I don’t care what anyone says. It’s harder to be healthy. Especially if you actually enjoy eating.
But it’s not THAT much harder. As a grown ass woman, I’ve found that unless I make my own lunches and bring them to work, I will either 1) gain 20 pounds from all of the takeout food and free baked goods at work or 2) be one of those chicas who eats granola bars and celery all day and becomes less and less pleasant to be around over time.
Extra effort it is!
After weeks of experimentation, I’ve come up with 3 foolproof lunch salads that won’t leave you reaching for a slice of so-and-so’s birthday cake in the break room at 3 p.m. They taste great–as great as salads can taste–and they keep me functioning long enough to make it home for my 6 p.m. stare-at-the-wall-in-exhaustion-time.
A disclaimer: every single one of these salads is vegetarian and none of them have to be. I’m operating under the assumption that you do not have time to whip up a chicken breast at 6 a.m., but more power to you if you’d like to add some leftover proteins to the mix. These salads can and do work without it, though.
Number 1: The Basic
The day that I discovered tiny mozzarella balls is the day I decided I had to write this post. Adding cheese to a salad is the easiest way to make it more filling, and what better, simpler, more versatile cheese than fresh mozzarella? This salad takes some basics of the salad world and turns them into something you can look forward to at lunch.
- The key here is POWER GREENS. Find baby kale, spinach and chard mixes and thank me later. Romaine and spring mixes taste great, but they do nothing for you after an hour or so. Using them boosts your salad into overdrive.
- Pick a yummy, fatty dressing and use it sparingly. I like Brianna’s Asiago Caesar or Gerard’s Champagne Vinaigrette. You want something thick that will stick to the bottom of your tupperware until you’re ready to shake it together. And you don’t need much; a tablespoon should do it, especially if it’s heavy on the fat. On that note, a pro tip: Dressing should be added to the bottom of your to-go salad container before you add the other ingredients. Keep it upright and you won’t be dealing with soggy greens later.
- Cut up even the tiniest of tomatoes to add flavor to every bite.
- Be extra liberal with the avocado and the cheese.
- Pack a protein bar just in case.
Number Two: The Kitchen Sink
This salad takes the same ingredients from the first salad and adds and few random additions to entertain your palate. It also incorporates two things that I adore: 1) leftovers, and 2) a fried egg on top.
- Start with the same base as #1: power greens and sliced up baby tomatoes.
- Open your fridge and let your leftovers be your guide. You can really use anything: sauteed mushrooms, a pasta dish from the night before, a cut up pork chop… really anything that at one point helped you create another meal. On this particular day, I had a small tupperware of sauteed eggplant and a little bit of goat cheese, so I did this:
- I then proceeded to add my other kitchen sink items: avocado, of course, the tomatoes and a slightly runny fried egg to top it off.
- Extra perk: The oily eggplant, goat cheese and egg combination means dressing is hardly necessary.
Number Three: The Asian Fusion
This salad is inspired by one of my favorite things in the entire world: the Vietnamese vermicelli bowl. A cold noodle salad goes a long way with me, so this is my attempt to recreate one without getting too intricate.
- You start with the noodles. Good udon noodles are easy to find at any grocery store; vermicelli ones are equally ubiquitous. You can boil them the morning of with minimal time allowances or cook them the night before. The important thing is to season them. I’ve been addicted to the hoisin sauce + sriracha combo, but fish sauce and thai chili sauce work well here too. While the noodles are still hot, mix them with the sauces to integrate the flavor throughout.
- Top the noodles with your favorite power greens.
- Next, the edamame. Frozen edamame is cheap, easy to prepare and chock full of protein. Buy the shelled ones and stick them in the microwave with a little water before drizzling them (liberally) on top of the greens.
- Avocado is the perfect topper for this salad. You can also use peppers or carrots or even hard boiled egg, but I love the fattiness the avocado brings to the table.
- A few drizzles of sriracha and a to-go packet of soy sauce (which are always in my fridge, somehow) and you’re all set. No dressing needed.
As I mentioned above, ALL of these salads go well with meat (especially option #2), so if you have it on hand, go nuts. What you don’t need to do, however, is buy those pre-sliced, “grilled” frozen strips in the freezer section. Those scare the crap out of me and they add that unmistakable metallic freezer taste to whatever you just created. Use what you have. You’ll save money and aggravation that way.