Summer salad cheat sheet

This is my favourite time of year, the days are longer, the weather is warmer and mangoes are enjoyed on the reg. Enter, salad season. That time of the year when all you feel like eating on those warm summer nights is a big bowl of crunchy vegetables, smothered in a delicious dressing. It's pretty perfect really: you get a nice refreshing meal that's easy to prepare, no slaving away over the hot stove, you fill up on your favourite summer vegetables and fruits, and as long as you get your ingredients and portions right, you'll finish your meal happy and satisfied.       

Below is a cheat sheet to guide you through your summer affair with salad. 

The bulk of your salad should be made up with 'lighter' vegetables. These vegetables provide lots of important nutrients and fibre without providing a substantial amount of carbohydrates or fat. Fill your bowl with a mixture of the below, essentially you can eat as much of these as you like, so don't be shy!  

Examples: baby spinach, beans, cabbage (all types), capsicum, celery, cucumbers, fennel, lettuce (all types), leafy greens, snow peas, tomatoes, zucchini, as well as pickled vegetables and sauerkraut. 

You should have a smart carb source, of either a starchy carb or wholegrain. These carbs provide a good source of energy and a medium to high fibre content, to make sure you remain full for longer after eating. An added bonus of some of these carbs (some cooked and cooled starches such as rice and potatoes, as well as legumes and other whole grains), is that they contain a carbohydrate called 'resistant starch', which acts as a prebiotic, or as food for the good bacteria in our gut, which increases gut health and overall immunity.    

Examples:  barley, buckwheat, bulgar, brown rice, chickpeas, corn, freekeh, lentils, potato, pumpkin, quinoa, sweet potato, wholemeal cous cous. Let your hunger dictate the quantity of carbohydrates you include in your salad, we all have different requirements, but if you ensure you fill a big bowl with mainly 'lighter' vegetables, with about a cupped hand of carbohydrates, you should be good. 

Protein. A source of protein is an essential ingredient for any salad. Protein will ensure that your salad satiates you, as well as providing essential amino acids which are vital in the diet. Protein helps to maintain muscle mass and is used for a range of crucial body functions including the building and repair of tissues.    

Examples: roast chicken, lamb or beef, shaved turkey, tinned tuna, grilled or smoked salmon, boiled eggs, grilled halloumi, chickpeas, lentils, tempeh, tofu. Aim for a palm sized serve of protein. 

Fat source: A source of fat is also an important component to any balanced salad. Dietary fat provides our body with essential fatty acids, and helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins, of which there are plenty in salad vegetables! A study has shown that monounsaturated fats (as found in olive oil, avocado and nuts), are most affective at absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, even when lower doses were used. This is great news, because we know that monounsaturated fats are also associated with improved health outcomes. Fats in salad will also help improve the taste and texture of the salad, while helping to satisfy us.   

Examples: avocado, nuts, seeds, tahini, olive oil.  

Salad dressing: A salad dressing is a great way to incorporate some healthy fats, which we now know are a great addition to any salad. Make an easy dressing with olive oil and balsamic, or olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, or this tahini, honey mustard dressing.   

What this might look like: 

Shredded cabbage salad with poached chicken, corn and avocado.    

Beetroot, lentil, grilled halloumi, mixed greens and cucumber salad. 

Mixed greens, pickled beetroot, feta and strawberry salad (served with a tin of tuna). 

What's your favourite Summer salad combination?