How to build healthy main course salads for your weight loss plan

  • 2 Minutes Read
Martha M. Henze
Martha M. Henze, MPH, MS, RDN - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Global Public Health Epidemiologist

Healthy salads for a main dish make a perfect, simple meal that fits ideally in your weight-loss plan. They are especially great during warm weather when you don't feel like heating up the kitchen.

Healthy salads for weight loss

Steps to build healthy salads that fit your weight-loss plan

Now that summer is in the air, making fresh, healthy, main dish salads is perfect for your weight-loss plan. Because these salads contain a protein source, such as meat, beans, nuts, or tofu, such substantial savory salads will keep you full and energized until your next mealtime.

Salad ingredients to make a main dish salad

Preparation of main dish salads starts at the grocery store by purchasing lettuce, vegetables, meat or meat alternatives, fruit, and cheese.

Shopping list


Darker greens contain more vitamins and minerals. Choose spinach and dark romaine lettuce leaves for a heartier flavor and a healthier base. When starting your salad, begin by washing the lettuce ahead, so that the leaves have time to drip dry in a colander. Speed things up by patting the lettuce dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. A salad spinner works well, too.


Different colors of vegetables contain various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. I slice three colors of vegetables besides green to obtain the health benefits of the color variety in my salads.

Toasted nuts

Since toasting enhances the flavor of the nuts, put sliced or chopped nuts in a single layer in a small pan on the stove on low heat with no oil. Stir often until the nuts are browned and smell fragrant in less than five minutes. Watch carefully so they don't burn. You can also store cooled toasted nuts in a sealed container for future use.


Fruit adds a nice sweetness to your salad that complements the other flavors. Berries, pears, apples, grapes, grapefruit, cantaloupe, dried cranberries, and papaya are all great salad ingredients.


An excellent source of calcium for healthy bones, cheese is also a calorie-dense food. To save calories, choose strong-flavored cheese, such as Cambozola, Gruyere, or Emmental, and dice into little pieces so that you can enjoy it in smaller amounts and stay on track for weight loss.

Meat or meat alternatives

Marinate your beef, chicken, turkey, pork, or extra-firm tofu in this quick four-ingredient marinade to help enrich the flavors and tenderize the protein. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for 30 minutes up to five days.

Four-ingredient marinade

Oil - I use olive oil or rapeseed oil because they are high in monounsaturated fats. On busy days, I just pour my favorite vinaigrette over the meat to marinate.

Vinegar or other acidic ingredients - Red wine or balsamic vinegar and citrus juices, such as lemon or orange, help break down the proteins in the meat to increase tenderness.

Salty or sweet ingredients-Try Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey, soy sauce, or fruit juice, such as peach or apple.

Spices-Minced onions, garlic, and herbs (dried or fresh) such as parsley, basil, cilantro, or thyme add delicious flavor.


In a small bowl, mix together an equal ratio of oil to vinegar. Stir in the salty or sweet ingredients and spices. Combine the meat or tofu and the marinade in a larger bowl or zipper bag, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Serve as the last layer, warm or cold, on your prepared salad. Plan ahead by cooking additional protein to store in the refrigerator for another salad or meal.


The chart below features four possible salad combinations. For busy days, these salads can be prepared earlier and stored in the refrigerator.

How to make a main dish salad

Ingredient Chicken Feta Strawberry Salad Beef CambozolaPear Salad Spanish Tuna Tomato Avocado Salad Asian Tofu/PeanutMandarin Orange Salad
Lettuce Romaine or dark lettuce Arugula Kale Spinach
Meat/Meat Alternative Chicken Beef Canned tuna, drained Tofu
Nuts Toasted walnuts Toasted almond slices Peanuts
Cheese Feta crumbles Cambozola crumbles Sharp cheddar
Fruit Strawberries Fresh pear slices Fresh apple slices Mandarin oranges
Vegetable Sliced tomatoes, avocados, corn Fresh bean sprouts, broccoli crowns
Dressing Raspberry vinaigrette or reduced balsamic vinegar Light creamy dressing Vinegar and extra virgin olive oil drizzle Light coconut Asian salad dressing or a lime Asian dressing

Colorful presentation: Eating with your eyes!

To visually enjoy the colors of a salad, I like to use a glass salad bowl and layer all of the ingredients. Start with lettuce, torn into pieces in a bowl. Layer fruits, vegetables, and cheese. Just before serving, arrange meat or meat alternative on top with a few nuts in the center. To help the flavors meld more thoroughly, I usually add the dressing and mix at the table just before eating.

Main dish salads from the MyNetDiary Premium recipe collection

Powerhouse Salad
Flank Steak Salad
Arugula Avocado Salad

Turn your own combinations of healthy ingredients and dressings into main course salad recipes this season. And get ready to enjoy healthy salads for winning hot-weather dining and weight loss!

This blog was reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES on June 14, 2021.

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Foods & Recipes->Salads Meal Planning & Diets->Lunch Meal Planning & Diets->Dinner
Jun 18, 2021

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