Salads are great. But let’s face it, they’re kind of a pain to make. In this article, I’m going to walk through a few tips that will make the process easier so that salad is the first thing you reach for when you open the fridge. The key: Build an at-home salad bar.
Of all the ways we try to manage what we consume, It seems like the intention to eat more salad is often at the top of the list. I don’t subscribe to diet culture (as hard as they try to pull me in), but I do often find myself wanting to incorporate more salad into my life. Not as a replacement for burgers or lasagna (heck no) but as a lovely crispy refreshing addition to my lunches and dinners. The desire to increase my salad consumption isn’t about restriction, it’s about adding flavour, texture, variety, and freshness to my life. So I want to share with you my system for making a salad the most accessible thing in my fridge. With this system, salad is the first thing I reach for and it’s super easy to whip up a great one in less than a minute.
Here are some of the problems I believe are keeping us from better salads, and how I propose we solve them.
Problem: Lack of variety
There’s nothing particularly wrong with a sea of green-leaf lettuce, but I personally find myself instantly inspired when my ingredients dazzle me with pops of colour, flavour, and textural variety. Give me a lot of crunch, a bit of snap, a soft herby moment, and even the occasional hit of bitterness. A high-variety salad is so much more tempting than a plate of green leaf lettuce. They say variety is the spice of life, and I tend to agree.
Solution: Mix it up!
The path to delicious and convenient salad starts in the grocery store. It’s important to mix up the colours and textures of things, not just for flavour and nutritional variety, but to compel you to want to eat them. Instead of sticking with the same ol’ head of romaine lettuce that you’re used to, try mixing it up with some radicchio, red cabbage, dinosaur kale, endive, pea shoots, crunchy iceberg lettuce, and fresh herbs. The variety that’s available to you will depend on where you live and what your shops keep on the shelves, but look around a bit and see if you can grab something you’ve never used before.
To mix things up, It’s also really important to have lots of “extras” for your salads. Some examples of “extras” I like are:
- Defrosted frozen corn or peas
- Grated carrots or beets
- Pickled onions or other pickled vegetables
- Marinated artichoke hearts
- Quartered soft-boiled eggs
- Marinated baked tofu cubes
- Roasted vegetables
- Boiled new potatoes
- Canned, rinsed chickpeas, beans, or lentils
- Chopped apples, pears, berries, or other fresh fruit
As well as dry goods like:
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit
- Nutritional yeast or other seasonings
Problem: Boring dressing
I’m not opposed to bottled dressing in general, but I am opposed to boring/crappy salad dressing. And a lot of bottled dressing is pretty boring/crappy. Bottled dressing often tastes like excessive dried herbs, vinegar, sugar, and has that weird texture you get from starchy thickeners. If there is a store-bought dressing that you love, this isn’t a problem you need to solve. But if you’d like to up your salad-dressing game, here’s what I recommend:
Solution: Make a “Dressing of the Week”
Making your own salad dressing means you can flavour it up however you like. You can avoid weird starchy thickeners and sugars, and you can flex a bit of creativity! Homemade dressings tend to last pretty long in the fridge too. Mix things up with different kinds of vinegar and citrus, deploy your favourite olive oil, use up your homemade Instant Post Yogurt or one-minute-mayo. Use up that last little bit of dijon mustard or tahini at the bottom of the jar, and play around with different spices and herbs. I tend to make a jar of salad dressing once per week. By that point, I’m usually kinda over it and am excited to move on to a new flavour profile.
*Grab my salad dressing cheat sheet for some fun salad dressing tips and ideas!
Problem: Washing lettuce kinda sucks
Washing lettuce is one of my least favourite kitchen tasks. You have to clear a space in your kitchen, you have to pull out your salad spinner, it can be a bit messy, it’s just a lot. Because of this, I don’t like to do it often. Thankfully, with this at-home salad bar system, you’ll only need to wash lettuce once or twice per week.
Solution: Get in the lettuce-washing zone
My best tip to make the lettuce washing process more enjoyable; don’t rush it. I find every gruelling task to be much more bearable (and even joyful?) when you take the time to settle into it. This goes for washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, and countless other chores. Washing lettuce is no different. Bust out your Bluetooth headphones, throw on an episode of your favourite podcast, clean up your kitchen to make it a space you want to spend time in, make sure you’re wearing comfy slippers, pour yourself a cup of tea, and dive in.
How to wash lettuce and other leafy greens for salad
Your lettuce washing technique will differ slightly depending on the types of greens you’re washing, but as a general rule, the best practice is to fill a large bowl with cold water and submerge your greens in the water, agitating them so all the dirt falls out of the leaves and sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Depending on how dirty your greens are, you might have to repeat this process several times. When your greens are sufficiently washed, gently lift them out of the water, transfer them to a salad spinner and dry them well.
What about those pre-washed spring mix salads?
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the pre-washed plastic containers of mixed greens. Here’s why:
- They always go bad before they say they’re going to. And I don’t know about you, but if there is one rotten leaf in a tub of mixed greens, the whole thing is bad for me. The smell of one rotten leaf kinda permeates the whole tub and I find it really unappetizing.
- They’re quite expensive. Many of these pre-washed greens are organic, so that could explain the higher price tag, but you’re also paying for the extra labour and packaging. Most of the time the heads of unwashed greens from the organic section are a fair bit cheaper by weight.
- They’re flimsy as heck! The leaves of baby spring mix are so tender and delicate that they really don’t hold up much, dressing-wise. They can handle a light vinaigrette, but don’t even bother with anything thick and creamy. Many chefs will argue that a light vinaigrette is the only thing you should ever dress your salad with, but I’m not many chefs. I LOVE a creamy blue cheese dressing or a tahini ranch, and I want my salad greens to be hearty enough to hold up to any dressing I desire.
For these reasons, I like to buy whole heads of lettuce and other leafy greens and wash them myself.
Problem: Ineffective vegetable storage
There are few things more discouraging than opening up your fridge to find bunches of wilted greens, still in their original produce bags, shoved into the bottom of your crisper drawer. you’re not really sure what kind of condition that cabbage is in, it looks like that lettuce is starting to brown in spots, and ugh – somebody crushed that bunch of fresh parsley under a mountain of apples. In situations like this, It’s really tempting to just shut the fridge door, grab a stack of crackers and be on your way.
Solution: Deal with your veggies right away
I like to process my salad ingredients as soon as I bring them home, so they don’t run the risk of being buried in the back of my fridge, forgotten about, and inevitably wasted. I recognize that if you live far away from grocery stores or you have limited access to fresh veg for any reason, this is easier said than done.
If circumstances prohibit you from buying fresh veggies regularly, I’d recommend stocking up on beeswax wraps (they keep veggies much fresher for longer) and keeping a section of your fridge designated for lettuces and other greens, so they don’t get squished under a pile of apples. Label makers can come in really handy for fridge organization, so you can keep track of what goes where and avoid wasting food. Use the FIFO (first in, first out) method to make sure your fresh stuff is always being rotated.
When I bring my salad ingredients home, I wash them right away and build my at-home salad bar. It’s the best solution I’ve found to store leafy greens and other salad ingredients and make sure we actually eat them!
What equipment do you need for an at-home salad bar?
For my at-home salad bar, you will need:
A big bowl for washing. Because no matter how clean my kitchen sink is, I still don’t love the idea of washing veggies right in the sink. I’d rather use a big bowl.
A salad spinner. As much as you might resist it (I resisted it for ages) salad spinners are so handy. For years I was doing the “tea towel spin” method, which just doesn’t work as well. It also sprays water all over the place, which isn’t ideal.
A half sheet pan. I normally buy my sheet pans from restaurant supply stores. The commercial-grade, stainless steel ones tend to be much sturdier than the cookie sheets you often see in normal stores. A half sheet pan fits nicely into a section of a standard-sized fridge. Plus, it’s the perfect size to fit the containers for your at-home salad bar ingredients.
Restaurant-style plastic inserts. The plastic inserts used in restaurant kitchens are great for at-home salad bars. They’re not very expensive, and they’re very heavy duty. You can buy them in all different sizes, and they fit really nicely onto your half sheet pan, so your salad bar will be nice and tidy and organized. I like to use a ½ -sized insert, for the greens, and 3 ⅙ -sized inserts for the extras. Don’t forget to buy lids!
*I’m not a fan of creating excess plastic (I practice the 3 R’s as much as possible). But I make exceptions for super practical things like this. Because your salad bar lives at your house, you’re very unlikely to lose these containers (ie: they won’t be shoved into your kid’s cubby at school, never to be seen again). Plus, these inserts are so heavy-duty that they’ll last a virtual lifetime.
A jar, or squeeze bottle for your “dressing of the week.” See the “boring dressing” section of this article for more on that.
A few other jars or containers for dry goods. I like to keep a rotating selection of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds on my countertop. That way it’s really easy to grab a handful for a snack, or sprinkle them into a salad at the drop of a hat.
How to build an at-home salad bar
Now that you’ve got all your components together, it’s time to build this thing!
- Wash and dry your greens, chop or tear them into bite-sized pieces, and fill your ½ insert with them.
- Prepare your 3 “extras” and fill your ⅙ inserts with them.
- Make your “dressing of the week” and keep it somewhere handy, like your fridge door. If you’re living with other people (a family for example), labelling your dressing is a good idea.
- Fill your countertop containers with your dry goods (nuts, seeds, etc)
- Carve out a section of real estate in your fridge for the salad station to live.
- Grab your favourite bowl (the bigger the better), and assemble a dream salad in under a minute.
Now you can keep track of all your salad ingredients all in one place. When the salad bar is empty, just wash the containers and refill them with a brand new selection of ingredients. In my house, a salad bar tends to last us 2-4 days. So I’m usually building one on the weekend, and another one mid-week.
I hope this salad bar deep dive inspires you to build your own at-home salad bar! Or at the very least, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Follow me on Instagram to see some of my day-to-day salad bar selections. Please share photos of your salad bars with me too!
How To Build An At-Home Salad Bar
- 1 large bowl
- 1 salad spinner
- 1 half sheet pan
- 1 1/2 size plastic insert with lid
- 3 1/6 size plastic inserts with lids
- 1 jar or squeeze bottle for dressing
- 3 jars or containers for dry toppings
- Wash and dry your greens, tear or chop them into bite-sized pieces, and fill your ½ insert with them.
- Prepare your 3 “extras” and fill your ⅙ inserts with them.
- Make your "dressing of the week" and keep it somewhere handy like your fridge door.
- Fill your countertop containers with dry toppings (nuts, seeds, dried fruit)
- Carve out a section of real estate in your fridge for the salad station to live
- Grab your favourite bowl and assemble your dream salad!