How to Build the Perfect Salad

Pre-allergies, I found salads boring. They tended to just be iceberg lettuce with a few shredded carrots and grape tomatoes thrown in (and then smothered with ranch dressing to make them remotely bearable).

When bread options went out the door (because of the allergy ordeal), I found myself reliant on salads and grain bowls… and NEEDED to find a way to make them more than just rabbit food. I wanted them to be fun and tasty, instead of being the horrible, horrible lie being forced upon us by the weight-loss industry.

So, here is my not-so secret formula for building the perfect salad (every time).


I try to make sure my salads have: leafy greens, protein, carbohydrates, something fatty, something colorful, something crunchy, and something acidic!

The best part about salads is that you literally “build your own”, so you should only use ingredients that work for you and your body. I often build salads based on what I have leftover in my fridge, and having multiple components from a category never hurts. Here are some ideas for each category :

Leafy GreensProteinCarbohydratesFatColorfulCrunchyAcidic
ArugulaChickenQuinoa (white, tricolor)AvocadoCilantroApple chunksPineapple
SpinachSalmonRice (white, brown, wild)Olive OilPineappleCabbageLemon
Baby KaleSteakPastaBacon greasePurple cabbageCrunchy protein (fried chicken)Lime
LettucePork ChopsBroccoliSalmonScallionsCrisped RiceCapers
Deli Meats
roast beef,

*These options aren’t safe for my allergies and I don’t use em, but they are listed here to give you ideas of things to try!

General Notes

Leafy Greens: I prefer darker, leafy greens with more flavor. Arugula is my current fav! A good rule of thumb here is a 1:1 split of greens vs. toppings, to make sure that you have some leafy-ness in every bite.

Proteins: definitely use your favorite and don’t be scared to use whatever you have on hand. I’ve used some leftover deli meat with tons of success, and I’ve had vegan friends use beans and chickpeas.

Carbs: Extra veggies are always good, and don’t be scared to use cooked veggies in your salads! Adding some warm quinoa or rice is also great. Rule of thumb for salads (in my book) is that the base of the bowl is the leafy green, so I try not to make any other single food overtake the green(s) by volume.

Something fatty: Remember that this can come in the form of the dressing (like olive oil), or a component (like avocado) or both! It can also come in the form of a protein combo: like fatty fish. Fats are important macronutrients and they add so so so much good flavor and texture to a salad!

Something Colorful: I started using this rule of thumb to make my salads prettier to look at (which made them more fun to eat) and ended up with a lot of wonderful and surprising combinations!

Something Crunchy: I sometimes skip this category, but I do love a good crunch for excitement

Something acidic: Skippable if you are eating a low-acid diet, but another fun part of the combination that can exist as part of your dressing (like a squeeze of lemon juice), or a topping (my favorite is currently capers)!

Dressing: Since I am dairy and egg free, I’m a bit limited in terms of dressing options. I tend to stick to olive oil (another oil will work if olive isn’t safe for you) and a squeeze of lemon. I have sometimes done a lemon-maple-EVOO mixture and you can find the recipe here). Other good dressing combinations are lemon and honey, or just EVOO plain! I haven’t yet intro’d balsamic vinegar back into my diet, but as soon as I do I plan on mixing it up with vinaigrettes!

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