When most people think about weight loss, their minds immediately go to a life of boring, repetitive, unsatisfying salads and “rabbit food.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Spring is full of an abundance of fresh produce. When paired with lean proteins and healthy fats, they can become fresh, flavorful, nutritious, crave-worthy options for an easy lunch or dinner.
The premise is simple, but filling and tasty. Start with a bed of seasonal vegetables, add some seasonal fruits for a low-calorie hit of vitamins and antioxidants, then round it out with legumes, nuts, lean meats, or low-fat cheeses to provide protein, and a bit of healthy fat. Here are some of the best spring salads for weight loss:
Arugula, Strawberries, and Feta
Peppery arugula is the star here, accented by fresh, sweet strawberries, and a bit of salt and fat from the feta. Best of all, this salad is flavorful enough that it doesn’t really need dressing. A tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar provides some sweetness and acidity that pairs wonderfully with the strawberries and feta.
Arugula is also only about 5 calories per cup, while strawberries are roughly 50 per cup of halved fruit. An ounce of feta is about 75 calories and 4 grams of protein, so two cups of this salad could come in at under two hundred calories. You can also add some pecans or sunflower seeds for added protein and fat, or a few slices of skinless chicken breast.
Chef salad is an old standby. It’s pretty much any produce that’s in season — radishes, arugula, carrots, asparagus, and lettuce are a good base — paired with meat, cheese, and a hardboiled egg. It’s protein-packed and, as long as you choose a lean meat, low-fat cheese, and go easy on the dressing, perfect for a diet. The fiber and protein will fill you up, and the calorie count stays low thanks to the abundance of fresh spring produce. Choose a simple vinaigrette dressing, go for a squeeze of lemon or splash of apple cider or balsamic vinegar, or forego the dressing entirely. It’s tasty enough without it!
Salad with Grilled Vegetables
Who said salads must be cold? As the weather warms up, you might feel the itch to fire up the grill. Go ahead! Grill carrots, beets, turnips, new potatoes, or artichoke hearts, and dress them with a simple poppyseed dressing. For the dressing, combine a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of orange juice, two tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and a half tablespoon of poppy seeds. Whisk together and pour over the vegetables. For added protein, you can also add a few crumbles of bleu cheese, or some nuts.
Spinach salad is a classic. Start with fresh baby spinach, and add chopped apples, grilled chicken breast, and some walnuts. Dress with a simple vinaigrette made by combining a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of mustard, and a tablespoon of olive oil. It’s a hearty, filling salad that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and beneficial fats.
Asparagus is one of the most wonderful vegetables spring has to offer us. It’s delicious, low calorie, and full of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, flavonoids, and polyphenols. Start by thinly slicing asparagus and combining with tender leaves of arugula. Add some steamed edamame for protein and fiber, and a bit of crumbled goat cheese for protein and fat. Top with black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice for a hit of heat and acid.
As with any other food, there are no “bad” ingredients when it comes to salad. You can add cheese, meat, and nuts if you want, as long as you do so in moderation and properly account for it. Spring offers such an amazing bounty and variety of produce, these salads are only a few of the options available to you. Start with seasonal vegetables, add reasonable portions of your favorite proteins and fats, and you can create a healthy entree that satisfies your cravings, provides you with the nutrition you need, and doesn’t blow your calorie budget.