Research shows that most Americans aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables in their daily diet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, everyone over two years of age should eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet, roughly only 28 percent of adults currently meet this goal.
One way to increase your fruit and vegetable consumption is to regularly enjoy a fresh green salad. Green salads can be served as a side dish or as a hearty main dish. Salads can be quick, simple and easy to prepare or more elaborate, with complicated preparation steps. Regardless of the elegance of the salad, when put together with the right ingredients, green salads can be a powerhouse of nutrition.
— Begin with the greens. Salad greens are a good source of many vitamins and minerals including folate, vitamin C and beta‑carotene. Keep in mind that darker green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, watercress and arugula, generally contain more nutrients than paler ones like iceberg lettuce.
— Color your plate with a rainbow of colors. Different color families of vegetables provide different nutrients as well as health‑promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals. Be creative and go beyond the traditional tomato, carrot and cucumber. Peppers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, onions and radishes all make tasty additions.
— Don’t forget the fruit. Adding fruit to a green salad is a great way to add more color, taste and texture, not to mention more vitamins, minerals and fiber. My favorite is mandarin oranges, but you may choose to add pineapple chunks, raisins, dried cranberries, melon balls, berries, and grapes to your salad.
— Pack on the protein. If your salad is being served as the main course, it’s important to include protein‑rich ingredients. Try garbanzo beans, kidney beans, tofu, lean ham, turkey or chicken strips or canned tuna in spring water.
— Get a little nutty. Before you dig into your salad, toss on some chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts or cashews. Although nuts are high in fat, they contain mostly heart‑healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fat.
— Go easy on the croutons, bacon bits and chow‑mein noodles. Opt for more nutritious extras such as low‑fat shredded cheese or hard‑boiled eggs.
— Dress your salad for success. Salad dressings often get a bad rap because they can significantly increase the fat and calorie content of an otherwise healthy salad. If you choose to use regular salad dressing, limit the amount used on your salad to 2 tablespoons, which will add roughly 150 calories and 15 grams of fat to the salad. Using low‑fat or fat‑free dressings can help curb the calorie and fat content, but you still need to pay attention to serving size. For an almost no‑calorie, no‑fat topping, splash your salad with lemon juice or flavored vinegar. This adds only five to 10 calories per 2‑tablespoon serving.
Arugula Salad with Sugared Pecans
3/4 teaspoon butter
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups torn leaf lettuce
2 cups arugula or baby spinach
½ cup grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
In a small, heavy skillet, melt butter. Add pecans. Cook over medium heat until toasted, about 4minutes. Sprinkle with sugar. Cook and stir for 2-4 minutes or until sugar is melted. Spread on foil to cool.
In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, arugula, and tomatoes. In a jar with a lid, combine the remaining ingredients. Shake well. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Top with sugared pecans. Serve immediately.
Sandra R. Cain is an Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences in Bladen County.