Take a look at most restaurant menus and you’re guaranteed to find a salad, but chances are it’s not exactly healthy. Of course, there are exceptions. Depending on where you live and how organic and health-minded your city is, you may be able to find a go-to, pre-made, nutrient-packed salad option with ease. However, think of the most popular salads at your typical American, casual franchise and you’ll be met with images of ranch, bacon, crouton and egg-loaded salad on iceberg lettuce. The popular, Americanized Greek and Cobb salads, for example, are usually a pile of unhealthy ingredients disguised as a nutritious salad. Throwing a bunch of fattening stuff over watery lettuce doesn’t mean you’re consuming enough nutrients or ensuring your figure won’t blow up in size because of the excess fat and calories.

Instead of choosing pre-made salad bowls or restaurant-style salad dishes, try making your own salad instead. That way, you’ll have complete control over what ingredients are used and how healthy they are. For example, homemade, whole-wheat croutons sure knock the socks off of regular, store-bought ones.

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1. Start with dark, leafy greens

Don’t even think about reaching for iceberg lettuce, no matter how crunchy and satisfying it may be. If you’re going to eat an entire serving of lettuce, you might as well choose an option that will actually give you some nutrition. The key here is dark, leafy greens like kale. Start with a bed of dark greens and you’ll be well on your way to a delicious, healthy salad.

2. Choose healthy grains

One reason why people enjoy adding the unhealthy extras like meat, cheese, white bread croutons to salads is that these foods make the meal more filling and satisfying. If you’re looking to be full from a low-fat salad, try adding some healthy grains on top of your greens. Choose healthy options like quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. These grains will bring your salad to the next level, ensuring a balanced meal of veggies, protein and fat.

3. Add beans or more protein as needed

Adding grains in addition to all the veggies can make a salad more like a meal, but adding more protein can make the meal a powerful tool for working out, getting through several hours of tough work or staying awake and alert through that sluggish, mid-afternoon energy dip. For extra oomph and protein, add lentils, edamame, tofu or green peas.

4. Load up on raw veggies

The more colorful and varied your veggie intake is, the better! Don’t be shy with the raw veggies. Bell pepper strips, carrots, radishes, Brussels sprouts, beets, tomatoes, cucumber, asparagus – the list goes on and on. Make salad time fun time by seeing how many colors you can get on top of those greens, which will translate into a load of nutrient content as well.

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5. Go light on nuts and seeds

Seeds and nuts can easily top any salad, but it’s easy to overdo it on these healthy ingredients. Too much of these good fats can mean excess weight gain, so use them sparingly. If you’re adding an oil-based dressing to the final product, be conscious of your nut and seed additions by sticking to a tablespoon serving, or even simply sprinkling a few on top.

6. Make your own healthy dressing

The last step to making a low-fat, nutrient-packed salad is to choose a low-fat dressing and dizzle it on top, not pour by the spoonful. Sure, you can buy pre-made dressings, but the healthiest option is making your own. A simple cold-pressed olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar mix will do the trick.

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