In theory, meal prepping sounds like a no-brainer – look at your week ahead and plan accordingly.

And while it all checks out on paper, meal prep planning fails to take into account the unexpected. There are some weeks you are busier then others, some days where you’re traveling and can’t bring food (or you forget!) and other days you have to meet someone for dinner.

Eating out doesn’t mean you’re doomed to settle for an unhealthy option. There are plenty of healthy options in our local community. This next month, Elite will spotlight several local restaurants around Chandler/Tempe so you can always have a fresh meal option in your back pocket! This week we’re looking at how to construct a perfect salad from the salad bars you’d find at your local grocery like AJ’s or Whole Foods.


Why salads make a good lunchtime option:

Salads provide volume and variety when you’re struggling to cut calories and portion control. An overflowing bowl of leafy greens and other vegetables are guiltless and will leave you ultra-satisfied, yet still light enough to go about your day.

A base of every fresh, raw vegetable layered with your favorite toppings will provide you with a hefty serving of nutrients full of different flavors and textures. Salads aren’t limited to the cold section of the Salad Bar. You can make salads from the hot bar section as well.

Get creative. Stir fry look good? Add the saucy chicken and vegetables to a base of greens along with mandarin oranges and whisk together a super simple dressing with equal parts soy sauce, peanut butter, and water. Brisket or pulled pork calling your name? Plop them directly on a bed of greens with some sort of pungent cheese- blue or feta or gorgonzola- and then dress the whole mess in barbecue sauce. Barbecue chicken? Add black beans, corn kernels, diced onion and avocado then get all gussied up in hot salsa and sour cream for a burrito bowl.

Get creative. Whatever sounds good together, whatever flavors your craving- that mix will work just fine on top of greens.

Here are a few basic principles to follow next time you approach the salad bar.

Constructing a Balanced 400-Calorie Salad

100 calories: Vegetables


Look for around 100 of your calories to come straight from vegetables. Depending on your choices, you can end up having you daily three to five servings of vegetables at lunch.

  • greens: romaine, baby spinach, mixed baby lettuces, arugula, frisee, red or green leaf, butter, bibb
  • carrots (grated, sliced thinly on the diagonal, or shredded with a vegetable peeler)
  • peppers: any color
  • red cabbage (shaved)
  • cucumber (seeds removed, halved and chopped into crescents)

100-150 calories: Protein


Aim for high-quality organic sources of lean protein like the options below.

  • 3 oz of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, tempeh, or fish
  • ½ cup beans or lentils
  • 2 hard or soft boiled eggs
  • 1 can tuna fish
  • 1/2- ¾ cup cottage cheese

100 calories: Fun


Try to have fun with your food. Allowing yourself to have little indulgences or portion out foods that sound satisfying to you to ensure you stay on track throughout your day,

  • ¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • handful croutons
  • mandarin oranges and fried wonton sticks (if I’m lucky to have them on hand for an Asian-style salad)
  • ¼ cup hummus
  • sweet beets
  • 2 crisp slices bacon, crumbled



Here’s a trick to getting more out of your salad – don’t use traditional dressings- bottled or homemade. Try using thicker, more concentrated flavors in the form of:

  • hummus (¼ cup makes a creamy topper)
  • guacamole (¼ cup)
  • fresh salsa (and often full fat sour cream- this combination becomes creamy sweet with the right amount of acidity)
  • peanut butter (1 tablespoon thinned with equal parts soy sauce and water (1 tbsp each) and a ¼ tsp ground ginger)
  • cottage cheese (½ cup of 4% milkfat- what I find to be the richest, creamiest variety)
  • sweet preserves: jams, cranberry sauce (at Thanksgiving), orange marmalade, apricot preserves, honey
  • ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce (excellent on a meat or veggie burger salad with cheese and all the fixin’s you’d normally find between a bun next to fries)

The beauty of using these thick creams and spreads is that they add much more to the vegetables in terms of mouthfeel. Whereas vinaigrettes and other dressings might be fairly high in calories (for such a small portion) and light in terms of ‘wow’ flavor, these thick creams coat the vegetables in a more pronounced, distinguishable way. They’re saucy rather than just slippery.