The options were intolerable. Few in number were the days of Sloppy Joes and overcooked, sticky, yet surprisingly delicious mac-and-cheese; frozen turkey sandwiches and brownish-greyish hamburgers were only some of the choices of “slop” that mimicked food we were given that summer. For most pre-teen girls, summer camp was a period of time that housed some of their happiest memories, but for me, being teased and always feeling uncomfortable meant that I had to take solace in and be creative with something I relished so much: mealtime. I ran up to the toppings bar and piled chopped cucumber and mini croutons into two clear plastic cups, dowsing both in Thousand Island dressing until I felt my “meal” was sufficiently delicious and creative enough to keep me distracted until swim hour. And thus, this crouton creation was the opening of Pandora’s box for me: taking that which is just an idea and running with it, making it truly my own, molding it to fit my tastes, and of course, my needs.
At least three times a week my mom allowed me the pleasure of accompanying her to a place I still consider “Mecca”: a boutique, gourmet grocery store near my parent’s house, called Van Sise. Small in size, this place packed power and punch, although it was a mere 4 rows of gourmet fruits, vegetables and international food products, it had the ability to turn an average trip to the grocery store into that of a high. My mom, a truly remarkable lady, noticed at a young age that food and cooking ranked high among some of the things I loved and thus she let me “run wild”, picking out endless salad ingredients, flavored Greek Yogurts, fresh deli pickles and the list goes on and on; let’s just say that the other kids were jealous of my beautifully wrapped gourmet salads at lunchtime and I got many a compliment for my green apple flavored Twizzlers during Middle School.
There are those of us that love salads, and I consider myself lucky to be one of these people: creating a range of options that consist of healthy, fresh greens, chopped vegetables and proteins is truly an art, and even the most discerning of palates may have difficulty discriminating between a subpar salad or a 5 forks scrumption on the salad scale. Caesar, lettuce-onion and avocado, and tomato with garlic and lemon still rank among some of my favorites to this day. Yet, I understand that not only do some people not enjoy salads, but also others may not know how to take an idea and turn it into a healthy dish resembling that of a salad- ‘healtifying’ our every mealtime. Alas, I am here to help.
Tip 1: Change The Definition
As with any dish, turning into your own, making it suit your blood types and metabolisms and taste preferences is a challenge, until it isn’t. Understand that certain items can be arranged or restructured to resemble a salad, one that you can even give your own name to, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional salad format! As an example- take the traditional Poke Bowl and turn it into a shrimp or raw fish salad bowl with your favorite ingredients and or sauces/carb choices for lighter or heavier options. Another idea: pile on the quinoa and lentils and add tofu and carrots with pickled ginger and some soy sauce for a vegan-style salad that is sure to please the palate and the pants!
Tip 2: Lose and Gain
My personal savior, when I am feeling at a loss for new and healthy ideas, has been to take one or two traditional salad items and substitute them for another two. For example, accompanying our dinner every night we eat a traditional lettuce salad: cucumbers, white and purple onions, tomatoes and avocados with olive olive oil and vinegars. Yet, I do tire of this repetitiveness. The best solution is to carry out a weekly trial period of substituting two of the salad items for another two: ditch the tomatoes and cucumbers and add sprouts and mushrooms instead. Do this until you find something that can outlast your boredom for a specific stretch of time. The best part?… Mixing and matching these ingredients and dressings until you find that which satisfies your taste buds will not only vary up your evenings or lunches, but will also give you an indicator as to which ingredients are your personal best for weight loss or even satiation.
Tip 3: Journal It
Keeping a food journal is a great way to not only jot down any new and improved ideas for lunch or dinner, but this simple notepad trick can help you feel inspired by past ingredients you may have forgotten about. We all have a hard time remembering what we did last week, so documenting our meal ingredients as well as their results (on our bodies and minds) is a great way to remember what works and what doesn’t, as well as can help us to feel inspired by one of the things that did work, or was simply delicious! Just last week I turned the traditional Caprese into a 3 onions and 2-tomato feta salad with balsamic glaze and truffle oil and I felt satisfied both in my dress the next day and with my taste buds that evening!