You’ve got to have serious strategy when it comes to by-the-pound salad bars. Choosing the wrong toppings can be the difference between a $7 and an $11 salad. I have become a pro at building a salad that is healthy, filling, and cost efficient. A major key is having a bunch of textures going on in there. It’ll make you forget that you’re eating a bowl of lettuce. Texture drama is what helps your brain recognize this as a full meal and not just a womp womp salad [Debbie Downer voice]. I attack the salad bar in categories:
- Veggies: Not all vegetables are created equal. I love cucumbers, broccoli, and bell peppers as much as the next gal, but they’re heavy so I go with radishes and corn, maybe some bean sprouts.
- Protein: Don’t feel obligated to add chicken! Sure, meat’s nice, but it’s really heavy and half the time it’s dry or institutional. Instead, I like one hard boiled egg and black beans. Bacon is another good protein option. It’s not as healthy…but it’s bacon.
- Creamy Stuff: I try to use only olive oil and balsamic vinegar as my dressing because I load it up with so many other toppings that add flavor. If I want something a little creamy, I add avocado or hummus. Those can get heavy, but a little goes a long way.
- Random Items: There are lots of fun things to include that aren’t going to weigh it down. Cheese adds tons of flavor and a grain ups the health factor. Of the grains, I’m partial to quinoa because it’s the lightest. I also like shaved cabbage – it’s light but adds a fun crunch and makes that mixed green lettuce base way more interesting.
- Crunchy Topping: Sunflower seeds are light and add a nice crunch.
Note: If your salad bar is next to a hot food bar and it’s all the same price per pound, take advantage! That fajita chicken at the taco bar works great on top of your salad and probably has enough sauce and flavor that you won’t need to add salad dressing.
Here are a few very hearty salads I’ve built recently – all under $10.