May 15, 2023
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Need ideas to up your salad game? This ultimate list of salad toppings includes everything from fresh, crunchy, and store-bought add-ins!
With the ideas below, you’ll build nutritious salads worth eating without ever getting bored!
The Five Parts of a Salad
While toppings are the ultimate salad finisher, there are other elements that build a mouth-watering salad time after time.
The best salads are made up these elements:
- Greens: use spring mix, spinach, or lettuce to build a fiber-rich base.
- Grains: optional but add nutrition and carbohydrates. Use cooked rice, farro,
- Protein: fills you up and can be enjoyed cold.
- Fruit: adds fiber and micronutrients, the perfect addition to your meal.
- Veggies: fresh, crunchy, and loaded with vitamins to fill you up.
- Toppings: usually some kind of crunchy goodness, healthy fat, or carbohydrate.
- Dressing: a small drizzle or toss everything in your favorite dressing or vinaigrette.
Building a delicious salad that keeps you satiated longer is about making sure you have enough salad components in your bowl while balancing your nutritional goals and needs.
Use the following as a guide to build a healthy salad bowl with some or all these elements:
All of these lunch salad ideas have each of these elements, so if you’re tired of the same boring salad day after day, toppings are where it’s at to spice things up!
Best Salad Toppings
The purpose of toppings in a salad is to add flavor and texture to the bowl. As a bonus, many of them add nutrition at the same time making what you choose a 2-for-1 option.
As far as selecting your toppings, the key is to have a good balance of crunchy, soft, sweet, and savory elements. If you like spicy and tangy, include those too!
Crunchy Salad Toppings
Crunchy salad toppings are a very broad category and can be fresh or pantry staples. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be sticking to the most important ingredients (croutons and bacon bits) and save the various raw veggies for a later section in this post.
- Sunflower seeds: provide healthy fats and a delicious crunch! Use plain, unsalted sunflower seeds or your favorite flavor.
- Pumpkin seeds: similar to sunflower seeds, but larger and offer a little more fiber.
- Roasted/plain nuts: walnuts, slivered almonds, cashews, pecans- you fill in the blank.
- Roasted chickpeas: come packaged as a snack, but they also make a great salad topping.
- Croutons: who doesn’t love the taste of croutons and various salad ingredients covered in dressing?
- Bacon bits: use your favorite store-bought option or this Homemade Bacon Bit recipe!
- Chow mein noodles: the ultimate crunchy topping we love to enjoy with Sesame Ginger Dressing, almonds, and mandarin oranges.
- Tortilla Strips: the best way to use the last bit of chips in the bag or buy the tri-colored strips that are ready to be sprinkled on.
- Orchard Valley Walnut & Berry Salad Topper: the perfect blend of sweet, salty, and crunchy.
- MaeMai Crispy Onion: a delicious marriage of crispy onion and spice.
- Crispy Red Peppers: if you haven’t tried these yet, thank me later.
Protein can be the best part of any salad with the goal of turning simple greens into a full meal that keeps you satiated for hours. Each option below provides approximately 12 grams of protein per serving.
- Sauteed Chicken Cubes: bite-size pieces that are tender and easy to pick up with a fork.
- Grilled Chicken: from pan-seared chicken breasts to leftover chicken skewers, it’s the quintessential protein for salads?!
- Shredded Chicken: poached chicken for salads is moist and delicious while the slow cooker can add a sauce at the same time as in this Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken.
- Salmon: my recipe for Baked Salmon would make a great dinner with enough leftovers for a salad the next day like in this Nicoise salmon salad or make a canned salmon salad instead.
- Tuna: either your favorite tuna recipe or a canned tuna mixed with your favorite ingredients.
- Hard-boiled eggs: learn how to make easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs with fluffy yellow centers or use leftover deviled eggs instead!
- Fried egg: the runny yolk creates a dressing of its own like in this Breakfast Salad.
- Steak: leftover filet or skirt steak from these Steak Tacos or grilled beef skewers.
- Pork tenderloin: don’t underestimate how good leftover roasted pork can be with fresh veggies and dressing.
- Deli cuts: turkey, roast beef, ham, or chicken.
- Italian cold cuts: salami, prosciutto, pepperoni- you know the drill like in this Antipasto salad.
- Chicken Salad: add a scoop of this iconic salad staple like this spicy chicken salad or southern chicken salad.
- Pan-seared tofu: a vegan option with 12 grams of protein. And do yourself a favor by cooking it with marinade and seasonings; it does a good job of soaking up the flavor.
- Shelled edamame: the whole bean version of tofu with just as much protein. You can find it shelled and ready to steam in single-serve portions or a scoop or two of this edamame hummus.
- Canned legumes: red beans, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils are all fair game to add protein.
Pile on the Veggies
Whether you prefer them raw or cooked, salads are a great way to add more veggies to your day. Plus, they’re easy to make ahead and have ready to go in the fridge to build your salad.
Try some of these veggies on your salad:
- Carrots: shredded or sliced raw carrots add sweetness, vitamins, and fiber. Or turn this veggie into a carrot raisin salad.
- Corn: use fresh, canned, or frozen and thawed corn. It can also become the base for a salad like in this Corn Shrimp and Avocado salad.
- Asparagus: can be raw or lightly steamed, even cold leftover roasted asparagus is a great option since asparagus are very nutritious!
- Sliced bell pepper: green, red, yellow- the color is up to you. Raw or roasted bell peppers are great on a salad.
- Cucumber: English, Persian, or regular! This crunchy ingredient is great to add or turned into a healthy cucumber salad instead!
- Beets: raw beets are an acquired taste, but you also have the option of pickled or roasted beets or Balsamic Beets.
- Spiralized zucchini: try lightly steaming them for a more tender texture and can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days.
- Broccoli: use raw broccoli florets for more crunch or throw some leftover roasted broccoli on top!
- Brussels sprouts: often used in slaws they can be sprinkled on top or used as the base of this shaved Brussels sprouts salad.
- Onion: there’s something about thinly sliced red onion on top of a salad- *Chef’s kiss.
- Green peas: add a pop of fresh flavor and 5 grams of protein per ½ cup. You can even roast frozen veggies for an epic topping.
- Artichoke hearts: taste incredible with green bell pepper, feta, dried oregano, and homemade vinaigrette.
- Olives: salads are the perfect opportunity to load up on these.
- Cauliflower: use it to make a crunchy cauliflower salad or take roasted curried cauliflower to take any salad from a 7 to a 10.
- Fall Vegetables: cubed butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and beets can be roasted ahead for an epic fall-inspired meal that never disappoints.
Fruits and Sweetness
Fresh and dried fruit is the way to go if you like your salads to have a little sweetness. Aside from flavor, this category can also provide texture and nutritional benefits like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, all are great on top of a bed of greens like in this Blueberry Spinach Salad recipe.
- Apples: chopped red or green apples add great crunch and sweetness. You can even roast the apples for a change of texture.
- Watermelon: not your typical salad topping, but this Watermelon Feta & Mint Salad proves otherwise.
- Avocado: one of the most popular salad toppings and it’s a fruit. Dice it, slice it, or add a scoop of simple guacamole or spicy guacamole without getting charged extra!
- Tomatoes: slightly sweet, add great color, and go with so many other ingredients. If that’s the only ingredient you have, make a tomato salad.
- Dried fruit: raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots, chopped dates, for sweetness like in this Cranberry Quinoa Salad recipe.
- Pomegranate seeds: offer a delicious pop of sweetness and tanginess.
- Mandarin orange slices: use no-sugar-added canned mandarin oranges.
- Salad Pizazz! Pomegranate Fusion: dried pomegranates, cranberries, and honey-roasted walnuts- what’s not to love?
- Salad Pizazz! Blueberry & Honey Pecans: you can’t go wrong with dried blueberries and honey-roasted pecans.
Fresh herbs offer a ton of flavor without any calories. Use basil on a Caprese-style salad and cilantro for anything southwest or Thai-inspired.
- Green onions: their sharp, sweet taste contrasts nicely with greens and salad dressings.
- Chives: are similar to green onions but more tender and sweet.
- Cilantro: has a citrusy flavor you’d want to toss with ingredients like avocado and tomato or anything that uses Peanut Sauce as its dressing.
- Basil: if you’re making a salad with tomato and Mozzarella might as well throw in a few sprigs of fresh basil.
- Mint: works really well with summery flavors like citrus, cucumber, feta, tomatoes, etc.
Adding complex carbohydrates to your salads stretch the meal and keep you fuller longer. You can opt for a grain, pasta, or potatoes for a grain-free option.
- Rice: an easy topper and meshes well with most dressings and cooked protein.
- Quinoa: a healthier alternative to rice and perfect for adding protein to any salad.
- Couscous: a simple ingredient that cooks in less than 5 minutes!
- Farro: a Mediterranean grain that has a nutty flavor and makes a delicious swap to regular rice.
- Pasta: a good trick to get everyone to eat more salad and a great way to turn leftovers into an epic pasta salad.
- Roasted sweet potatoes: the caramelized, roasted flavor makes this one of the best salad toppings.
- Roasted Fingerling Potatoes: for all the garlicky potato lovers
The right salad dressing can make or break the salad you worked so hard to build. Sometimes all you need is a little drizzle, sometimes used to infuse the ingredients with flavor like in your favorite summer pasta salad, while most of the time, a simple vinaigrette is all you need.
Here are some incredibly simple and delicious salad dressings to try:
- Balsamic Vinaigrette: this is the gateway recipe to making your own vinaigrette. Its tangy-sweet flavor is hard to pass up and goes on everything.
- Ranch Dressing: the classic recipe made at home that lasts a week in the fridge.
- Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing: creamy avocado and ranch with a kick of fresh lime that’s epic on top of your favorite tacos or on a Southwestern salad.
- Thai Peanut Sauce: a sweet-savory sauce that doubles as the perfect salad dressing.
- Sesame Ginger Dressing: the complex flavors of sesame oil, honey, and rice wine vinegar work so well with shredded slaws, mandarin orange, kale, and whatever else you can toss it with.
- Maple Dijon Vinaigrette: initially created for my Roasted Winter Vegetable Salad, it wound up being a year-round option.
- Citrus Vinaigrette: has the taste of summer and takes less than 3 minutes to whip up!
- Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce: a killer dressing for any salad that I usually make to drizzle over my famous Mushroom Tacos.
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