In this post, I’m sharing mouthwatering salad ideas and recipes that will make you WANT to eat a salad every day.
Let’s get one thing straight. When it comes to salads, they don’t have to be a barebone minimum of tomatoes and cucumber to be healthy. In fact, you can create quite the satiating, delicious meal with crisp greens, cooked or fresh veggies, and your choice of protein.
Below I’m sharing different ways to turn everyday ingredients into salads the entire family will want to pack for lunch.
How to Make the Best Salad
Creating epic salad ideas with fresh ingredients and toppings doesn’t require a whole afternoon to prep ahead. In fact, you’ll find most of what you need in your pantry and fridge; I’m just here to show you how to toss those basic ingredients with lettuce and homemade dressing for a satisfying meal.
Here’s the basic formula for building a 5-star salad any day of the week:
- Crispy fresh greens or lettuce
- Protein of choice
- 3-4 toppings
- Drizzle (aka- salad dressing)
Personally, I adore crunchy textures, so my salads often involve lettuce with fresh veggies that have crunch to them, cucumbers, shredded carrots, or bell peppers. Top it off with leftover chicken or a fried egg, a drizzle of Cilantro Lime Ranch, and I’m one happy woman.
Salad Protein Ideas
This is often the most overthought part of a salad. While grilled chicken is always welcome, why not switch it up with taco beef or a simple fried egg? Getting ahead of myself, here are a few ideas to keep your protein choice for salads interesting:
- Slow cooker shredded chicken
- Slow cooker shredded Buffalo chicken
- Chicken salad
- Baked or grilled chicken
- Cooked and sliced sausage
- Deli turkey or ham
- Fried eggs
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cooked taco beef or turkey
- Grilled fish or shrimp
- Canned salmon
- Canned tuna
- Beans or legumes
- Baked tofu
Salad toppings are where it gets FUN- it could be any of your favorite ingredients or leftovers from previous dinners and lunches like roasted vegetables, taco toppings, fruit, or chips!
Savory Salad Toppings:
- Shredded cheese
- Fresh cut veggies
- Salsa or pico de gallo
- Roasted beets
- Roasted fajita peppers and onions
- Roasted fall vegetables
- Cheese- hard and soft
- Baked chips
- Cooked quinoa
Sweet Salad Toppings:
- Dried fruit
- Fresh berries
- Fresh pineapple
- Fresh apples
- Sliced citrus
Salad Dressing Inspiration
The drizzle and dressings for salads are the cherry on top, so it’s important to use one you’re going to love. I always prefer homemade dressings vs. storebought because I have more control of what ingredients go in, and they come together in less than 2 minutes. Many prepared dressings contain hydrogenated oil and emulsifiers, which aren’t so great.
Here are a few of my all-time favorite salad vinaigrettes and dressings:
- Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Homemade Ranch
- Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
- Thai Peanut Sauce
- Sesame Ginger Dressing
- Avocado Lime Ranch
When you’re in a pinch and need a solid dressing to drizzle over a salad, I recommend using storebought dressings made with avocado or olive oil to reap the benefits of healthy fats. Here are my favorite go-to’s you can easily access at the grocery store or online.
- Bolthouse Farms Cilantro Avocado– my go-to!
- Primal Kitchen– any variety
- Newman’s Own Classic Oil & Vinegar
- Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette
Best Lunch Salad Recipes
These lunch salad recipes are going to be a game-changer. You’ll see just how easy it is to make a salad that leaves you feeling good and ready for lunch the next day!
Meal Prep Salads
Don’t wait until the morning to toss a salad together when you can make them up to 3 days in advance. However, there are a few ways to pack salads ahead, so they don’t get soggy:
Start with washed and dried lettuce
This is step is important for packaged and unpackaged lettuce to ensure no clumps of dirt or wilted leaves. Divide the lettuce into lunch containers, top with your ingredients, and refrigerate.
Chilled or room temperature ingredients only
Hot ingredients and toppings will cause the lettuce or greens to wilt and release moisture. This is fine if you are eating the salad right away, but if you want to prep the recipe ahead, wait till everything is at room temperature before assembling.
Add the dressing last
Always add the dressing just before eating. Most recipes will have vinegar or some acid that will break down the greens and release moisture, resulting in a soggy salad. If you plan to pack a salad for lunch, pack the dressing in a mini sauce container to be poured over the salad before eating.
Favorite Lunch Salad Containers
Speaking of meal prep, you’ll need some sturdy containers to pack these salads to the office. Whether you opt for plastic or glass, you’ll want to make sure the container is leak-proof and large enough to pack a reasonable salad. Below are my top choices:
Best Lunch Salads
For the Super Greens Salad
- 6 cups chopped kale, about 1 large head
- 2 cups red cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup carrots, shredded
- 1 cup shelled edamame, thawed if using frozen
- ½ cup red onion, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
For the Sesame Ginger Dressing
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 1 ½ teaspoons sesame oil
For the Kale Salad
- In a large bowl, layer kale, red cabbage, shredded carrots, shelled edamame, red onion, and sunflower seeds. Drizzle with Sesame Ginger Dressing and serve.
For the Sesame Ginger Dressing
- In a large bowl, combine dressing ingredients with a whisk. Transfer to a glass jar and refrigerate up to 1 week.