How to: build a perfectly balanced salad

%name How to: build a perfectly balanced salad I was a kid when I first heard the phrase “salad days” and even though I took the phrase quite literally, it still sounded great to me; very summery, sunny and even yummy. While I had a rather limited range of vegetables I found edible, I always loved and ate every last forkful of my dinner salad (I’m sure being drenched in French or Ranch dressing helped things along).

Actually, this Shakespearean turn of phrase, in today’s times, refers “to the days of carefree innocence and pleasure of our youth.” Which again, to me, sounds very much like summer; is there a more carefree and pleasurable time then the endless summers of childhood. And for me, summer = salads, so today I’m sharing my formula for building the perfect summer (or anytime) salad.

A number of years ago, wht review team member Sherri shared with me her “secret” to always making a perfectly balanced, tasty salad. She said this basic combination of ingredients, mixed and matched to suit the meal, always produced a hit; a dish that had her guests raving. Turns out you only need a handful of quality ingredients to prepare a delicious, simple yet complex tasting salad.

When you need to prepare a salad for a last minute supper party or for the family meal; wash, chop and toss a mixture of the following:

• Fresh Greens – The mixed lettuce bag selections in the grocery store are a nice time saver, but you should always Rinse Well, even if they are marked “prewashed”. Check your farmers market too – I’ve found vendors that make their own customized mixes of fresh organic lettuces.

• 2 or 3 Basic Vegetables – Toss in a few crunchy veggies, like cucumbers, snow peas, baby carrots or celery. Unless I know the tastes of every guest, I go with the commonly liked choices and avoid the two veggies I find are most often picked out of the dish – onions and tomatoes.

• 1 nut – For some reason, nuts in salads always say “fancy” to me. Pick a fave; walnuts, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, pine nuts, etc.

• 1 fruit – Again, to me, fruit in salad equals classy. Some of the best choices include apples, strawberries, oranges and pears.

• 1 cheese – The best part! A sprinkling of cheese makes everything better. Gorgonzola and goat cheese work really well with most fruits – and you can’t go wrong with fresh mozzarella – or try shredded extra sharp cheddar for a bit of bite.

When gathering your collection of salad ingredients, think back to some of your favorite salads and “steal” some of those flavor combos. Love Greek salads? Look to feta cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes. Thinking country chic? Try apples, walnuts and blue cheese. Preparing a meal with Asian flare? Maybe orange (or tangerine) slices and slivered almonds. The possibilities are endless!

Then simply toss well and serve with a simple dressing to let the fresh ingredients shine.

Readers – what are some of your favorite salad combinations? And does anyone want to share the secret to making a simple, flavorful dressing?

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Written by Tyna Werner


  1. Profile photo of Kellie

    This is truly the perfect salad formula!! I wouldn’t do it any differently. I just wish that my husband would agree with this. For some reason he hates adding fruit to a salad. But it is soooo yummy!!

  2. Profile photo of kate2004rock

    I thought to pipe in a few of my favorite salad ideas:

    1) Make little goat cheese balls and roll them in crushed pistachio – the flavor is awesome!

    2) Lemon juice + olive oil + parmesan makes best salad dressing you can imagine!

  3. Profile photo of kari

    Yum! I love summer salads but strangely was always anti-nut/fruit in my salads for years. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I finally got over that. Now I love that combination! I’ve been obsessed with any kind of strawberry/spinach salad recently. Actually, I think if you added a strawberry on anything I’d eat it.

  4. Profile photo of Amanda

    I’m so boring. My salads almost 100% of the time consist of romaine lettuce (or whatever lettuce I pick up at the farmer’s market when it’s open), celery, and carrots. Boooooring… I hesitate to add nuts and cheese because of the calories, but I should really get over it. Healthy fats, right? The most exciting thing I may add to salads is Rawmesan (fake parmesan cheese made from raw ingredients) and bacon bits, LOL!

    Thanks for the tips! This may be just what I need to get out of my boring salad slump.

  5. Profile photo of glamazon56

    I love the summer salad ideas! I like to slice a fresh baguette and spread them with a nice dose of goat cheese..(I sometimes add a tiny honey drizzle and/ or herbs on top…) pop them into the oven until golden brown and each guest gets a little cheesy goodness on the salad…yummy!

  6. Profile photo of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    @kate2004rock – oh my word goat cheese balls wrapped in crushed pistachio? I am so nicking that idea!
    And details please on your dressing. A little Italian place near my office has an amazing salad – spinach, fresh mozz, tomatoes, hearts of palm, shaved parm and a lemon dressing. I think it’s my favorite salad ever and your dressing sounds very similar to the one they use.

    @kari – I’m with you, strawberries are my #1 pick for fruit in salad – followed closely by apples.

    @mandaleem – now is the time to break out of the salad rut! I’m guilty of that too (I could eat the same meal over and over and often do) but the summer is the perfect time to experiment with veggies.

    Finally, @glamazon56 – if only I had some bread and goat cheese for lunch…sounds good.
    Tyna Werner recently posted..The Skin-ny on Skin Cancer Awareness & Protection

  7. Profile photo of christy

    YUM to all of the above!

    My salad go to is fresh romaine, chopped tomato and avocado.
    For the dressing, one or two cloves of chopped garlic, depending on your preference, lots of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.. simple and delicious and totally taken from my BFF’s husband who makes this all the time :) He adds olives sometimes too… it’s delicious!

  8. Profile photo of irene

    These are great suggestions Tyna!
    We always (every night) have a nice salad first before dinner. It’s fun getting creative with salads too. I find it hard to believe that so many people just skip them all together. They are sooooo good for you!!

  9. Profile photo of kate2004rock

    @tyna & @ stef – can’t take credit for the pistachio/goat cheese. Stole it out of Cooking Light a few months back… here’s the link:

    Oh, and the Herb Vinaigrette called for in that recipe is to DIE for! Between the lemon juice+ olive oil and simple vinaigrettes I never even eat bottled salad dressings anymore. Homemade tastes SO much better…

  10. Profile photo of krista

    I think I’m defective, but I’m not a fan of nuts or fruits on my salads. I don’t usually do anything special with my salads. Just basic assorted greens (especially baby spinach–love that), cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots—I mean BASIC. I do make a dinner salad that my hubby loves. It’s a buffalo chicken salad. I take some boneless chicken breasts, cut it into thin strips using kitchen shears, sautee it in some Texas Pete’s buffalo sauce, then put it on top of a bed of baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, some bacon pieces, a few crumbles of blue cheese, and the teensiest bit of blue cheese dressing. Then I toss it all together and the buffalo and blue cheese flavors come together and it’s just THE BALLS.
    That Lemon/Parmesan/Olive Oil dressing sounds really good…
    I keep intending to try to make my own dressing from scratch, but I’m really very lazy :(

  11. Courtney

    I know I’m a couple of years late to the party, but I just found this post while searching for salad recipes.

    I agree with all of your categories and have one to add: 1 protein source (hardboiled eggs, beans, diced cooked meat or fish) . If you are planning the salad to be the meal instead of a side dish, adding protein will make it more filling.

    1. Profile photo of irene

      Excellent point Courtney. We make our salad the main course often and try to mix it up so we don’t have the same thing everytime and keeping in mind the importance of adding enough protein should not be over looked. I like to add chia seeds, tiny lentils, cheese, avacado, a hardboiled egg and a few slices of healthy bacon!! It is soooo yummy! And the garden tomatoes sure help too!

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