With new year’s resolutions in our back pockets, many of us are well on our way to starting the new year off right. Whether we’ve resolved to work out more, spend more time outdoors, get that swimsuit body ready for the summer, or just feel better on the inside, eating healthy is a large part of the solution.

While eating healthy means eating a lot of the right foods, striking a balance between the types of food you eat is also important. Often when we think of eating right we think… salad. The salad, either loved or hated by millions, is actually a double edged sword.

Salads are what you make of them. They can be healthy and delicious, or delicious and unhealthy. The most important thing to keep in mind when ordering or preparing a salad is finding the right balance of ingredients, and keeping portion size in check.

The number one thing to watch out for when ordering a salad at any food establishment is size. For some reason, American restaurants love to dish out huge servings. Although you may have ordered a salad with healthy eating in mind, all of your good intentions can be easily be cancelled out by eating too much of a good thing, like salad dressing or crumbled cheese.

When you’re ordering out, look for side salad portions of the same entree salad, or ask the waitstaff if they can serve you a half portion. Also ask for dressing on the side so you can control the amount of dressing touching your salad. You may find that you really don’t need that much to make your salad tasty.

When you’re choosing which salad to order, look for selections that are high in protein, high in veggies, and moderate in healthy fats. Don’t go for the salads that are loaded with more meat and cheese than actual lettuce. Getting full quickly on all the meaty, cheesy parts means no room left in your stomach for the parts that make a salad so good for you in the first place.

The best salads to choose are those rich in greens with high nutritional content, like spinach, kale, and arugula. Avoid iceberg lettuce. Iceberg and similar types of lettuce are good for fiber, but have little nutritional content. Filling your belly with nutrient rich greens will give you the ingredients you need for a healthy immune system and an active metabolism.

When considering toppings, look for color. A variety of color not only translates to a variety of vitamins and minerals, but the visual appeal will stimulate your senses. You’ll be more likely to eat an attractive salad instead of picking off of other people’s plates.

The best salads to eat are the ones you make yourself. At home, you have total control over what goes in your salad. So if you have a go-to topping like bleu cheese, you can control exactly how much you use to keep the nutrition level high. You can also make your own dressings at home without much work. Homemade dressings are free of additives, preservatives, and hidden sugar.

And homemade dressings really do taste better, because the ingredients are fresh. If you’d rather save some time and buy your dressing at the store, look for vinaigrettes or yogurt based dressing. There are some high quality, low fat, flavorful dressings available in all grocery stores. Avoid cream based dressings, especially ranch and caesar unless it’s yogurt based.

If you’re looking to make your own salads at home but don’t know where to start, try the following recipes on for size. You may be surprised by how delicious and filling they really are!

Southwest Chicken Salad

Chicken, black beans, avocado, tomato, and greek yogurt are the main players in this salad. The chicken and yogurt provide lean protein, the avocado provides healthy fat (a vital part of your daily nutrition), and the beans provide a high energy carb.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mixed greens (spring mix, spinach, baby kale, etc.)
  • ½ avocado diced
  • ½ tomato diced
  • ¼ cup black beans
  • ½ cup shredded cooked chicken

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons salsa (heat level up to you)
  • ¼ cup 2% plain Greek yogurt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients into a bowl, mix the yogurt and salsa, drizzle over salad, and enjoy.

Healthy Caesar Salad

Caesar salad is a weakness for many of us. Any restaurant where caesar salad is on the menu, it’s hard to fight the overwhelming urge to order it. Unfortunately, caesar salad is often one of the worst salads you can eat. Between the creamy caesar dressing that’s usually flooding your plate, and the large buttery croutons crowding the lettuce, there’s not much left besides the chicken that’s really nutritious. But if you hate to walk away from this delicious salad forever, try this recipe on for size.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of chopped romaine lettuce mixed with baby spinach or other dark green
  • ½ cup grilled or shredded chicken
  • ½ cup whole grain (not just whole wheat) baked croutons
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ⅛ cup garbanzo beans
  • 2 tablespoons of a yogurt based, low sugar caesar dressing

Ingredients for Homemade Caesar Dressing:

  • ⅔ cup 2% greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 anchovies
  • 1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • Pepper to taste

Given that anchovies aren’t found often in a lot of American pantries, this homemade dressing recipe may take a little advanced planning. But if you can make it happen, this dressing will not disappoint. If you go with a store bought dressing, just check the label to see if the yogurt caesar dressing is a healthy one.

To make the salad, just combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix in your dressing, and you’re done! Enjoy!

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