Build a Better Salad

WholeMealSaladHow many of you are like me and are trying to start some healthy habits in the new year? Whether you’re trying to save money or eat better, packing a healthy lunch can help you do both! Salad is a common go-to option for people trying to eat better, but not all salads are created equal. Here is a quick guide to simplify packing salads for lunch.

  1. Include protein in your salad. Choose proteins like a hard-boiled egg, beans, chicken or canned tuna. The protein will help you stay full throughout the afternoon. This is a great use for leftover ingredients from dinner.
  2. Be careful about your dressing choice. Salad dressing can be expensive and high in fat, calories and sodium. Keep dressing portions small (approximately 1 tablespoon). One way to save money and be certain about the ingredients in your dressing is to make your own. Let our video on homemade dressing or this helpful handout be your guide!
  3. Choose toppings you enjoy, but avoid common pitfalls. Many restaurant salads are topped with lots of high-calorie ingredients like bacon and cheese. It is ok to eat these tasty ingredients from time to time, but they can quickly turn your healthy homemade salad into a meal that is high in fat and calories. Instead, choose lots of veggies to top your salad. In the winter, choose those that taste good all year round like carrots, peppers, celery, green onions and even defrosted, frozen peas.
  4. Prepare your salads ahead of time. We all know what it is like to run out of time on busy mornings. Sturdy greens like spinach hold up well for a few days in the fridge. You can also chop your veggies like peppers, carrots, celery and onions ahead of time. I avoid watery veggies like cucumbers when I am prepping salads ahead because they tend to get a bit soggy after a day or so. Also, wait to put the dressing on your salad until right before you eat it.

If you would like some more ideas about healthy salads, check out the Whole Meal Salad recipe template on our website.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year for all of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. readers!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Resolve to Eat More Meals as a Family

If you have children at home, having regular meals together is one way you can improve their health and academic performance.  Iowa State University staff review the research behind the benefits of family meals and tips for putting family meals into practice in a blog called Family Meal Time and a publication called Say “Yes” to Family Meals.

Even if you are single or have no children at home, I think eating with someone has benefits.   When I share a meal with friends or family it usually has food from most, if not all, the food groups.  Plus, I think I eat smaller portions. Sometimes when I eat alone I choose popcorn and a diet soda.  When I eat alone I do not have the opportunity to discuss what is happening in the community around me.  Instead the TV is on or I am reading the paper while eating.


Family meals or a meal with another is something to consider for your New Year’s Resolution.  To give it a better chance to becoming a habit, develop your idea into a S.M.A.R.T. goal.


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