To keep the prep as simple and hassle free as possible, these are the basic steps I recommend taking to prepare meal salads (which can be easily tailored to meet the preferences of those eating them by choosing slightly different variations of the ingredients below).
My favourite way to present salads ( that guests often comment is such a fun and tasty way to eat the meal as well ) is to keep each ingredient separate on top of the mixed greens salad base. It makes for a very attractive dish that is as beautiful to look at as it is fun to eat.
I love meal salads (and honestly make them at most opportunities!) as they tend to look like they took a good deal of effort, but really require ~20 minutes of kitchen time and little to no cooking. I think finding shortcut meal hacks like this is a little known master chef secret actually!
Ingredients given per bowl (this is how the salads should be prepared for the best resulting product)
1. Choose a leafy green salad base (2~4 cups total). Top picks at our house include:
a. Pre shredded cabbage (or shred your own super-fast with a food processor)
b. Pre chopped lettuce mix
c. Ready to eat baby spinach
d. Pre washed mixed greens
e. Broccoli slaw or other similar diced vegetables in bag
2. Choose 4-6 salad toppings (focusing on colour variety makes the dish optimally visually appealing here, 1/4~1/3 cup each). Top picks at our house include:
a. Cherry tomatoes (cut in half if time permits)
b. Canned corn niblets
c. Canned sliced olives
d. Diced apple or pear (top with citrus juice to keep them from browning)
e. Diced avocado (top with lime juice for best flavour and to keep them from browning)
f. Fresh strawberries (cut in quarters if time permits), blueberries, and/or raspberries
g. Crunchy dried lentils or chickpeas
h. Seedless grapes (cut in half if time permits)
i. Dried cranberries, blueberries, or raisins
j. Your favourite beans or lentil – canned for convenience, or cooked from dry with the leftover frozen for later use (black beans, green lentils, and chickpeas are most common for us)
k. Your favourite nuts or seed (peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds are always in stock at our house – but pecans, walnuts, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds are also very good options)
l. Frozen peas or edamame beans (unthawed in the microwave)
m. Jarred sliced pickled beets
n. Canned water chestnut
o. Your favourite cheese (shredded, cubed, crumbled…)
q. Brown rice
r. Crushed tortilla (or other…) chips
s. Extra veggies (sprouts, diced celery/ zucchini/ cucumber/ carrots/ tomatoes, cooked broccoli/ cauliflower florets, cooked chopped asparagus, mushroom, bell pepper strips, sliced radish, snap/snow peas); essentially whatever you need to use up in your fridge!
3. Choose 1-3 strong protein source(s). Top picks for us (prepared in advance to make salad assembly the night of easier if you wish):
a. Hard boiled/ poached/ scrambled/ or fried eggs (adding salt & pepper before serving is recommended for taste and appearance)
b. Diced tofu cooked with spices/ marinade
c. Pan fried [veggie] ground round or diced [veggie] sausage
d. Shrimp or scallops
e. Tuna/ egg/ or chicken salad
f. Smoked Salmon or oysters
g. Fresh fish or other meat of choice on the BBQ
h. Cottage cheese
i. Greek yogurt
These are just some favourite suggestions used at our own house – a world of other possibilities beyond this exist that I encourage you to experiment with.
The most important thing is that you have fun with this meal prep method, while also using it to your advantage to use up the random things in your kitchen that you’ve been hanging onto for a while and aren’t sure what to do with (yes I’m looking at you jar of nutritional yeast, you’re a perfect salad addition too!).
So you’ll set out the salad bowls you’ll be eating out of for dinner that night, however many you’re preparing, and fill them with 2-4 cups of leafy green salad base (step 1). From there, you’ll choose the salad toppings with a focus on colour variety for visual appeal and also your dinner guests food preferences (step 2). Lastly, pick your proteins to finish the dish and complete the meal (step 3).