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Turn this skimpy convenience product into a filling dinner.

By Jessica Furniss
March 01, 2021
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Salads can be a delicious way to eat healthy at home. But if you're like me, when you eat a salad for dinner you're hungry again in 30 minutes. That's because lettuce and dressing alone don't make a full meal. Instead, grab a bagged salad kit that contains lettuce or mixed greens, dressing, and a few toppings to make a fast, nutritious meal in no time. We'll start with a salad kit and get creative from there, breaking down the five things you need to make a salad into a real meal:

The five components that every salad as a meal should have are:

  • Grains
  • Leafy greens
  • Protein
  • Toppings
  • Dressing
a graphic showing salad ingredients
Credit: Allrecipes Illustration

Grains

Out of the five ingredients you need for a salad to fill you up, grains are the most forgotten. Whole grains have lots of healthy fiber, so they'll keep you fuller longer and provide you with sustained energy. Lots of grains, including rice and quinoa, come pre-made and simply need to be tossed into the microwave. Keep them warm for a nice wilted salad (this works especially well with spinach and kale) or allow them to cool before tossing with greens. 

Also don't underestimate a simple slice of bread on the side. It's tasty and will add those ever-important carbohydrates to your meal. Plus, it's the perfect vessel to soak up your extra dressing!

Leafy Greens

The greens you choose will really determine the direction of your salad's texture. Greens like spinach or kale work great for a warmer salad because they wilt nicely. And options like romaine or iceberg are better suited for cold salads where you want a crisp bite. Chopped salads include chopped up cabbage, kale, carrots, romaine, and more. They are sturdy enough to keep their crunchy texture in a warm salad, while delicate enough to work in a cold salad. 

Protein

Meats like cooked chicken, fish, or steak are delicious as protein options on top of salad, but can be a bit time-consuming to prepare. Opting for a pre-made chicken salad, canned meats (chicken, tuna, or salmon), baked tofu, or a can of beans can make prepping your salad even quicker. 

Toppings

A lot of bagged salad kits come with toppings, but I always wish there were more. The most important job of a topping is to add flavor, and the second most important job is to add texture. So think crunchy, salty, and sweet when choosing toppings. Adding extra veggies will amp up the nutrition and the crunch factor. Options like diced bell peppers, red onions, corn, celery, carrots, and snap peas all make great toppings for that reason. 

Fruit can make a tasty topping too. Dried apples, fresh berries, pears, or orange slices all add a nice sweet and tart flavor. And of course, cheese! Everything from Cheddar to goat cheese to fresh mozzarella pearls––you really can't go wrong with cheese as a topping since it pairs well with both fruits and vegetables. 

Nuts and seeds like walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds add crunch and yummy salty goodness. Choose flavored nut and seed varieties that go with your salad theme for an even bolder taste.

Dressings

Lots of bagged salad kits come with a dressing, which is nice because it's intentionally made to pair well with the other ingredients. But some don't include the dressing, so it's up to you to choose from the pre-made salad dressings available at your grocery store. Some classics to consider keeping on hand are ranch, Italian, and a vinaigrette. 

However, if you find yourself without dressing, you can always toss a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar together for an easy dressing that works on almost any salad. 

Putting It All Together

Now let's put all these steps together to make some meals! The salads below feed two people, so double or triple the recipe for larger families. 

Chicken Caesar Salad

  • 1 bag of Caesar salad kit
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Croutons and dressing that were included in the kit
  • 2 slices sourdough or other crusty bread
  • 2 pre-cooked chicken breasts chilled and diced

In a large mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients except the bread and chicken. Divide evenly between two plates. Add the chicken on top of your salads and serve with the sliced bread on the side. 

Cranberry Sunflower Salad

  • 1 packet microwave quinoa
  • 1 bag of sweet kale chopped salad kit
  • 1 can cooked salmon
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Dried cranberries included with the kit
  • Dressing included with the kit, or you can snag a walnut raspberry vinaigrette

Warm your quinoa according to the package directions, then set aside to cool for 2-3 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients except the salmon. Divide evenly between two plates. Add the salmon on top to serve. 

Southwest Chicken Salad

  • 1 packet microwave white rice
  • 1 bag of southwest chopped salad kit
  • Southwest dressing included with the kit
  • 1 can of cooked chicken
  • ½ cup cooked black beans
  • Handful of corn chips (crushed)
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese

Heat the rice according to the package directions and set aside to cool for 2-3 minutes. In a large mixing bowl toss together the contents of the bag and the dressing. Divide evenly between two plates.Top with the chicken, black beans, crushed corn chips, and cheese to serve. (This can be made into a warm salad by serving while the rice is still warm and adding fresh cooked chicken on top.)

As long as you remember the five things a salad needs to fill you up, you can get creative and build on salad kits or make your own for a full meal you're sure to love.

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