A Salad as Big as...

I love salads.  The thought of throwing whatever I can find in my fridge and pantry into a bowl (super easy) and somehow coming out with something healthy and delicious makes me happy.  But that wasn't always the case...

Do you remember what salad used to mean?  In the old days, the only salad I knew was this one:

Iceberg lettuce (maybe add in some lunchmeat and shredded cheese with that) and drown it in ranch.  Not a little, but enough that the leaves actually need swimming lessons.  All the while telling myself that salad is good for me. 

Now while some restaurants do provide some decent salad selections... most restaurants... well... Beware!!!  My past favorites were Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad (1400 calories) and Houlihan's Fire Grilled BBQ Salmon Salad (1182 calories).  Sure, you can cut some of these down by asking for no cheese or replacing creamy dressings with salsa or a vinagrette, having any tortilla strips or croutons removed... and a number of other things... although, I'd argue that the salad almost becomes something totally different at that point and probably no longer worth the price you're paying.  And then I have the opposite problem at other places... like Chick-fil-a... I love their Chargrilled and Fruit salad... but even with my favorite berry balsamic dressing, it's under 300 calories... which might work for some, but I'm usually starving before I get home. 
The point here is I want a salad that's big enough to fill me up without being over-the-top on calories.  I mean, it's a salad... if I want 1400 calories, it had better be a giant cookie with ice cream and caramel over the top.  My ideal salad is 500-800 calories - because I usually have a pretty small breakfast, and I usually eat lunch pretty early so it's kind of my post-workout meal most of the time.  Give me the giant-sized salad in a mixing bowl, any day...  can you see my excitement???
So here are my helpful hints for making a salad as big as your butt Texas without overloading on calories...
- Fill your bowl with greens first (I am a spinach addict, but I also love red leaf lettuce)... almost to the brim... and then top on other veggies... I like lots of carrots (I use a peeler to thinly slice them into the salad), red bell peppers, sometimes raw broccoli, occassionally raw zucchini, tomatoes, etc.  I try to be to the rim of my bowl (unless I have a ginormous bowl like on the right) with the veggies.  Veggies are so low in calorie that this is a great way to create the filling part of the salad.
- Now that your bowl is pretty much full, then add the special toppings that make it yummylicious... since the bowl is already to the top, you'll be less tempted to overflow on these much higher calorie options.  For me, the must haves are Craisons (which I make sure to measure out) and grilled chicken (although if I have leftover fish or steak, I use this instead - keeping to a serving or less).  If I want some crunchy (which I usually do), I like to use some granola instead of croutons or tortilla strips.  If I want some cheese, I'll actually use the laughing cow cheese and try to "chop" it up a little and spread it out a bit.  Not easy, but I like it as a lower-calorie way to get some creaminess.
- Pick some light oil or vinagrette instead of a creamy dressing.  I am a huge fan of Walnut Raspberry Vinagrette.  (There's nothing wrong with creamy dressings on occassion and in moderation, though.)
- And mix your salad up... it'll make less dressing go a lot further.  Nothing worse than having a yummy salad on top and just a bunch of dry lettuce on the bottom.
Basically, the bottom line is that you don't need to overdo the good stuff to get the flavor!!!
Other things I occassionally add - all sorts of fruit - kiwi, apples, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, blueberries, etc.
So I bet you are all just itching to whip out a salad right now, right???  Well how about some inspiration from some of your favorite bloggers???
TMB, who I happen to know is a big fan of the "family sized" salad and does not share, shared a few of her favorite combos:
- Edamame, Blue Cheese, Strawberries, and Cinnamon Almonds (um, yum!)
- Cucumbers, Carrots, Edamame, Cottage Cheese, and Sunflower Seeds
- Feta, Pasta, Cucumbers, Green Peppers, and Croutons
- Black Beans, Tortilla Chips, Salsa, Cheddar, Quorn (meat substitute), and Avocado (another yum, although I'd replace that Quorn with Chicken!)
Everyone's favorite ninja-runner, Blonde Ponytail, is also a big fan of the salad.  She broke her favorite ingredients into categories:
- Greens: Mixed greens and Spinach

- Protein: Chicken, Tuna or Salmon

- Nuts: Sliced Almonds, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts
- Fat: AVOCADO mmmmm. (yes, I totally agree... avocado makes everything better)
- Crunchy toppers: Snap Peas, Carrots, Broccoli (Everytime I see a salad on her blog it has snap peas...)
- Sweetness: Dried Cranberries, Sliced Pears, and Granny Smith Apples
- Summer fav: STRAWBERRIES

I asked my favorite race buddy, Sherry what she liked on a salad... and she said "What's a salad?"  (OK, she didn't say that, but the girl wouldn't touch a salad unless the base was twizzlers and the toppings were starburst and peanut M&Ms.)  Love ya, Sherry!
Tricia of Endurance Isn't Only Physical had a great idea to replace the often calorie-ridden dressing with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Love this idea!  Her favorite toppings?  Black or green olives, pickled okra, feta cheese, sunflower seeds along with the typical lettuce, spinach, tomato, cucumber, and carrots. 
And a couple of my favorite bloggers even gave me their take on a restaurant salad...
Katie of Keeping Up With Katie  loves to recreate Panera's cobb salad (hello yumminess).  She tops a bed of lettuce with chopped onions, green peppers, a hard boiled egg, goat cheese, crumbled turkey bacon, and then drizzles it with BBQ sauce (never thought about using BBQ sauce as dressing). 

And remember how earlier I said that Chili's Quesadilla Explosion was one of my favorite salads before I realized that I could eat a cheeseburger for less calories?  The salad is yummylicious... well, the famous Skinnyrunner sent me her take on how to make this salad at home without it being such a "calorie bomb" (she noted that it also has 89 grams of fat in that 1400 calories).  I think I may hear angels singing.  Is it true?  Can I eat this and still wear the same pants the next day???  Tell me it's true. 
So Skinnyrunner's version of this Southwestern salad - Start with a bed of lettuce and top with a grilled chicken breast (you can substitute with black beans, although I'd probably go for both)... add some corn, some diced tomatoes (you could use chunky salsa if you are short on time).  The she tosses in some onion, cilantro, black olives (ok, I'd skip these because I'm anti-olive), avocado (yes, everything is better with avocado), and any other vegetables you like.  She usually puts cucumbers, shredded carrots and pickles (yes, she puts pickles on almost every salad... hey, aren't pickles supposed to help with cramping?  maybe that's why she's so fast).  If you want the crunch, she suggests spraying some corn tortillas with pam, cutting into wedges, and sticking them in the oven until crispy (I do this often!).  If  you want, you can add cheese... and then chipotle ranch or ranch mixed with BBQ sauce (never thought of this either) and serve the dressing on the side so that you can control the quantity.  Y-U-M. 
I make salads a lot because I belong to a veggie co-op, and this is an easy way for me to make use of many of the veggies and fruits before they go bad in the fridge... it's also a great way to use up the extra chicken breast from the night before, etc.
So you should have ideas racing through your head now... what do *you* like on your salad???  Any tips on keeping them reasonable, calorie-wise?

saladsLesley Jones