We’ve officially reached the dog days of summer, and it’s safe to say that the stifling heat outside can sometimes make it harder to want to cook over a hot grill or stove. Luckily, there is a great healthy meal option for when you’re looking to keep cool in the kitchen: salads! With endless varieties and options for produce and other delicious add-ins, salads are quick, easy, and customizable to your taste buds and cravings.

When crafting a salad as a main course, be sure to include some form of carbohydrate, healthy fat, and protein to make it a well-rounded meal. Include one or more ingredients from each of the following categories and you’ll have a nutritious and antioxidant-packed meal layered with flavors and textures that will really satisfy.

Like any good construction project, begin with a plan – buy ingredients you enjoy and prep ahead. Start with a solid foundation of leafy greens and begin to build your salad:

The Foundation – Greens: Spring mix, romaine, and baby spinach are salad classics, but if you’re feeling more adventurous, experiment with arugula, radicchio, or dandelion greens. Each green adds its own unique flavor to the dish. Purchasing pre-washed lettuces can be a real time-saver.

 The Frame – Fruits and Veggies: Have fun with these and utilize leftovers! Fruits and veggies can make salads a colorful work of art and a phytonutrient powerhouse. Aim to eat the rainbow in your salads for maximum nutrition.  Fresh berries add sweetness and tartness. Pre-roasted vegetables, like sweet potatoes, squash, and cauliflower add texture and bulk to your salad making it feel more like a meal. Of course, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions are always welcomed to the party.

The Add-ons – Nuts, seeds, and/or high-quality animal protein: Protein and healthy fats are essential to keeping you full and will elevate your salad to main course status. Keep your favorite nuts and seeds stocked in your pantry at all time, and animal proteins like hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, and salmon can easily be batch-cooked so that you always have something ready to add to your salad. Quinoa and avocado are other great additions as well! Serving sizes for nuts and seeds = 1 tablespoon. Serving size for protein = about 4 oz. Serving size for quinoa/grain = ¼ cup.

The Finish – Dressing: And last, but definitely not least – dressing! Ditch the store-bought dressing to avoid added sugars and preservatives (and save a few pennies) by making your own at home. Start with a basic dressing:  3 tablespoons of olive oil + 2 tablespoons of vinegar [we LOVE white balsamic] + 1 crushed clove of garlic – then add your favorite chopped fresh herbs and a teaspoon of a flavor booster [mustard/miso].  Season with salt and black pepper and whisk very well. You could also add all ingredients to a mason jar and shake it like you mean it.  Make a batch and store in the refrigerator. Our new favorites: Cilantro Lime and Miso Ginger, both featured on our meal plans next week.