for a small size. You’ll also save money this way, especially if it’s a salad bar that you pay for by weight.

Step 2: Start with dark leafy greens, preferably spinach or kale. Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value, whereas as one cup of spinach is only 30 calories but with loads fiber; containing 20% of your daily recommended intake! It also includes so many essential vitamins and nutrients that help with cancer prevention, maintains low blood pressure, and helps create glowing skin. Other good choices are the mixed lettuce, which typically has romaine and sometimes watercress.

Step 3: Add more greens. This category will include your broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, asparagus, green cabbage, parsley, celery, leeks, zucchini, peas, and green beans just to name a few. The reason to have so many dark green vegetables is because they contain chlorophyll (the darker the vegetable, the more chlorophyll it contains!), which is a prominent substance that is extremely important in fighting cancer. They are all very low in calorie, high in soluble fiber (that magical word you hear, it just means that it helps to keep you full).

Step 4: Add more color. This will include any type of fruit of vegetable, as long as it’s colorful. My favorites are butternut squash, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, avocado (yes, I know this is green but keep it limited to step 4), beetroot, carrot, quinoa, chickpeas, and black beans.

Step 5: Add a protein source. Tofu, chicken, tuna, fish, shrimp, hardboiled eggs, and shredded beef are all great options! Include nuts in your salad if you are vegan or vegetarian.

Step 6: Add more colors. Anything that you didn’t add before, add now. Red bell pepper, artichoke hearts, berries, a small scoop of nuts, cranberries, etc. Your salad should be quite full by now and definitely tasty looking.

Step 7: Add balsamic and olive oil (and cider vinegar if they have it). These are your ideal choices as olive oil is loaded with vitamin E and is such a heart-healthy food, as well as adding mono-saturated fats which your body needs in order to function properly. The cider vinegar helps cleanse and detox your body while adding a beautiful flavor and balsamic vinegar (which actually used to be used as medicine for headaches, stomachaches and serious illnesses). Avoid creamy dressings (your ranch, Cesar, or anything else that appears ‘creamy’) as they are loaded with buttermilk, cream, and/or other high calorie ingredients that will take a salad of moderate calorie level and make it sky high.

Step 8: Eat. This is by far the best part! Your salad will be much more enjoyable after adding all the various colors, flavors and textures at this point and you’ll find that you are not too full by the end of the meal, rather the perfect feeling of satisfaction.

So why did I chose these specific steps in this order? Too often do we go somewhere and are overwhelmed with the choices, which ends up with us not making the most sound decision. Starting with spinach (or kale) is the most nutrient dense food for the lowest amount of calories, so it’s a better leafy green to add then iceberg or romaine. Adding more greens afterwards will ensure that you are getting enough fiber, iron, magnesium and all those other fabulous vitamins and minerals that your body needs. The third step of adding color is what appeases our eyes and makes the salad look complete. Not only that, but by doing this, you are ensuring that you get your various food groups including your carbohydrates. By adding sweet potato or butternut squash you are adding healthy carbs to your meal, while adding a fabulous orange color! Or choose black beans and chickpeas, both other great options that help fill you up, are extremely nutrient dense and have good amounts of protein. Adding your protein-specific group after this will ensure you will get adequate amounts to keep you full throughout the day, however it should come secondary to including your vegetables. Moving on to the next step, this is where you are allowed to add even more colorful things, which will give you a larger variety of tastes and textures as well as nutrients. I always get greedy at this point and add tons of beetroots, artichoke hearts, and anything else that previously caught my eye. Lastly, your dressing should be something that compliments your salad rather than adding o excessive amounts of calories. Creamy dressings are made with high-fat, high-calorie (and low nutritional value) ingredients, which can take any good intentions and throw them out the window. Stick to olive oil which will give you healthy fats that are great for your skin, vinegars which help cleanse your body, and any spices such as cayenne or red pepper flakes, as they help increase your metabolism.

I hope that this food guide helps for the next time you are out and about. I’ve turned the picture into a jpeg diagram that you can save onto your phone, making it an easy reference if you find yourself at a salad bar! (These principles could also be put into practice when order a sandwich or buying premade food; just look for options that include as many of the steps as possible.)

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