How to Make a Salad a Satisfying Meal

Big salad with protein

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A salad is usually served at the beginning of a meal, but a salad can be a filling meal on its own if you include the right ingredients. Eating a big healthy salad can also be a great way to get more fruits and veggies that are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The best part about making a big salad is that it's so easy. Just pick your favorite fresh ingredients, pile them on a plate, top with a flavorful dressing and it's ready.

Ingredients for a Meal-Sized Salad

Here's how to make a big healthy salad, with ideas for great toppings.

Leafy Greens

Start with a bed of leafy greens. They're low in calories and a good source of fiber. There are different varieties of greens, such as iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, spinach, escarole, romaine, butter lettuce, and kale. The darker greens offer more nutrients than iceberg lettuce.


Add raw or cooked non-starchy vegetables. Brightly colored vegetables have flavonoids and are rich in antioxidants, filling fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Choose an array of colors and add two or three half-cup servings of each.

Use leftover cooked vegetables or diced raw ones. Try peppers, green beans, carrots, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, or scallions.

Grains or Starch

Try whole grains or starchy veggies. Your salad will be even more filling with a serving of cooked whole grains (such as barley or quinoa) or starchy vegetables (such as cooked butternut squash or roasted sweet potatoes). These provide fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Including these ingredients means you won't need a side of bread with your salad.


Add fruits or berries. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pomegranate arils, apple slices, and raisins can add vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants to your salad. One-half cup of apple slices has 30 calories, and one-half cup of berries has about 40 calories.


A chopped or sliced hard-boiled egg is an excellent source of protein. Or try a serving of lean beef, cooked shrimp, tuna, chicken breast, strips of cheese, beans or legumes, edamame, hummus, tofu, or cottage cheese.

Watch your portion size and avoid fried meats like chicken strips or battered and fried shrimp. A quarter cup of chopped chicken meat or one egg will add 75 calories. Half a can of tuna adds about 80 calories. Two ounces of cubed or shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese may add up to 200 calories.

Nuts or Seeds

Walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or chia seeds add a nice crunch. Just a few will do, as a one-eighth cup of nuts adds about 90 calories. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and all nuts add protein and heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Salad Dressing

Finish your meal with salad dressing. One tablespoon of regular commercial salad dressing adds 50 to 80 calories. Low-fat and reduced-calorie dressings are available, or you can top your salad with freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. Or, make your own dressing using avocado oil, walnut oil, or extra virgin olive oil. Whatever your choice, keep your dressing portion to one to two tablespoons.

Healthy, Low-Calorie Salad Recipe

Here's a nutritious salad that has lots of vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, plus is low in calories (about 400). And it's simply delicious.

  • 2 cups of green leaf lettuce
  • 1/4 cup raw green beans
  • 1/4 cup snap peas
  • 1/4 cup chopped tomato
  • 1/4 cup sliced carrots
  • 1/4 cup apple slices
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped chicken breast
  • 1 chopped hard-boiled egg
  • 1 ounce of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/8 cup walnut pieces

Top the salad with juice squeezed from a few wedges of lemon or lime. Or, if you prefer, use a light commercial salad dressing, or a bit of oil and vinegar. Serve your salad with a slice or two of fresh whole-grain bread and a tall glass of sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime.

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.