Living as a 30-something borderline millennial means being acutely aware of how popular ‘the salad’ has become. Don’t get me wrong. No one’s going to rave about leafy ‘foodgasms.’ There’s not a lot about kale and spinach that’ll get you wet between the lips.
But the tech-toting, social media roving generation has insisted — nay demand — that salads be given their due. One can only guess this is thanks to desk jobs and happy hours.
Regardless of the reasons, we can all appreciate how embracing a veg-forward bowl helps us keep slipping into our favorite pair of jeans. It certainly has been essential in my house, where the reality that I can’t out-work a burger became all-too-real around the same time I gave up trying to pluck my stray grays.
Nothing will ever replace a plate of bacon. I’m not that crazy. Yet, prepping five-plus salads a week for the last four years has taught me a thing or two about how to take a boring lunch to a hearty mid-day pick-me-up.
Better still, I’ve learned what ingredient combos lend themselves well to strong Sunday prep game. Because let me tell you ladies and gents, our house relies on Sunday Meal Prep something fierce.
7 Essential Elements of a Great Make-Ahead Salad
When it comes to salad, the idea of a ‘recipe’ feels a bit laughable. Rather, I like to keep a few rules in mind.
- Stick to Sturdy Greens. Softer greens like bib lettuce and leaf lettuce tend to get squished and easily wilt with even the smallest amount of moisture. It’s best to stick with sturdier greens like kale, romaine, and iceberg. I’ve also been known to use arugula and spinach. While these aren’t as delicate as bib lettuce, you still need to be careful about overcrowding the container and squishing them.
- Include Hearty Grains. A good hearty grain helps a salad fill you up. Quinoa, farro, bulger, and barley are some of my favorites. I’ve also been known to add mung beans and wheat berries.
- Add Protein. Protein helps the salad stick with you, so you’re not ravenous again in an hour. In our house, protein is almost always meat, like grilled chicken. But I will also include eggs and/or beans depending on what we have on hand. Both are fabulous additions, especially if you’re vegetarian.
- Lots of Veggies. Carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower are standards. But don’t limit yourself. Roasted sweet potato adds a little something extra to a salad. Radishes and cherry tomatoes are a fabulous burst of acidity. I’m also a huge fan of avocado, as it brings a lusciousness to the mix.
- Fresh Herbs. This is optional, of course. But fresh herbs can really liven up the bowl. I like to use a mix of whatever I have on hand. I’ll even include the tops of celery and fennel fronds for a little something different.
- Nuts. Nuts add a bit more protein, while bringing a fabulous texture to the mix.
- Substantial Dressing. I’ve played with a lot of dressings over the years. And while there’s something to be said for a healthy balsamic, I’ve found something more substantial like a yogurt- or tahini-based dressing takes the chore out of eating salad for lunch every day.
Hearty Farro, Sweet Potato & Chicken Salad
This mix of hearty farro, sweet potato and chicken makes for a salad that’ll fill you up without slowing you down.
2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS tumeric
Salt and pepper to taste
7-8 cups baby kale
1 cup farro, cooked as directed and cooled
2 pounds chicken, cooked, chopped and cooled
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch radishes, sliced
½ cup sunflower seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper to make cleanup easier. Toss sweet potatoes, olive oil, turmeric, and salt and pepper until potatoes are fully coated. Bake for 25 minutes, until tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely.
Evenly divide kale, farro, chicken, bell pepper, radishes and sweet potatoes between five large containers with lids. Top with sunflower seeds. Close lids and refrigerate until ready to eat. (I make this salad on Sunday nights and we eat it throughout the week.)
Yogurt Lemon Dressing
1½ cups yogurt
1½ cups yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS fresh cracked black pepper
1 TBS honey
1 lemon juiced
Combine ingredients in medium bowl and whisk until fully combined. If the dressing is too thick, add water, 1 TBS at a time, until it reaches desired thickness. Evenly divide between five small containers for a quick grab-and-go lunch.