The Edmond Sun

Food

April 14, 2014

Spring is for salads, but make healthy choices of ingredients

MEMPHIS — Whether you want to enjoy a salad at your favorite restaurant, breeze through a salad bar for a quick and nutritious lunch, or stock your fridge and pantry so you can make a bountiful salad at home, one thing is for sure: Now is the time to do it.

While much of the U.S. is at least a few weeks away from harvesting local lettuce, our appetites — oh, really, our very souls — are ready to put the long cold winter behind us and put the stock pot in a dark closet.

“It’s nice to eat seasonally,” said Amy Schiller, healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods in Memphis, Tenn. “And eating seasonally is really part of eating on a budget,” she said.

Cookbook author Jennifer Chandler published “Simply Salads” in 2007, inspired by bags of pre-cleaned salad greens in the grocery store. It was the first in her “Simply” series, which also includes “Simply Suppers” and “Simply Grilling.” “The Southern Pantry Cookbook” will be released in September. In her salad book, she advised her readers that a home washing was unnecessary, and she stands by that today.

“I think that the technology over the years has only gotten better,” she said.

And here’s a tip from her: “I advise people to buy in the clamshell instead of a bag because the salad lasts longer, if only because it’s handled less.”

Whichever you prefer, Chandler says you should store the greens in whatever you buy them in.

“Both the clamshell and the bag are specially designed,” she said. “They’re breathable, so keep the salad in the packaging, and it will last longer.”

Schiller also is a fan of clamshell-packaged salads, and agrees that the greens don’t need to be washed before eating (in fact, some studies say that washing the pre-cleaned mix at home only heightens the risk of introducing contaminants, so take the easy way out, and know it’s the best thing, too).

Her favorite is a line of Organic Girl blends that sell for about $4 for a 5-ounce package at Whole Foods and include baby kale, Five Happiness, baby arugula and many other varieties, including spring mix with herbs.

The spring mix, along with baby arugula, is one of Chandler’s favorites.

“We love the mixed greens with herbs, because it just adds a little extra flavor,” she said. “Sometimes it might have a little parsley, maybe a bit of cilantro, a little dill.”

In season, Chandler will buy salad greens from farmers markets, and she offers a good tip for the often-buggy heads that beats picking out the pests:

Store the head of lettuce in a salad spinner, root end up, in the refrigerator for several hours. The cold kills the bugs, which fall to the bottom of the container. Toss them, and proceed with your salad. Chandler says cutting is fine, but use a very sharp knife, and don’t cut your greens until just before you use them.

Schiller is a vegan, so her salads contain no animal products. She relies on nuts, seeds, beans and grains for protein. Salads, with meat or not, fit with Whole Foods’ nutrition philosophy of eating nutrient-dense whole foods with an emphasis on a plant-strong diet.

“The question I ask is, ‘Would your great-grandmother recognize this?’” she said.

While salads can make a protein-packed meal for the omnivorous among us, the calories in a restaurant salad or one prepared at a salad bar can be astounding. Keep these tips in mind:

Start your salad with a generous serving of healthy greens. While kale, a superfood, is available on the Whole Foods salad bar, you won’t find it everywhere. Generally, the darker the leaf, the healthier it is — so pick dark green spinach over pale iceberg, or at least mix in a bit.

Load up on all the fresh vegetables you want, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, peppers, broccoli, cucumber and so on.

Nuts and seeds are healthy, but they’re high in calories, so use sparingly.

Diced meats such as ham or turkey have less fat than cheese, so keep that in mind. According to myfitnesspal.com, a 1-ounce serving of Virginia ham contains 30 calories, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat. The same amount of cheddar cheese weighs in with 114 calories, 9 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein.

Stay away from mayonnaise-laden sides such as pasta, chicken or tuna salad, and use care even when adding on a scoop of hummus or olive salad; a small amount is fine, but they can be high in fat.

It’s the salad dressing that will kill you. Two tablespoons of Thousand Island has 120 to 130 calories, almost all fat. The little plastic cups on salad bars are usually 2 ounces, which is 4 tablespoons.

Fight the fat by making your own salad and dressing at home. With the variety of greens available, there’s no reason not to.

“There are so many different kinds of blends that you can get now,” Chandler said. “Not only did prepackaging bring convenience, but it also brought variety.”

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