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I add yummy things like chips, rice, and cheese to actually enjoy eating salads, and the trick is backed by nutrition science

salad lunch healthy
Salads, in my opinion, require treats like creamy cheese and tasty protein.Rebecca Harrington/Insider
  • If I'm going to have a salad for lunch, it has to actually taste good or I won't eat it.

  • I've been adding goodies like chips, rice, and cheese to my salads to make them craveable.

  • The trick is in line with nutrition science — as long as the majority of the salad is nutrient-dense.

For me to actually enjoy eating a salad, it needs to be crunchy, creamy, and filling.

Vegetables, on their own, don't meet those requirements.

So I've developed a system for making big, satisfying salads that I crave come lunchtime. They're the kind of salads that would make the stock photos of "woman laughing with salad" make sense.

eating salad laughing
A classic stock photo of "woman laughing with salad," which inspired a meme.Happycity21/Getty Images

I sneak tasty things like rice, potato chips, cheese, and breadcrumbs into my salad bowl to make me keep going back for the next bite.

About 80% of the salad is made up of vegetables, lettuce, and fruits, but the other 20% is made up of treats.

The sneaky salad trick is in line with nutrition science

My approach is similar to following the 80/20 rule that Insider's fitness and nutrition reporters swear by, where you eat healthily 80% of the time and are more flexible for the other 20%.

For years, nutrition experts have agreed that eating healthily means consuming mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, protein, and oils, while limiting added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, and alcohol. In short, the more whole, unprocessed foods you eat, the better.

The Mediterranean diet, which has been ranked the healthiest way to eat for six years running, focuses on vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates.

The flexibility and common-sense approach of the 80/20 rule are key to long-term success: It's hard to eat perfectly all the time, but trying to make the vast majority of foods that you eat nutrient-dense, whole ones is generally going to be effective.

How to compose a salad so you'll enjoy eating it

side by side of two colorful salads
Crunchy, creamy, and filling!Rebecca Harrington/Insider

Step one: Gather as much produce as possible.

I often grab lettuce (multiple kinds are great if you've got them), bell peppers, cucumbers, avocados, cabbage, tomatoes (kept on the counter), corn, herbs, apples, blueberries, peaches, strawberries — whatever produce I've got on hand — cut them into bite-sized pieces, and add a touch of salt and pepper.

Lately I've been grilling tons of veggies like summer squash, zucchini, cabbage, and corn on the cob, and having them in salads or as part of a quick dinner.

Step two: Choose your treats!

This is the part of the salad that makes it exciting to eat and filling.

For protein, I'll add any kind of cheese, or a bit of leftover chicken, steak, pork chops, or whatever's in the fridge.

I always look for something crunchy to add, like toasted breadcrumbs (superior to croutons in my opinion because they cling to every bite), nuts, roasted chickpeas, or even a small handful of the crushed-up chips at the bottom of the bag.

I make a batch of rice, couscous, or other whole grain over the weekend and use a little bit for each salad. Heating rice up in a pan is a great way to make it crispy.

Think about every bite of the salad and what would keep you coming back for more.

Step three: Whip up a dressing.

I never buy pre-made salad dressings because they usually have too much sugar. You can do just olive oil and vinegar, but I grew up in the Midwest and I love ranch dressing. I make some version of my own based on what I have in the fridge. My base recipe is Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, a touch of mayonnaise, garlic and onion powders, and freeze-dried chives. But you can sub in sour cream or leave out the mayonnaise and the mustard. It's the seasoning that makes it taste like ranch.

If I have pesto, avocado, or hummus, I might combine that with Greek yogurt to make a dressing. Add a squeeze of lemon or a splash of white wine vinegar to any homemade dressing to really make them sing. It's fun to experiment with different flavors, condiments, and sauces to build your own creamy concoctions. Lately I've been adding different hot sauces, miso paste, or fresh herbs for variety.

Step four: Enjoy!

And feel good that you've eaten your vegetables today.

Read the original article on Insider