Salads are a perfect meal for warm summer evenings; easy to prepare and they do not require you to stand for long periods of time in a hot kitchen. Unfortunately, though, salads have been given a bit of a bad rap because of their association with diets (think plain garden salad for lunch every day). But salads don’t have to be boring – there are so many delicious varieties that also make a healthy meal.

Salads can be very nutritious as they are a great way to get many important nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, and protein) and phytochemicals (such as antioxidants) the body needs for good health. One reason salads can pack a healthy punch is because they are usually made with a variety of ingredients from different food groups. And so put all the different ingredients together in a salad and you can be well on your way to meeting your recommended daily intake of nutrients.

What are food groups and why are they important?

Most countries around the world have guidelines on what to eat each day to get the amount of nutrients you need for good health. And to make these guidelines easy to follow they are usually described in terms of ‘food groups’. Food groups are just like the name suggests: groups of foods that have similar nutrients in them. In Australia the five food groups are: vegetables, fruit, grains and cereals, calcium-rich foods (sometimes called the dairy/dairy alternatives group), and meat/meat alternatives (both animal and plant-based proteins are in this group).

Ok so I know what food groups are, but how does that look at mealtimes?

While many people have heard of eating from the five food groups each day, it can be difficult to translate what that looks like for each meal. Generally, a healthy meal is made from foods from the five food groups and follows the ‘plate model’ concept. What’s that I hear you ask? Good question! It is a simple way of making a healthy meal, no matter what type of meal you are cooking. Basically, it says to aim for your plate to have 1/2 plate of vegetables, ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate carbohydrates and a spoon of healthy fats. We can use this plate model as a basis for making amazing and healthy salads, and more easily get foods from each of the five food groups in each day.

Let’s make a salad you (and your whole family will love).

Now I know making a salad the whole family will love (that is also healthy) might sound easier said than done. But by following these simple steps (which combine the food group and plate model guidelines) we can make easy, healthy, and delicious salads that will be a hit at mealtimes. Ok let’s get started:

  1. First, start off with a colourful base: Choose at least 3 colourful vegetables to be your salad base – we want the salad to be made of at least half vegetables so half your plate will be coloured vegetables. You can have any vegetables but try and include different colours. You can choose to have these raw or cooked (e.g. roasted, grilled, steamed).
  2. Now add some protein: Choose some protein to add to your salad, it can either be plant-based protein such as tofu or legumes, or an animal-based protein such as beef, chicken, salmon, feta, or halloumi cheese.
  3. Add a small amount of healthy fats: Sprinkling a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds onto your salad will give it some lovely flavour, not to mention fats that are good for health.
  4. Add some wholegrain/high fibre cereals or potato if your salad is your whole meal: Carbohydrates such as quinoa, cold potato or pasta, bulgar, barley etc add gut healthy fibre to a salad. Just remember to keep the colourful vegetables as the main starting point of your salad, not the carbohydrates. Have only a quarter of the salad made up of carbohydrate rich foods.
  5. Get creative and make salads you enjoy. For example, did you know you can add fruits to salad to give a little sweetness and extra flavour? Watermelon, strawberries and cherries are becoming popular ingredients in salads. Also, you can add dressings to salads – just don’t drown the salads in it. There is nothing wrong with adding some flavours from dressings to make salads taste great, but just ensure it is a small spoonful lightly tossed through.

And finally, remember not all salads are healthy. Just because a dish is called a salad it doesn’t make it automatically good for you. Pasta and potato salads are dishes labelled a ‘salad’ but aren’t necessarily healthy. Sometimes these ‘salads’ are mainly just pasta or potato with a lot of creamy dressing (that is high in fat and calories) and not many vegetables.

Check out some easy-to-follow salad recipes below 

By Melissa Adamski MND BSc APD
Nutted Out Nutrition