If you are not in the mood to add grain to your salad, you can also try pairing your salad with half of a sandwich.
2. Embrace fat-based dressing.
Studies suggest that fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are better absorbed when fat is consumed with them. In fact, in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compared how well participants absorbed nutrients after eating salads with varying levels of fat. The participants who ate a salad with a fat-free dressing had almost no absorption of the nutrients alpha- and beta-carotene (precursors to vitamin A) and lycopene. The people who had a fatty dressing, on the other hand, had a much higher amount of these nutrients circulating in their blood after the salad was consumed. The study notes that in order for maximal absorption of vitamins and minerals, at least 6 grams of added fat should be consumed with any salad.
Along with helping you absorb nutrients, fat is also important for helping you feel full and satisfied since it slows gastric emptying. So what’s the takeaway here for your own salad? Whether it’s in the form of salad dressing, or in tasty add-ons like avocado, oil, cheese, or nuts and seeds, you absolutely need to make room for fats in your salad if you want it to act like a meal.
3. Don’t forget about protein.
For most people, I recommend getting 15 to 30 grams of protein per meal and having at least three meals a day. If you’re adding meat, poultry, or fish to your salad, it’s a lot easier to meet those protein needs.
If you’re looking to keep your salad vegetarian or vegan, you can certainly still hit your protein requirement—you just need to be a little more creative and cognizant of serving sizes. Sorry, but a tablespoon of beans does not equal enough protein. Beans are an excellent protein choice because they are chock full of fiber and other nutrients, but you need at least a half cup of them to come close to getting enough protein with a meal. A tablespoon of lentils, for example, only contains about 1 gram of protein—compare that to a half cup of them, which contains 8 grams.
That’s still typically less than what I’d recommend for an entire meal, so your other salad add-ons become even more important: If you’re including goodies like nuts or seeds, cheese, grains, and certain veggies like brussels sprouts, asparagus, or broccoli in your salad along with those beans, you’ll be more likely to get sufficient protein with your whole meal.
4. Make sure it satisfies you mentally, too.
Just because it fills you up, it doesn’t mean it’s enough. Nor does it mean the salad was truly satisfying. Think about it. A plate of vegetables may make you feel full (for a bit, anyway), but it’s hardly enough food for a meal.
There are two ways to know whether or not the salad was enough food. The first is the fullness dissipation test. Pay attention to how long it takes for your feeling of fullness to go away. If it’s less than two to four hours, then it likely wasn’t enough food to be a meal (keep in mind that it’s totally fine for the meal to last only two hours if you prefer to eat more frequent meals or snacks throughout the day). The second test is whether or not you start seeking out more food shortly after eating. For example, if I am not mentally satisfied with a meal, I tend to wander into the fridge cabinets looking for more. If my meal was satisfying, my mind stops thinking about or craving additional food. In either of these cases, this can be a sign to add more toppings to your salad to keep it physically and mentally fulfilling.
5. Play with flavors.
I love adding something pickled or salty to every salad because it takes the flavor up several notches for me. This can be in the form of capers, pickles, sauerkraut, or pickled onions. Another way that I will often bulk up my salads is by adding hummus to the greens. This not only makes for more filling salads, but also adds a nice flavor and richness to each bite.
6. Dress it efficiently.
One last tip for making a salad taste great is to toss the dressing and ingredients in a mixing bowl using tongs. I swear this makes such a difference because it ensures all of the ingredients are evenly coated with the dressing, making the salad taste 10 times better.