bowl of vegetable salads
Photo by Anna Pelzer

The DAO of pimping your salad

We all associate salads with diet food or a boring meal. It doesn’t have to be that way. With the right ingredients, your salad will go from boring to badass. But you do have to watch out – attempts to make salads less boring can detonate unintended calorie bombs.

What’s the skinny?

  • This article will show you how to “pimp your salad.”
  • With the right instant ingredients, you can eat a healthy, delicious salad without all the hidden “calorie bombs”.
  • You can apply these principles at home or when you are ordering a custom salad from a place like Sweetgreens

We give salads a bad name

“Salads are boring.”

“That’s just rabbit food.”

“I am on a diet, so salads only.”

That mindset of salads as dull is ONLY because you have not had a pimped out, #fitprofessional salad.

One that takes less than 10 minutes to prep.

How YOU can pimp your salad

You can make a salad with incredible flavor and zing. A salad is a perfect opportunity to get sexy and adventurous. The key is knowing how to pimp it out like a #fitprofessional.

And these principles apply whether you are pimpin’ at home, or ordering a salad from a place like Sweetgreens, Chop’t, or Tender Greens.

My general recommendation if you are in the latter situation is to avoid ordering the pre-made menu salads. There are usually not the healthies and have sneaky unhealthy ingredients you will have to end up modifying. Custom is the way to go.

yellow sports car
Photo by Dhiva Krishna

Not your grandma’s greens

Add the right greens (as many as you want of all of the below)

Not boring, mushy, romaine or iceberg lettuce. A pimped out salad starts with pimped out greens that have a zingy taste without the dressing.

Here are the following choices, each of which come pre-washed:

  • Baby kale – if you are making your own salad, get baby kale because it’ is not so hard to mix with dressing. In restaurants, you don’t have this problem because the kale usually comes finely chopped.
  • Organicgirl supergreens! blend – a mix of baby bok choy, red and green swiss chard, toi soi, arugula and spinach;
  • Organicgirl protein greens – Sweet pea leaves plus protein;
  • Trader Joes’ wild arugula (also known as “rocket”)
  • Organic endives – these give salads a great “bite”

Note I did not list Iceberg lettuce or romaine. That’s because neither of these have much nutritional value or the fiber to keep you full. If you are going to get one of those, make sure they are mixed with a combo of the greens above,


(As many as you want)

Herbs are like the earrings that go with a really hot outfit. Some options, which usually come in pre-washed vacuum-sealed packets, are:

  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh dill

Fantastic Fruits

(choose 2-3 of each)

If you add the right fruits, your salad will get a lot of flavor for very little calories, and you won’t have to bother with too much dressing. Some of my favorite options that you can buy pre-chopped are:

  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Blueberries
  • Guava
  • Strawberry
  • Mini kumatos (mexican tomatoes)
  • Mini sweet cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumber (if you buy the mini ones, they are really easy to chop quickly on a mini cutting board)

You can also experiment with dried fruit, like dry goji berries or dried apricot, or even figs. In this case, you will want to make sure to read the labels so that you don’t dump a huge handful that’s expensive calorie-wise.

Power it up with Proteins

(Choose one of each)

Proteins need to be “marinated” in the right sauce to fit the salad well. This way the sauce from the protein also mixes with the other vegetables and dressings. Basically, a flavor explosion in your mouth!

Here are some of my favorite “quickie” sauces:

  • For chicken – mango dressing
  • For tuna – Sriracha “mayo” – mix sriracha sauce with 1 tbsp “nayonaise” or avocado-oil based mayo
  • For steak or shrimp – coconut aminos and sweet chili sauce
  • For beans – Paleo mustard bbq sauce or “chut up” condiments (you can buy a three-pack of beet ketchup, apple & caramelized chutney, and peri peri sauce) for chickpeas or white beans.

You can pre-prep this a few days in advance and leave it in the fridge, that way the flavors really sink in.

Viva la veggies (any combo of below)

  • Canned fire roasted red pepper – it makes the salad more “juicy” and holds the flavor or dressing in better.Cauliflower rice – adds a lot of fiber to your salad; mix with coconut aminos, lemon juice, a drizzle of avocado oil, sea salt, and saffron
  • Sundried tomato – not in oil, just dry – gives salads a nice tangy “zing”
  • Shredded carrot (buy pre-sredded) – a colorful salad is always a more delicious salad!
  • Baby corn – the more colorful your salad, the more interesting it will be.
  • Cucumber – ok, technically it’s a fruit but associating with its more common category. Cucumbers are excellent additions because they are high in soluble fiber, and water, which means you will be both fuller and more hydrated.
  • Sweet potato slices – you can buy these pre-sliced from Caulipower, bonus they are also toast!

Other pimpin’ items (choose 2-3, can have unlimited pickled items given negligible calories)

  • Olives – black , green or kalamata (pitted)
  • Pepperoncini (these are Italian hot peppers, you can buy them pre-sliced and pickled
  • Pickled red onions
  • Roasted red pepper
  • Feta cheese
  • Cava eggplant dip (15 calories for 2 tablespoons)
  • Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper dip (10 calories per tbsp)
  • Pre-sliced pickles
  • 1 tbsp seeds – black or white sesame are an excellent additional source of iron
  • Parmesan crisps (whisps is a good brand)
  • Grain free lime tortilla chips (lower in fat, carbs, and calories than regular)
  • Shirataki noodles – in case you haven’t heard of these, they are Japanese noodles made from konjac root. Because they are so high in fiber they are very filling and add a lot of flavor and texture without the heaviness of noodles. Did I also mention zero calorie??

Pimpin’ Dressings (pick one of below)

Dressing is everything in a salad, but it can also be one of the biggest saboteurs- if you follow my post about reading labels, you will get it.

Dressings that are “low fat” “fat free” are usually full of sugar; dressings that are paleo or keto-friendly can have a lot of fat for a small amount. Unwittingly adding dressing that is more than three times the calories and fat/sugar content of your salad is ridic. Here are some options that will stoke your tastebuds without widening your wasteline. I also have a separate post about low-cal salad dressing options here.

  • Cava spicy lime tahini (available at Whole Foods) at only 90 calories for 2 tablespoons, you get a lot of flavor for not many calories, fat or sugar.
  • If you don’t like spice so much, try Bragg’s healthy vinaigrette (2 tablespoons clock in at 90 calories )
  • Bragg’s apple cider vinaigrette is an even lighter option, with 2 tablespoons at is 15 calories, zero fat. This is a good one to pick if you are already adding a fat like goat cheese or avocado, or ordering a takeout salad (get no dressing, always).
  • Plain balsamic vinegar is always sweet and a good option
  • Coconut aminos makes a great Asian feel salad dressing at only 10 calories a tablespoon; you can also mix in some miso paste to give it more of Japanese steakhouse salad feel.
  • BYOD balsamic vinaigrette dressing spray (read more about my BYOD method in my DAO of eating on the go post).

Mix any of the above dressings with the following extra low-cal “pimp” items:

  • Coconut aminos – my adorable husband refers to this as “soy sauce for rich people.” There is actually no soy, but it has the same taste of soy sauce made from the sap of a coconut tree. Admittedly kind of bougie.
  • Tamari sauce – in a similar way, tamari sauce gives you that rich Asian zing, without wheat or as much sodium.
  • Miso paste – available in red, yellow, or brown, this mixes really well with most salad ingredients and gives it an “umph”
  • Cholula chili lime sauce – if you are into spicy but want more of a Mexican flair, this is for you.
  • Harissa sauce – again, it’s a spicy option but more of a Middle Eastern feel.
  • Mango Chutney – I used to think this was just for Indian food but after discovering that Whole foods sells it I tried mixing some in my salad and was blown away. Good if you like that sweetness, and pair with any of the above for a nice sweet and sour combo.

Spice it up

The right spices make all the difference. It’s like your salad is a cake, and the spices are the icing. Here are some of my favorites:

Not just for salads

All of the above spices and dressings are great for your quick prep #fitprofessional meals, so keep them around! Like in business, leveraging and repurposing is key.

Combo it up

You can make endless combinations with all of the above. Here are some examples, but don’t hesitate to create your own masterpiece. Just don’t overthink it. This way, you will have much more variety!

  • Mango chicken salad – Bibb lettuce, chicken breast marinated in mango dressing, add balsamic spray to the lettuce with mini sweet cherry tomato, cauliflower rice, quinoa croutons, Kalamata olives, shredded carrot, Bragg’s spice mix, garlic powder;
  • “Thai style” Tuna salad – tuna mixed with sriracha on top of super greens mix dressed in spice lime tahini and tamari sauce with shredded carrot, shirataki noodles, miso paste, black olives, coconut aminos and black sesame seeds, onion salt
  • Steak and avocado salad – lean cut of filet mignon or NY strip, protein greens, sundried tomato, baby corn, avocado, balsamic spray dressing, chili lime spice

Transporting your pimped out salad

If you are not working from home (or when you resume going to the office), you can buy one of these containers to go. Whatever kind you get, you want to make sure that it can keep the ingredients, especially dressing, separate, so the salad won’t be gross and soggy by the time you eat it.

It’s a good idea to pre-pack your salad even if you are working from home, because there will be days when you are forced to eat 5 minutes between zoom calls.. If you are looking for a more compact package, you can order this salad bottle with cup for dressing (in a set of two)


10 spices to spike up your salad

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