Build a better salad

Salads don’t have to be sad and boring. Here’s how to pack them full of delicious flavours, colours, textures and nutrients.

Written by Rebecca Howden
Vegetarian buddha bowl. Raw vegetables and quinoa in a one bowl. Vegetarian, healthy, detox food concept

The leaves

Start with a base of fresh leafy greens. Think beyond the classic iceberg lettuce – try mixing it up with spinach, kale, silverbeet, bok choy, romaine and rocket. Leafy greens are a good source of antioxidants and vital nutrients like vitamins A, C and K, folate, fibre, magnesium and potassium. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the leaves, the more healthy goodness is packed in.

If you can get fresh herbs, throw in a bunch of parsley, coriander, basil, thyme, dill, oregano or mint to add extra flavour and nutrients to your leaf mix.

Tip: Don’t be scared of kale – it can be delicious when done right. To reduce the bitterness, chop it into thin ribbons, leaving out the stalk. Spray it with a little olive oil spray or drizzle with lemon juice, massage with your hands and let it sit for a while to soften up.

The veggies

Load up your salad with lots of veggies in a variety of colours. Chop up raw vegetables like carrots, tomato, capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower or spring onion and toss them in. Roast some sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin, beetroot, eggplant, Brussels sprouts or onions to really bring out their rich flavour – it can also make your salad feel more like a meal.

Tip: Roast veggies with a sprinkling of dried herbs like rosemary, thyme or oregano to add delicious sweetness and flavour.

The protein

To make your salad more filling, add a protein. Choose a lean protein like grilled chicken, turkey or salmon, or throw in a tin of tuna. For a vegetarian option, toss in some legumes like lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans or three-bean mix, or quickly stir-fry some cubes of tofu or tempeh. You could also add a boiled egg, or a little low fat cheese.

Tip: Keep some tins of legumes in the pantry so it’s easy to throw them in for a low-fuss salad. It can be a good idea to give them a quick rinse and drain first to get rid of excess sodium.

The grains

Adding a grain can be a good way to bulk up your salad and boost the fibre content. Cook up some brown rice, quinoa, couscous, buckwheat, barley or freekeh and stir it through. Try to keep the veggies and protein as the focus of the salad though – a small amount of grain can go a long way.

Tip: Choose wholegrains, which are lower GI than white grains like rice and pasta, so they’ll keep you feeling full for longer.

The extras

This is where it gets fun. Toss in some nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia), fruit (blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate seeds, mango, mandarin) or avocado to add delicious flavour, texture and goodness. Get creative and experiment with different combinations.

Tip: Lightly toast a mix of nuts and seeds to bring out their flavour before adding them to your salad.

The dressing

Make your own simple dressings to finish off the salad. Many store-bought dressings and condiments are high in sugar, and you can get just as much flavour with a little olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and herbs and spices. For a creamier dressing, you can use a base of Greek yoghurt or avocado.

Tip: Play with some of these easy combinations:

  • Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard and a little salt and pepper.
  • Soy sauce, garlic, ginger, chilli and sesame oil or seeds.
  • Greek yoghurt, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and honey.
  • Fresh basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and pine nuts (all blended with a little water).
  • Tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.
Written by Rebecca Howden

Rebecca Howden has been writing about arts, culture, lifestyle and health for over 10 years. She reads too many books and has a cat named Gatsby.

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