How to Build the Ultimate Salad: Your Definitive Guide

How to Build the Ultimate Salad: Your Definitive Guide

Summer has officially arrived and with the promise warm sun-filled days and balmy evenings ahead my mind immediately starts to wander to quick and easy crisp summer salads that leave my family and me feeling nourished and refreshed. This is the perfect time of year to hop on board the salad building band wagon and take advantage of all the fresh seasonal ingredients and bursts of rainbow-hued vegetables. Gardens are blooming with crisp greens and Farmer’s Markets are in full swing. What better way to kick off summer and kick those cravings to the curb than with the ultimate salad guide?

Let’s begin shall we?

Salads Have an Undeserved Bad Reputation

Traditionally salads were prepared with only a few raw vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage and onion and sprinkled with a pinch of salt and a splash of oil and vinegar. This doesn’t sound all that bad, really. There’s some fat and a little bit of fiber, but somewhere along the way salads became a “diet” food rife with misinformation about ingredients and their nutritional value. I’m talking about nutrient-void, fibre-lacking bowls of iceberg lettuce with processed meats and fake cheeses tossed in a sugar-laden low-fat dressing.

With no quality protein to promote satiety or healthy fats to help absorb vitamins and nutrients and a rush of hidden sugar disguised as a low-fat flavour, it’s no wonder salads have a reputation for being nothing more than bowls of lawn clippings that leave us feeling empty, perpetually hungry and scrounging through the pantry when a late-night snack attack comes on. Talk about the perfect recipe for an unhealthy relationship with food.

Let put the salad’s bad reputation to rest once and for all by elevating these simple bowls of nutrition with more nutrient dense dark leafy greens, ramping up the protein, upgrading the fat and adding some colour and interesting textures to take the modest salad to the ultimate next level era of whole body nourishment salad love.

Mindful Eating

And speaking of whole body nourishment, one of the best things about preparing and cooking healthy food from scratch is that the entire experience stimulates our senses and fulfills us on a deeper level beyond just food. Eating mindfully and purposefully is a form of self-care and nourishment. Mindful eating also helps us become aware of the mind/body/food connection. Are we trying to fill an emotional void with our food choices or are we actually experiencing real hunger? Learning to recognize this is key to relieving emotional eating and it starts with having fun and experimenting in the kitchen to establish a healthy relationship with not just our food, but the messages our body is trying to share with us.

Building the Ultimate Salad

The ultimate salad is an indulgent feast of delicious and eclectic ingredients that lights up your senses and makes your palate rejoice in anticipation of all the lively flavours and feel-good nutrients for our bodies.

With a little bit of preparation, it’s super simple to keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with all the healthy summer salad essentials. Think variety – colours, flavours and texture are your friends and with just a few key ingredients, salads are the perfect way to ensure you’re consuming a nutrient-rich meal and keeping those cravings at bay.

The Ultimate Salad Guide Formula:

Think of this formula like you are casting a role for the ultimate salad culinary delight. You know you need your leading stars – dark leafy greens, veggies, protein and delicious fats – but you also need some supporting characters to keep the story interesting. Will your characters be nutty and crunchy? Hot and spicy? A little sweet and salty? Creamy and fatty? The more roles you can fill the better and here’s how to cast them:

1. Choose a Base Consisting of Plenty Dark Leafy Greens (1-2 cups)

Load up on dark leafy greens to add vitamins and minerals to fuel your body and fiber to nourish a healthy gut microbiome.

  • Arugula
  • Beet Greens
  • Collards
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Kale
  • Mixed Greens
  • Rapini
  • Spinach

2. Add Your Favourite Vegetables (1/2 – 1 cup)

Vegetables provide nutrients vital for the health and maintenance of your body.

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Onion
  • Peppers
  • Tomato
  • Zucchini

3. Add a Source of High-Quality Protein (Choose 1 Serving)

Protein helps your body build and repair tissue and keeps you feeling full.

4. Add Some Healthy Fats (Choose 1 – 2 TBSP)

Healthy fats (either in the dressing, as a topping or both) help fuel your brain and nervous system as well as help your body absorb important minerals and vitamins, including A, D, and E. Adding healthy fat to your salad will also make it more filling as fats are the most satiating macronutrient and are important to help curb food cravings. Tasty fats that pair well with salads include:

  • Avocado
  • Avocado Oil
  • Coconut
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • MCT Oil
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Tahini

5. Add Garnish or Texture-Enhancing Crunch (Choose 1 – 2 TBSP)

One of the best ways to keep your ultimate salad tasty and interesting is to add plenty of crunch and texture to each bite. Some of my favourite low-carb texture-enhancing, crunch-worthy garnishes include:

6. Take Your Ultimate Salad to the Next Level with Flavour Popping Herbs or Microgreens (optional)

Fresh herbs or microgreens are densely packed vitamin and phytonutrient powerhouses and as an added bonus, they are also incredibly easy to grow at home. Mix and match and experiment to create a taste sensation that is customized and irresistible to you! Talk about a sure-fire way to keep your taste buds salivating and those nutrient dense salad cravings strong and on point. Some of my favourite herbs include:

  • Basil
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Lemon Grass
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

7. Bring it All Together with a Mouth-Watering Dressing

Making a salad dressing from scratch is incredibly simple. I have been absolutely crushing on this creamy Basil-Packed Green Goddess Dressing lately. I just cannot get enough of it. Made with clean, simple ingredients, it’s light and refreshing and pairs well with virtually all salad greens (or veggie noodles, especially zucchini noodles!). It’s also gleaming with feel good green goddess vibes, and who doesn’t want to feel like a goddess every now and then?

Green Goddess Dressing - (

Of course, there is also the classic vinaigrette route. The basic formula for a vinaigrette is a one minute task of whisking together 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil with a bit of a salt and pepper. That’s it, and it tastes phenomenally better than any store-bought dressings. But since we’re building the ultimate salad, have fun experimenting with your own favourite herbs and spices to create a flavourful taste sensation totally customized for you and your salad creations.


Classic Vinaigrette

Here is a classic and timeless vinaigrette that is simple yet full on flavour and easily customized with a dash of virtually any herbs your taste buds desire. The Dijon mustard adds flavour and creates a richer emulsion that is perfect to dress your greens.

  • Author: Karla Cadeau


  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. In small bowl, whisk together mustard and vinegar and slowly whisk in olive oil to create an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!


  • Once you have the basic oil to vinegar ratio, feel free to experiment with different fresh herbs and spices for a custom flavour profile and you’ll never run out of interesting and tasty dressings to jazz up your salads.
  • After much trial and error of various salad dressings over the years, I have found that a well emulsified vinaigrette using Dijon mustard as the emulsifying agent is the secret sauce ingredient to ensure your greens don’t end up with a pool of vinegar at the bottom of the salad bowl. Mustard seeds contain roughly equal parts protein, carbohydrate and oil and when ground, the protein and carbohydrates bond with the oils and keep it from repelling water in vinaigrettes. Opt for at least 1 tsp Dijon mustard per tablespoon of vinegar for optimal results.

10 Tips to Take Your Ultimate Salad to the Next Level

1. Remember to eat mindfully

Relax, eat slowly and pay attention to the textures, flavours and smells. Think about the nourishment you are providing your body. Pay attention to your urges and the emotions triggered while eating. Learn to eat when you’re hungry and stop when your sated and really tune into your cravings. Take a deep dive into the fascinating world of finding freedom from food cravings with The Crave Cure Guide – a powerful experience that will forever change your relationship with food.

2. Choose organic produce whenever possible

If budget and cost is a concern (and when isn’t it?) refer to the Environment Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists. I personally use this guide when deciding what items are non-negotiable organic purchases to reduce the pesticide exposure load on my family and me.

3. Not all salad greens are created equal

When selecting a base for your salad, the darker the colour (and the more variety in your bowl) the better the nutritional punch.

4. Consider signing up for a weekly CSA veggie box delivery or shopping at your local Farmer’s Market

Not only does this help ensure you’re eating seasonally and local, but it also helps keep summer salad variety interesting as your weekly vegetable variety changes depending on what’s in season.

5. The adage, “You Are What You Eat” could not be truer

Especially when it comes to dietary sources of animal-based protein. Conventionally raised animals are fed excessive amount of grain to induce rapid weight gain. They also receive doses of pesticides and herbicides and antibiotics which is stored in their fatty tissue and ultimately consumed by us. When choosing your protein source, grass-fed, pastured-raised or wild-caught sources should always be a top priority.

6. Watch for hidden inflammatory oils

When choosing tuna or sardines always ensure they are packed in water, not vegetable or other inflammation-inducing oils.

7. Ensure nuts and seeds are raw

When purchasing nuts and seeds ensure they are unroasted, unsalted and raw and opt for nuts higher in healthy fats, like brazil, macadamia nuts or almonds.

8. Soak nuts and seeds to maximize nutrient density

If you choose to use nuts or seeds as your healthy fat or low-carb crunch options be sure to soak your nuts and seeds in water overnight with some sea salt. This process helps remove the phytic acid and antinutrientss which inhibit the digestion and absorption of nutrients. This does require some advanced planning but if our goal is to nourish and feed our bodies nutrients, it’s an extra well worth-it step.

9. Watch for added sugars

If choosing flaked coconut as a healthy fat or texture-enhancer, be sure there is no added sugar (it’s sneaky, even in coconut – check the label). Shredded or flaked coconut on its own is quite lovely, but toasting coconut lends a richer, nuttier taste.

10. Not all cooking oils are created equal

When looking for healthy oils opt for organic and look for labels that say its been cold pressed. It’s also important to look for oils in dark glass bottles as light, heat and oxygen can cause rancidity. Here’s a great guide all about healthy cooking oils.

As you can clearly see, building the ultimate salad is nowhere near boring or drab. Salads are an awesome way to fuel or bodies with all the things it craves. With so many options for fresh seasonal ingredients, I make a point to eat one almost every single day, all year long.

Chicken Avocado Macadamia Nut Salad

The Ultimate Salad Guide - Chicken Avocado Macadamia Nut Salad

And just in case you were having any doubts about embracing some salad love into your daily routine, this Chicken, Avocado and Macadamia Nut Salad with its tropical coconut and grapefruit vibes is sure to bring you right on board. Creamy avocado, savory greens and juicy chicken combined with the flavour of grapefruit makes this salad out of this world delicious. And as an added bonus, the dressing here does double-duty, with half of it acting as chicken marinade. This is the perfect ultimate salad and its sure to become and instant favourite ultimate summer salad staple.

How to Build the Ultimate Salad: Your Definitive Guide


Chicken Avocado Macadamia Nut Salad

A fun summer salad with a tangy tropical twist.

  • Author: Karla Cadeau


For the salad

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • 2 cups fresh asparagus, cut in one inch pieces
  • 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red grapefruit, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 34 tbsp flaked coconut
  • 2 tbsp macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)

For the dressing and marinade

  • 1/3 cup avocado oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the skin and all the white pith off the grapefruit. Working over a bowl, cut between the membranes to release the sections and squeeze the juice from the membranes into the bowl reserving a few (optional) sections of fruit to add to the salad.
  2. In a small bowl whisk, together salad dressing ingredients. Adjust to taste if desired.
  3. Place the chicken breasts in a shallow bowl and cover with half of the dressing, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  4. To cook chicken breast, I highly recommend trying my technique for the most amazingly moist and tender chicken breast in 3 easy steps. It’s my go-to fail-safe technique for smaller cuts of meat without the bone in or fat to keep it moist. The chicken breasts come out full of mouth-watering juicy flavour every time. Simply cook the chicken with the marinade and when finished cooking let chicken rest for 5 minutes before slicing into ¼ inch slices.
  5. Lightly steam asparagus until crisp-tender, about 6-7 minutes.
  6. Combine mixed greens and asparagus in a large bowl. Lightly toss with remaining dressing.
  7. Add the avocado and sliced chicken and garnish with shredded coconut, chopped macadamia nuts and sesame seeds (if using).
  8. Enjoy immediately.

So there you have it!

Have you found inspiration to build the most ultimate salad ever?

I hope we were finally able to squash the myth that salads are the culinary equivalent of dental floss – one of those things you know you’re supposed to embrace but never seem to make a habit. In my world, a well executed salad should be a party that lights up your senses and makes your palate rejoice in anticipation of all the vibrant colour, flavour, texture and feel-good nutrients we are about to put in our bodies.

Don’t forget to add your own creative flair to your salads and play with texture and flavour combinations. Be ambitious, be indulgent, keep it fun, eat mindfully and savor the health benefits your body receives with each bite.

Cook Once, Eat Healthy All Week

If you’re inspired by this guide to create a scrumptious feast that break the conventional salad norms you may also want to check out my FREE summer salad eBook – Cook Once, Eat Healthy All Week to get you started on your ultimate salad journey.

How to Build the Ultimate Salad: Your Definitive Guide - Cook Once Eat Healthy All Week -

The Cook Once, Eat Healthy All Week eBook is a total game changer, especially with the sun-filled summer days ahead and outdoor adventure weather fun leaving little time (or desire, if we’re being honest) for slaving over a hot stove.

The key to a well executed meal that is not only healthy, but also comes together quickly and easily, is proper planning and preparation. Benjamin Franking said it best – “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This is my stress-free kitchen mantra because as the only person following a plant-based diet in a family full of meat lovers, meal prep takes on an extra layer of complexity and after doing this for over a decade it’s time I share some of this kitchen magic.

You’ll Love Chowing Down on These Tasty Recipes:

  • Monday – Hass to Have Avocado Salad
  • Tuesday – Speedy Stir Fry
  • Wednesday – Fajita Fiesta Bowl
  • Thursday – Choose Your Own Adventure Buddha Bowl
  • Friday – Green Goddess Glow Bowl

The Cook Once, Eat Healthy All Week eBook is even fully customizable to rock your salad vibes either plant-based or meat-lover style and will absolutely change the way you make dinner. Grab your FREE copy and get started today!

How to Build the Ultimate Salad: Your Definitive Guide - Cook Once Eat Healthy All Week -

Also be sure to check out my website for more real food recipe inspirations. Here’s to a healthy summer filled with mouth watering deliciousness and tasty seasonal salads.


Karla Cadeau -
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How To Build The Ultimate Salad

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Stephanie Dodier

Hello! I'm Stephanie, Clinical Nutritionist, author and host of The Beyond The Food Show and founder of The Beyond The Food Academy . I'm help women become intuitive eaters & body confident!. Get started now with my free Audio Training.

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