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5 Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

Robyn Openshaw - Updated: March 8, 2024 - - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

5 Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

Do you think making a salad, or even just eating one, is a chore?

What if it could be the most delicious thing you eat all day?

A lot of people just think if there’s a little bit of salad on the side of their plate, their veggies are covered. I’d like to challenge that attitude!

In this article:

Tips on Making Healthy Main-Course Salads

One of the most life-changing shifts I made was to get away from my toxic Standard American Diet and move to a whole-foods lifestyle I actually love (and I never feel “deprived”).

The key was learning to make a salad a complete meal, and a PARTY.

On the Standard American Diet, we look at salads as something only to have as a side, or something sad that we force ourselves to eat when we’re on a diet.

I completely changed my attitude about salads—and I’ve helped thousands of others do the same.

Salads that make your mouth water. Salads that are colorful, and have a lot of variety. Salads that cover a lot of nutritional bases. Fiber, micronutrients, healthy fats. All the good stuff! No deprivation, no sad picking at leaves.

Know How to Build a Balanced Salad

The way to avoid feeling deprived or feeling like you’re punishing yourself is really knowing what to put in a salad and how to build it properly. You’ll need protein, fat, and fiber in the form of—you guessed it—vegetables!

Photo of veggies from "5 Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads" at Green Smoothie Girl.

The more veggies you have in your salad, the better!

You’ve been meaning to add more veggies to your diet, right? But they haven’t made any regular appearances in your meals? Let me show you how to do it.

Consider it a Complete Meal

Salads are a fabulous main dish. (Might even be the only dish, as far as I’m concerned.) Think I’m over-promising, here? Stay with me.

Making a commitment to salads that are a complete meal doesn’t have to be a chore. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. And it certainly doesn’t have to be boring and bland.

Part of the reason many people feel so deprived when eating salads is that they’re just not used to having it as a main course. This leaves them wanting more, when everything they need can be mixed in the bowl in front of them.

So start shifting your mindset and recognizing that salads can be a complete meal on their own!

Leave Out the Junk Ingredients

I’m always asked to bring a salad to the family get-together, church gathering, or tennis team party. And I don’t think it’s just because I’m notoriously the “health nut.”

I think it’s because I just make a mean salad—no bacon, croutons, or dairy products required. These are all junk ingredients that rack up the calories and provide little, if at all, nutrition in return.

And over the years, I’ve learned five amazing tips to make a salad that isn’t just the recipe everyone asks for. (Take copies of my salad recipes to the party—people will ask!) These are also complete-meal salads, meaning they cover all the macronutrient bases (protein, fat, and carbohydrates).

Your whole family will love them, including the picky eaters.

Eat Less Meat

If you were raised with the “main dish” being chicken, steak, or pork, remember, that’s all just conditioning. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Meat vs Vegetables | Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

You don't have to eat meat for every main dish. In fact, it's better for you if you don't.

It’s now clear in nutrition research that eating more plants is the #1 key to ideal weight, plenty of energy, and resistance to disease. That’s the recommendation in The Permanente Journal’s Nutritional Update for Physicians.

Many things in nutrition are controversial, but this is not:

Eating plants prevents disease.

When you eat meat for dinner, your body has to work most of the night to digest it. It takes many hours to digest animal products, they’re just harder on our bodies.

When you eat salad for dinner, digestion is complete within two hours. Take note of how much better you sleep! This is because your body can actually use its energy to repair and refresh you as you sleep, rather than taking that energy for digestion.

Get Creative at Restaurants

Salads are available in virtually every restaurant, so you’re covered when you travel or don’t eat at home. And you can actually request, in most eating establishments, many of the ingredients added to the restaurant salad in these amazing 5 Fabulous Complete-Meal Salads and Dressings eBook recipes.

You can channel your inner Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, with or without the fake orgasm. Just look at other items on the menu for clues about what they have, this way you aren’t ordering things they don’t have in-house. Most servers want to earn their tip, and they’ll get the kitchen to oblige! Just be polite and kind about your needs, and they will be, too.

5 Easy Ways to Make Main-Course Salads Healthy, Gorgeous, and Delicious

You know to buy organic.

You know to toss in something crisp like cabbage or romaine for crunch, or butter lettuce for a softer mouth-feel. Some arugula for a peppery “kick.”

Know Just What to Toss In | Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

Fresh veggies look and taste amazing. They're easy to digest as well!

But the following are must-haves on top of the greens for a complete meal that lasts you till bedtime. Vegetables, legumes, and grains digest in less than four hours, whereas animal products take eight hours or more, causing your body to “work” all night.

Add these foods for satiety, for nutrient density, and for a much more restorative night’s sleep:

1. Add in your favorite fruit.

Make it something you like. My favorites are berries. Blueberries top every list of superfoods for nutrient density and disease prevention, and they happen to be brilliant on a salad. But don’t forget raspberries, blackberries, or sliced strawberries. Orange and grapefruit slices, or even peach slices, can be excellent additions, too.

The seeds of a pomegranate are available in the winter, and nowadays, often you don’t have to do the work of breaking the fruit open—you can usually buy a small tub of these brilliantly-hued little superfoods now that famously protect against urinary tract infections. They add flavor, crunch, and bright, beautiful color to your complete-meal salads!

2. Sprinkle on nuts and/or seeds.

This step not only adds texture and crunch, but virtually all seeds and nuts contain the best kinds of fats. Fats help you absorb the vitamins and minerals in greens better, so they’re a great food combination.

I especially love pumpkin seeds on a bed of greens, and chopped walnuts, sliced or toasted or even candied almonds, or salty pistachios—all of these can add a lot of flavor, and a lot of flavor means you don’t need as much dressing either.

And sprinkling some flax and chia seeds on your salad is a fantastic idea, because seeds are some of the most highly nutritious foods! Our Sprouted Flax and Sprouted Tri-Omega (flax, chia, broccoli seeds) are perfect additions to salad dressings or to salads (after dressing it, so it doesn't just fall to the bottom).

3. Mix in legumes.

Most Americans eat very few split peas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, and other legumes in their diet, whereas in the Mediterranean diet, well-documented to be the healthiest diet on the planet, they’re a staple.

Choose Low Sodium Beans | Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

Legumes are not a very common food to consume in the US, but they should be. They have fantastic nutrition value.

I like to pressure-cook large batches, then when they’re cooled, freeze them in baggies. This way, I can leave them on the counter in the morning to thaw, and by dinner time, they’re ready to sprinkle on a salad.

4. Choose low-sodium beans.

Canned beans are convenient, although more expensive, and sometimes you can buy no-sodium or low-sodium organic versions that you can still feel good about feeding your family. They’re time-savers, for sure.

Rinse canned beans well to eliminate some of the salt if you can’t find low-sodium or “no salt added” versions. Besides being a way to get more legumes in your diet, it makes salad a complete meal that will last you until bedtime, as it contains filling protein and fiber.

Fiber deficiency is one of the biggest problems with the Standard American Diet. While beans on salads are more familiar, split peas and any variety of lentils are some of the most nutritious of the legume family and can be great added to a salad.

5. Add cooked whole grains or pasta.

Nowadays, you can find organic, whole-grain orzo pasta, which is perfect for salad, and no one will know it’s not rice!

Organic wild and brown rice add bulk and fiber to main-course salads, and couscous, quinoa, cracked wheat, and bulgur add a chewy texture to round out the crunch of nuts and seeds.

As with legumes, you can cook up a large batch, and freeze one-cup portions in baggies to add to future salads.

6. Use an amazing homemade dressing.

Prepared salad dressings have a lot of junk ingredients, including refined and inflammatory oils, salt, sugars, and preservatives.

If you don’t know how to make easy and quick, flavorful dressings, don’t worry. I do, and I’ll share! I’ve got the most delicious dressing recipes that substitute for the commercial dressings, in just about every flavor you like. Only healthy ingredients—the fats, sweeteners, and seasonings—none of that processed, inflammatory junk sitting on the supermarket shelves. They taste better, too!

The Right Combination of Flavors | Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

If you want to make sure you're eating a healthy salad dressing, the best thing to do is to make it yourself.

Both refrigerated and shelf-stable dressings you get from the grocery store are high in toxic, rancid fats, refined salts and sugars, and even the neurotoxin monosodium glutamate (yes, that’s MSG) that manufacturers now hide in many seasoning ingredients under the name “yeast extract.”

My dressings use the freshest, most delicious, high-nutrition ingredients. My secrets are to use only the finest cold-pressed oils, herbs and seasonings that are superfoods rather than just “flavoring”, and citrus juices. And because they’re so zippy and flavorful, you need very little to make your salad taste amazing.

At the bottom of this post, you can check out the five salads and five fresh dressing recipes in my 5 Fabulous Complete-Meal Salads and Dressings eBook. They’re all a snap to make, and dressings can be frozen for later use (how convenient is that??).

6 Tips for Making QUICK Complete-Meal Salads

When my grandmother beat cancer with a plant-based diet, my mother was inspired. I was raised eating a 95% plant-based diet, and I’ve raised my own four healthy kids to adulthood the same way.

That’s how I became a bit of a salad ninja. Nothing about the process is daunting for me—from ideas to shopping, to quick prep, to considering the salads a complete meal, and finally, to totally enjoying them!

It will be an absolute game changer for you to take on this mindset, and it will become a habit—I promise.

So let me share with you six tips for making salad the star, easily and quickly. It all starts with mindfulness. When you’ve committed to “more salads this year” as a goal, you’ll start to notice some amazing things available to you, almost anywhere you shop!

1. Take advantage of healthy convenience foods.

Keep an eye out for what’s available, wherever you shop, that simplify your salad making. Don’t be afraid to adapt a recipe. Options are exploding, these days, as more people get interested in being healthier. Let me give you a few examples.

Spiralized Veggies

First, I’ve never been one to get out the spiralizer and make zucchini noodles, but these days, I absolutely LOVE steamed or sautéed squash noodles. I’ll choose them over pasta at a restaurant if they have them! But as a busy executive and single mom, I confess to being a little bit too lazy for the spiralizer. If you can find them already spiralized at the store, by all means, grab ‘em! I steamed them lightly, for five minutes, and topped them with organic spaghetti sauce mixed with pesto, and some sliced bell peppers.

Costco Tomatoes

You might love tomatoes, and if you do, grab the hot-house grown (almost always pesticide-free) or organic cherry or grape tomatoes at Costco—a party in your mouth!

Pomegranate Seeds

Lately, I’ve been seeing fresh pomegranate seeds in a cup—all the hard work of tearing that fruit apart, done for you! A pretty addition to your salad, adding a tangy pop, and crunch.

Pomegranate Seeds | Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads

Pomegranates have anti-oxidant, anti-viral, and anti-tumor properties and are said to be a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin A, C, and E, as well as folic acid.

Cauliflower Florets

Broccoli isn’t my favorite food, but I adore its cousin, the cauliflower. These days you don’t even have to pull apart the head of cauliflower: you can buy a bag of “florets” at Costco, cut the top of the bag off, rinse its contents, and steam the whole batch. I toss in some cherry tomatoes, whatever sliced veggies I have on hand, and pesto sauce. Voila, lunch!

2. Use marinated veggies.

Keep some yummy marinated foods on hand to toss into your main-course salads. I like to keep Costco’s marinated asparagus and artichoke hearts on hand, as well as green and black olives. Just a handful of any of those makes your salads very flavorful so that you need very little dressing or none.

I used to think that dressings were mandatory, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that all four of my children like salad better with no dressing! Who knew? Then I tried salad without dressing myself, and wow—I loved it when greens are topped with something both healthy and tangy, like raw sauerkraut or marinated carrots. Something that coats the veggies in a dressing-like way so you’re not just eating dry leaves, but with lots and lots of flavor!

3. Prep a lot at once.

Shred or chop a bunch of vegetables and refrigerate them in one big container with a tight-fitting lid. As I was feeding a family of six, this was a lifesaver for two decades.

Young children do better with shredded vegetables, so I’d use my food processor to shred even the stems of broccoli. The big tub of veggies lasts a week, and I’d vary the bed of greens for my complete-meal salads.

4. Have fun with salad bars.

Present dinner as a salad bar. I’ve done this many times with my own family and even when company’s coming.

Put a small bowl each of raw or steamed veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, sprouts, and marinated yummy things next to a giant bowl of mixed greens. Then everyone can have the salad they want!

Photo of salad bar from "5 Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads" at Green Smoothie G

Salad bars are a great way to please different tastes while also providing a lot of nutrition from various sources.

Kids love choice and frankly, we all do. We don’t feel deprived if we get to add more of the things we’re attracted to.

5. Steam your vegetables.

Steam big batches of vegetables you like better than the raw version and add them plentifully to your salads.

Many people don’t want to take much time to eat a plateful of vegetables, steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and beets. You’d be chewing for a while! But when they’re steamed, you still get a lot of nutrition and bulk, in ways that are very easy to eat.

6. Make multiple batches of dressings.

Double-batch your fresh dressings, and freeze half in a jar. The work is virtually the same for a small batch or a large batch, so go big and your future self will thank you.

The recipes last two weeks in the fridge. My recipes that don’t contain fresh produce (such as green onions) last much longer.

Complete-Meal Salad Recipes

Check out my 5 Fabulous Complete-Meal Salads and Dressings eBook recipe titles, and grab your free copy here! Here’s what’s included:

  • Spinach-Strawberry Salad
  • Southwest Salad
  • Everyday Salad
  • Cabbage Salad
  • Craisin Salad
  • Basic Salad Dressing with Variations
  • Strawberry-Poppy Seed Dressing
  • Asian Ginger Dressing
  • Avocado Dressing
  • Healthy Ranch Dressing

Read next: 10 Easy Green Smoothies Kids (of all ages!) Will Love


Photograph of Robyn Openshaw, founder of Green Smoothie GirlRobyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that help support the GSG mission without costing you extra. I recommend only companies and products that I use myself.

5 Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads


Posted in: 12 Steps To Whole Food, Recipes, Relationships, Whole Food

10 thoughts on “5 Easy Ways to Make Gorgeous and Delicious Complete-Meal Salads”

Leave a Comment
  1. Cristina says:

    Did not process request from due to BotNets

  2. Samantha Sulser says:

    Robyn, I’ve been making your salad dressings for a number of years now. They are fabulous!

  3. Ciel says:

    My awareness has recently increased of the way fresh veggies are processed before they hit store shelves. Packaged shredded carrots, coleslaw mix, cut kale, etc goes through a chlorine bath (or other preservative) to preserve freshness on grocery shelves. Of course the package is not labeled as such. When paying for convenience, I don’t expect I will be tricked like this, but it seems to be true, as I called Kroeger brands to inquire.

    1. Elsa Support says:

      You’re absolutely right, Ciel. This is why we think it’s best to take that extra time in areas where it’s worth it to make sure you’re getting what’s best for your health (regular carrots vs shredded carrots). Plus, it’s more affordable buying in the bulk section rather than buying premade/ packaged produce. And really, how much time are we adding by having to chop or shred carrots..? Not much. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your insight, wishing you optimal health!

  4. CC Sherman says:

    I’m pretty disappointed to see you advocate for Costco marinated veggies(all in toxic oils) and non organic vegetables,which is the main stay of Costco.I don’t know if it’s because of your Mormon connection with Costco,also owned by Mormons.But highly suspect that while speaking salad language you don’t caution people about the majority of oils being poison to the system.

    1. Marilyn Peterson says:

      I can’t believe you bring in her religion. This is not appropriate and is offensive. I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints called Mormons and I didn’t know that Costco was owned by Mormons. The church is so big we don’t who owns what. We are just like everyone else and shop where ever they have what we want. If my neighbor or if I knew someone who owned a store, I would suppoort them and they don’t have to belong to my church. Very inappropriate comment.

      1. Velia Coleman says:

        Agree wholeheartedly, Marilyn Peterson. I guess some people spend time trying to figure out where to launch a "pot shot". So inappropriate. Says more about that writer, CC Sherman, than it does about Costco or a religion. Pity that person.

  5. Velia Coleman says:

    LOVE this article about Complete meal salads! When I moved from my home in California my friends gave me a ‘cookbook’ that was 100% salads! My favorite foods are veggies, so the book is well used! Great tips for these salads. Thanks

  6. Diana says:

    I’ve always been an advocate of healthy raw eating but would never find a good recipe book. ( Hard cover) I find ebooks are harder to read.

    1. Rose Butler GSG says:

      Hi Diana, I too love a hard cover book versus an ebook!! Here are many of Robyn’s recipe books that may interest you.

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