Sensational Salads #1

Copy Cat Olive Garden Salad

I’ve wanted to do a series of posts on salads for several months now. I’m not a picky eater and there are many foods I love, but I have to honestly say salad is one of my favourites. I used to say I enjoyed salad, as long as someone else made it. I always felt that by the time I chopped all the veggies and got it ready, it was some how disappointing. However, over the last few years, I have made a few discoveries which are primarily based on my own personal preferences. I can honestly say that salad is not only one of my very favourite foods, but would rank pretty high for my whole family. My 16 year old son will often request salad when asked what he wants for dinner. Here are a few tips to help you jump on the salad band wagon.

How To Really Get Hooked on Salad:

Starfrit Spiralizer
  • Find a variety of salads that you love! DO NOT stick to the same old salad every time! We probably have at least 3 completely different salads each week.
  • Make salad your main course and use meat as a salad topping. Although we are not vegetarian, I can say that we have definitely moved away from red meat. We still enjoy a steak, pork tenderloin and ground beef for burgers and spaghetti sauce, but it is much more limited than it used to be. We will often have meat as a salad compliment and chicken and fish are much more present in our regular diet than they were in the past.
  • Be creative and try a variety of add-ons. For me salad is mostly about a great dressing. Once I find a dressing I like, I will often play with the other elements and change it up. Lately, one of my favourite salad additions is chopped brussel sprouts!
  • Be creative in your presentation….I will often spiral, shred or ribbon cut my vegetables to add interest. A salad that looks amazing often tastes great too!
  • Think colour! I often see a salad as art…I always try to add a splash of colour!
  • Use a variety of greens to create different textures, flavours and colours in your finished salad.
  • Cheese please! Although we don’t always add cheese to our salads (especially when we are being mindful of calories), it is a great way to add flavour. Some of our favourites include feta, Swiss, manchego, aged cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano!
  • Double the recipe! We definitely have a few staples when it comes to salad dressing. I find that making a double batch will often last a week or more in the fridge.
  • Be mindful! Although a salad is often packed with veggies, don’t fall into the same trap that I did several years ago. I would eat a delicious homemade salad for lunch at work every day. I always felt like I ate well and a list of the foods I was eating would have most people agreeing. However, despite what I felt were healthy choices, I noticed that I was starting to put on weight. Be mindful of what you are adding to your salad if weight/calories are a concern. Nuts and seeds are a great source for nutrients and healthy fats, but they are also extremely high in calories. After months of eating my “amazingly healthy salad”, I did a calorie count and discovered that my lunch salad was often exceeding 700 calories! Although they were seemingly healthy calories packed with nutrients, a calorie is a calorie and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I seemed to be gaining weight. I still eat nuts and seeds, but I am just more aware of what I’m adding to my salads and the overall caloric impact.

Sensational Salad Add-Ons for a Typical Lettuce Salad:

The fruits, vegetables, meat and other ingredients I add to a salad are often determined by the type of salad I’m making and whether the dressing is sweet or not. I will follow a salad recipe pretty close the first time, mostly to see if the dressing is a hit or not. After that, I will often use the dressing, but adapt the salad ingredients based on what flavours I think will meld nicely with it and what I have on hand. Below are some of our favourite salad fixings that go beyond the basic carrots, celery, cucumber and tomatoes.

  • beets (I often spiral cut them with this inexpensive Starfrit machine I have)
  • mushrooms (I like to slice mine paper thin)
  • avocado
  • brussel sprouts (chopped)
  • kale
  • peppers (red, green and/or yellow)
  • radicchio
  • chopped artichoke (canned)
  • red cabbage (and/or regular cabbage)
  • granny smith apples
  • pear
  • peaches
  • mango
  • strawberries
  • fresh homemade salsa (fruit based is especially good and often means you can eliminate the dressing altogether)
  • Nuts (pistachio, pecan, walnuts, peanuts, slivered almonds, pine nuts, etc. – I usually opt for raw nuts, but also love candied nuts with some salads)
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, etc.)
  • Cheese, freshly grated
  • Meat (pork tenderloin, steak, taco meat, salmon, chicken breast/rotisserie chicken)

When I first started making more gourmet style salads, I really just sought out a few dressings that I loved that became my “go to’s” for a basic salad. I have actually posted this recipe a few times already, but it is definitely one I use regularly.

Lime Vinaigrette

Lime Agave Vinaigrette – courtesy of Lyn Genet-Recitas (The Plan). I love this dressing because it is simple to make and the lime flavour gives it a very fresh taste. I will often add green apple or pear to this salad just because it goes so nicely with the lime flavour. (If you don’t have Agave, use honey or one of my favourites…maple syrup.)

Stay tuned as I will be posting several new salad and dressing recipes over the summer, but until now, here are some links to previous posts that highlighted some of our family’s favourite salad recipes.

Fighting the Post Christmas Blahs

I am not sure about you, but by the time Boxing Day rolls around, I seem to be suffering from the post-Christmas blahs! The crazy weeks of preparation, late nights and poor eating habits all come crashing down and I wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a semi-truck.

If there is one thing that I can be certain of it is that I absolutely need my sleep and my body functions best with 8 to 9 hours per night. For many, if not most, going to bed at 11 or midnight is the norm, but for me it is very rare that I stay up that late. A great game of Settlers or Canasta can definitely lure me into the wee hours of the morning, but other that I am usually off to bed before 10 with 9 being my favourite time to hit the sack. I do find with the kids getting older and staying up later, my 9 o’clock bedtime is becoming much less frequent and more of an occasional luxury. This month has been crazy busy and I found myself collapsing into bed after 11 most nights.   All of those late nights and lack of sleep have certainly taken their toll. My eyes are super puffy with big bags under them and my stomach has been uncomfortable for days.

Fighting the Blahs with the Plan

The PlanThe great news is, that I know just what to do to get back on track. The thing I love the most about The Plan is that I have already determined many of the foods that are “friendly” for my body. Throughout the holidays it is difficult to be in complete control of what you are eating as you are often out and about.  I have previously done several posts regarding The Plan and how impressed I am with Lyn-Genet Recitas’s book. I know this is the time of the year when so many are making New Year’s resolutions and planning to shed the Christmas pounds or get back to the gym. Lyn’s book is “hands-down” the best source I have come across. I love that The Plan does not tell you what you can and can not eat, but rather teaches you how to discover what foods work for you and which foods don’t. It is completely different for every individual and allows you to have the control over  your own body and how you feel.

Here are some of my previous posts in which I have referenced The Plan:

The Plan and Prosperity

Calorie Counting and Intense Exercise

Chocolate: The Inside Scoop

The Power of Water

Relax, Don’t Do It

My Favourite Breakfast: Homemade Flax Granola

Getting Back on Track:

Here are a few simple tips for getting back on track quickly:

  • Get a good night’s sleep, 8 hours if possible
  • Adequate water intake ~ drink the number of ounces equal to half your body weight (compensate with additional water if you have coffee or exercise as both cause dehydration)
  • Get back to foods that you know to be friendly for you (Note: I don’t say healthy foods)

The Devil Foods According to Lyn

One of the biggest pitfalls that we fall into is assuming we are eating well because the media has told us what “super foods” we need in our diets to be healthy. One of the most fascinating parts of Lyn’s book is learning that your “go-to” healthy foods might be causing the most havoc on your body. Lyn refers to the following 7 foods as the “Devil Foods” because so many people are “reactive” to these foods. Basically, this means that the foods cause your body to react and set it into an inflammatory state which often results in weight gain as well as other symptoms.

  1. Oatmeal
  2. Salmon
  3. Asparagus
  4. Tomato Sauce
  5. Tofu
  6. Black Beans
  7. Turkey

The list of Devil Foods is quite surprising to most. Most of the items on her list were regular items in my diet. I believed that salmon was a super foods and we had it once a week faithfully. We often chose ground turkey over beef, believing it to be a superior choice for healthy eating. Asparagus is one of our families favourite vegetables. Not really the foods you would expect to see on such a list. The point is not that these are bad foods, but more so that people are consciously choosing these foods believing that they are making a healthier choice when in fact some or all of these foods can be highly reactive for many people. So, the result is that roller coaster of weight gain and loss.  Have you ever been eating super “healthy” and still gained weight or would lose a few, gain a few. That happened to me all the time, but as soon as I read this book I knew why. Although I have discovered other foods as well, I have discovered that I am highly reactive to many types of fish. We ate fish one to two times per week and for me, a small fillet of fish can cause me to gain up to 2 pounds within 8 hours of consuming it. So you can see how you could be eating really well, but every time you consume that reactive food, you jump back up a few more pounds.

Is The Plan for You?

If you struggle with your weight or even just want to get off those last few pounds, I swear, this is what you have been looking for. I am not going to lie. The first 20 days take quite a bit of commitment because you need to get your body into a “friendly” state, so that you can test foods and get accurate results. However, once you begin to discover the keys to success, you will always have that knowledge to go back to. The Plan doesn’t prevent me from eating anything at all, but it just helps me to read my own body better, make better choices that work for me and most importantly, have the tools to get back on track when I derail and know I am in a reactive state.

My Staple Salad Courtesy of the Plan

This is my absolute favourite everyday salad. I never tire of it and it is really delicious and super easy to make. The dressing is courtesy of the The Plan. I make a batch of dressing every Sunday and it lasts all week.

Lime Agave Vinaigrette

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup water
1 Tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 Tablespoon agave nectar (you could probably use honey as a substitute, but I always have agave on hand)
Optional: 1 clove garlic, crushed (I am sure fresh would be better, but we buy the big jar from Costco and I use that in it)

Mix and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 Individual Salad:

  • a bed of greens (either baby Romaine or Spring Mix)
  • 1/4 of an avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 of a Granny Smith apple, chopped
  • few thin slices of purple onion
  • a handful of raw pumpkin seeds

This salad tastes like “summer” to me, but is great for any time of the year. It is light, yummy and looks incredible. We will be having this salad for dinner tonight with some left over Borscht. Mmmm good!

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