How to Build the Perfect Healthy Salad

Make restaurant-quality salads at home all year round!

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So, it’s not unusual: like other foods you enjoy, sometimes you just get in the mood for a fresh and delicious salad. But, maybe you think homemade recipes never seem to satisfy that craving quite as well as restaurant salads do. Until now, that is!

Our guide on how to build the perfect healthy salad will not only save you money, but will help you create restaurant-quality salads right in your own kitchen! Plus, making your own salad combo allows you to know exactly what you’re consuming, so you can stay on track to your health goals. And, unlike the restaurant variety, substitutions or tweaks on the basic recipe are always welcome. 

Make the Perfect Salad Any Time of Year

thai chicken veggie salad
Pictured: Thai Chicken Veggie Salad with Peanut Dressing

Perfect salads contain multiple layers of different ingredients, textures, flavors, and of course nutrients. Learning how to build the perfect healthy salad will provide you with countless options to fit your needs and cravings, any time of the year! 

Here are the basics, but we’ll go into more detail below!

The Details on How to Build the Perfect Healthy Salad

spicy kale salad with chickpeas and maple dijon dressing

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to build the perfect healthy salad from our chart above, let’s get into some the details!

Build a Leafy Base

Spinach is a great green base for the perfect healthy salad!

By the very definition of ‘salad’ you have to start with the greens. And, can we be honest: which ones you choose do matter! Dark leafy greens are much higher in nutrients than lighter colored lettuce, like Iceberg. That’s not to say Iceberg doesn’t doesn’t have it’s place and it provides an amazing crunch and neutral flavor base, but when it comes to healthy salads, dark greens are a no brainer! You can use any combination of the options mentioned above. In fact, many times a mix is better than just one option!

Add Some Color

This beautiful Rainbow Salad with Sauteed Veggies and Baked Potato is almost too pretty to eat!

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “Eat the Rainbow.” Well, that’s true of your salad, too. Not only will a variety of  fruits and vegetables add color to your salad, but they will also kick up the flavor, texture, and nutrients! You can use fresh or dried fruits and raw or roasted veggies. 

Note that you can mix and match ingredients up to the amount recommended for each layer. For example, you can add up to ½ cup of fruit so feel free to add ¼ cup berries and a ¼ cup apples. You don’t have to pick just one, just be sure to stick to the amounts listed! And, frankly…depending on your own preferences, you can use less or more than the recommended “template” for your salad based on your own preferences. It’s YOUR salad, after all.

Pick Some Protein

Not only are these the easiest air fryer chicken breasts, but they're also the most delicious!

Adding protein to your salad will help to increase satiety, keeping you fuller for longer. We recommend opting for lean cuts of meat or plant-based proteins, like chicken, lean pork or tofu, while avoiding ingredients that are fried. The the recommended serving size is 4 ounces. however feel free to add more! And just like your colorful produce, you can mix and match. For instance, you can use 2 ounces of grilled chicken and 2 ounces of black beans. 

Here are some lean, high protein options to add to your salad!

Add Some Whole Grains

Easy whole grain pita chips that are homemade!

Whole grains are a great addition to a salad! They provide more fiber and other nutrients to help round out your flavor profile, feeling of fullness and, of course, the nutrients. If you’re trying to keep things low-carb, you may want to omit this layer, but do some research because not all granins are created equal. That said, if carbs are of no concern, have at it! Adding grains to your bowl of greens is a wonderful option when you need long-lasting energy! One thing to consider: if you are trying to keep to a plant-based protein diet, beans (like black beans) and rice have a full compliment of proteins and amino acids!

These Easy-Whole Grain Pita Chips are a super tasty choice!

Add Some Crunch

Air-fryer edamame may be our new favorite way to prepare these legumes!

Adding some crunchy texture with things like nuts and seeds will make your salad more satisfying. It will also boost “good” fats for more energy and healthier skin, hair, and nails. Fried chickpeas (whether oil-fried or air-fried are a trendy and delicious way to add crunch AND protein (check out our Honey Roasted Chickpeas) . Also, you can quick fry things like leeks and shallots that don’t add a ton of calories but provide loads of flavor to your salad.

You might want to try making our Air-Fried Edamame with Sweet Thai Chili Dressing, or these yummy Roasted Spicy Maple Pecans.

Drizzle with Dressing

plant-based salad dressing recipes

Depending on the diet plan you are following , we recommend using dairy-free salad dressings whenever possible. Thick, dairy-based dressings can be very high in calories. All of the dressings listed above are SkinnyMs. recipes. The first six can be found on our 6 Plant-Based Oil-Free Salad Dressing Recipes post while the Plant-Based Ranch Dressing can be found on its own.

While the previously referenced dressing recipes are quite simple to make, you can make things even easier by using straight, freshly squeezed lemon juice or a combination of oil and vinegar as a dressing. Furthermore, lemon juice combined with an equal amount of balsamic and a touch of your favorite fruit sweetened jam is a super yummy choice.

Need some extra inspiration? You can find all of our salad recipes under the salad category!

What’s your favorite salad ingredient combination? Let us know in the comments below!

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Erin Miller

Erin is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She is also a Performance Nutrition Coach, certified through the Clean Health Fitness Institute. Some of Erin’s favorite hobbies include hiking, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach, although weight lifting is her greatest passion. She says, “Weight training is one of the most empowering things a person can do. Not just seeing, but feeling yourself transform… There’s just nothing else like it.”

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