“Something I thought I’d never see in my refrigerator: a “salad bar”. I’m coming up on 1 year of changing my diet and working on my health. Also coming up on 60 lbs lost. I’m still struggling some days, and in some months change is slower than others. But I’ve learned that commitment doesn’t mean “easy” and commitment doesn’t mean “perfect,” either. It means showing up, making a plan, and learning from both success and failure. And it also means I master the “salad for lunch” that I’ve resisted my whole life.” – HP, posted on Facebook May 15, 2018.
In my world, the “salad” portion of the meal was always an optional add-on, not the main event. My mother never made great salads. My aunt is an excellent salad maker, but it always seemed like every meal had to add a salad in order to provide an obligatory vegetable side.
But after a year of improving my diet with nary a salad in sight, I decided that that this summer’s “level up” would be to master the salad for lunch. I’ve been improving my lunches gradually over the last year (slowly reducing the carbs and upping the vegetable content). But I’ve now gotten to where it just makes more sense to go with a salad.
The Elements of Salad
I’ve never found salads very SATISFYING as a meal, though. I’ve had tasty salads, but they just weren’t something I understood on a dna level, ya know? So I decided to decode their dna, so to speak.
I spent about a month going through Pinterest recipes for salads and got a general idea of the elements of a “good salad”. As far as I could tell, they comprise the following:
- leafy greens
- at least one source of protein, 2-3 is even better if you can combine with the following . . .
- a variety of chopped vegetables to fill in more fiber and more flavor
- Nuts or seeds to provide crunch, texture, added nutrition
- A dressing that balances either the sweet flavors or the tangy-flavors of what is in the salad. (So vinaigrette if the flavors are predominately sweet, creamy dressing if the flavors have more spice or tang.)
- Optional: chopped or sliced fruits, as desired.
Rather than choosing specific recipes to make a bunch of mason jar salads, I opted for the “salad bar” approach. This made it easier for me in that I wanted to stick to what was easily accessible in my supermarket and easily prepped. (Not all produce in every salad recipe is conveniently sourced.)
I got everything I needed for a beginner salad at Smart and Final:
- I got 12 pint-sized wide mouth jars for glass storage (keeps things fresh longer than plastic).
- 1 lg box of 1/2 and 1/2 mixed greens (half spring mix and half spinach).
- 1 cucumber
- 1 can of chick peas and one can of black beans
- 1 medium red onion. A bunch of green onions, chopped.
- Shredded cheese of choice. I used Mexican blend because I use it for other dinners a lot.
- Chicken breast. (Or you can get pre-cooked chicken tenders). I buy in bulk and freeze the others for dinners.
- A dozen eggs
- 1/2 pound cashews, bought in bulk.
- 1 bottle Annie’s organize olive oil and red wine vinaigrette
All of this cost me about $63, which seems like a really expensive salad. But when you consider that the mason jars were about $13, the chicken breasts $10, the eggs $2, and the cheese was $5 – and all of these things will be used for more than just the salad, it kind of levels out. I did the math and for the amounts used just for salads, it is around $4.40 per salad. These amounts make about 6 lunch-sized salads and in the jars they last for about 10 days, which means my grocery bill the second week will go down a bit.
Like I said, it seems to all level out.
Meal prep and recipe
Anyway. Here’s what I put together on meal prep day:
- 6 jars of mixed greens. I use the whole jar for a single salad.
- 1 chicken breast, cooked, sliced or shredded.
- 6 hard boiled eggs
- 1 jar of shredded cheese (2 cups)
- 2 jars of chick peas and black beans, mixed (drained and rinsed)
- 2 jars of chopped red and green onion
- 1 jar of sliced and halved cucumber.
- Nuts in the bag. I keep them with the salad stuff in the fridge so I don’t forget about them. They MAKE the salad!
Directions: Drop a jar of mixed greens into a bowl. Use a 1/4 measuring cup to add: 1 scoop of cheese, 1 scoop nuts, 1 scoop onions, 2 scoops of beans. Slice one egg in. Drop in approx 1-2 oz of chicken breast. A few cucumber. A little pepper. 2 tbsp of dressing. Toss. Done. (If you’re wondering, this is in the neighborhood of 450 calories. Back off of the chicken, beans, and dressing to bring it down to about 300).
I’ve found that I can probably lose the chicken if I want to go vegetarian on a few days. The nuts, egg and beans are plenty of protein and very satisfying. It is a plenty big salad that I find keeps me satisfied for a good 4 hours before I start feeling a little hungry again. And I’m not uncomfortably full after eating it.
And so, after just one week, because of the ease and general deliciousness for a weekday lunch, I am now a person who eats salad for lunch. And enjoying them. I’m also pooping like a boss.
I hardly recognize myself, anymore.