How to Make a Salad to Satisfy Your Hunger With 6 Simple Steps

Follow our formula and upgrade your salad game with these essential salad ingredients.

Salad Greens Tossed in the Air by Wooden Salad Utensils Above a Wooden Salad Bowl
Photo: Getty Images

Salads may get a poor reputation for being simply "rabbit food" or not satisfying enough to be more than a side dish. But you can learn how to make a salad that is more than just a side if you know what components to include. Our general formula is helpful to have on hand for creating healthy, hearty, meal-sized salads; then take it in endless directions by using whatever ingredients you have in the fridge.

Of course, you can always add to the basics listed here—shredded cheese, chopped scallions, and roasted vegetables make excellent salad toppers. Using seasonal produce keeps salads enjoyable and varied throughout the year, so shop at the farmers' market and see what you can find. Follow our guide with six simple steps for creating a salad that's perfectly satisfying every time.

Spring Green Salad on a White Serving Platter With Metal Utensils Surrounded by a White Napkin and Dressing on the Side
Greg DuPree

Start With Greens

Greens are the starting point for a crisp, bright, and balanced salad. Don't limit yourself to iceberg or romaine—there are various greens to choose from, including spicy arugula, tender baby spinach, creamy butter lettuce, and many more. If you're preparing a salad in advance (like for lunch the next day), choose a sturdy green, like kale, that won't wilt in the fridge.

Include enough greens to create a solid base, but don't overload the bowl so much that the other components get lost in a sea of green. A good guideline is roughly two cups of greens per person for a meal-sized salad.

Try It: Spring Green Salad

Pretzel Crusted Chicken Cutlet Salad on a White Plate
Greg DuPree

Add Protein

Including a protein source is the key to transforming your salad from a measly side to a hearty meal. Grilled chicken, steak, or fish are all fantastic options, especially if you have leftovers from a weekend cookout. For vegetarians, tofu, tempeh, eggs, and beans are the way to go. Aim for at least 15 grams of protein per eater, and say goodbye to the stereotype of the skimpy salad.

Try It: Salad With Pretzel-Crusted Chicken

Salad with Chicken and Farro on a White Plate With Metal Fork on Top of a White Fabric Napkin
Jennifer Causey

Incorporate Grains

Grains are often overlooked when thinking of salad ingredients, but they add heft and substance to a bowl of veggie goodness that ups the satisfaction factor by multitudes. Chewy farro is a favorite salad addition, but quinoa and brown rice are also good options. Cook the grains according to package directions, then let them cool before adding them to your salad to avoid wilting the greens.

Try It: Salad With Chicken and Crispy Farro

Brussels Sprouts Salad With Pecans and Cranberries Served in a Bowl With Serving Utensils
Heami Lee

Introduce a Little Sweetness

Sweet and salty combos are a fave for many folks, and salads are no exception. A touch of sweetness in an otherwise savory salad adds a complexity of flavors, making it more crave-able.

Dried fruit (like cranberries, cherries, or raisins), fresh fruit (like crispy apple chunks or sliced strawberries), or glazed nuts all work. Even a handful of corn kernels will get the job done if you want something slightly more subtle.

Try It: Brussels Sprouts Salad

Caesar Salad With Lemon-Parmesan Croutons Served in a Bowl With Metal Fork, Surrounded by White Cloth Napkin
Alison Miksch

Bring in Some Crunch

Texture plays a huge role in creating a balanced and memorable salad. Toasted nuts or seeds, carrots or radishes, or homemade croutons all add that satisfying bite. Wait to add any crunchy bits until after tossing the salad in dressing to prevent any sogginess from ruining the mouthfeel.

Try It: Caesar Salad With Lemon-Parmesan Croutons

Green Goddess Pasta Salad in Rectangular Bowl With Metal Spoon on Table
Greg DuPree

Finish With Dressing

Keep the dressing simple and light; this is just the finishing touch and shouldn't overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. A good rule of thumb for a basic dressing recipe is one part acid to three parts oil, plus a little salt and pepper to help bring out the rest of the flavors.

Olive or avocado oils are excellent choices for dressing, combined with lemon juice or vinegar. Try balsamic for a subtle sweetness or red wine for a tangier dressing.

Another great option that's only slightly more involved is this fantastic go-to vinaigrette recipe. Make a big batch and store it in your refrigerator for up to a week. Wait until right before serving to add the dressing; add just enough to coat the leaves but not so much that excess pools at the bottom of the bowl after you've tossed it all together.

Try It: Green Goddess Pasta Salad

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