The Perfect Summer Salad

Tanning, reading, getting decent amounts of sleep once the sun goes down and waking up when it rises again: I have no complaints when it comes to May in the Midwest. For me, it means a small break from school, getting to see friends from my hometown, and getting to relax – something I don’t get much opportunity to do during the year.

Of all the things I love about summer, the food has to be one of the top three. What other time of the year do you get to taste in-season cantaloupe and strawberries and buy locally grown produce and fresh pastries from the Farmer’s Market in your small suburban town?

I’m turning into my mother, and I don’t care.

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I’ll let you in on a little secret: I used to hate eating salad. Any meal that didn’t start with bottles of  dressing lined up on the kitchen table was a relief in my head and my stomach. There wasn’t anything appealing about a handful of tasteless lettuce with cheese and croutons thrown on top. I would have rather eaten a serving of vegetables with my steak and mashed potatoes than choke down a plate of salad as my appetizer.

College does weird things to you, though – at least it has for me. For one thing, Olivet got me severely addicted to caffeine. Yes, Olivet, not me. Give a sleep-deprived college freshman girl 50 Flex Dollars and a coffee shop en route to the campus mailboxes, and you’ve got yourself a daily dose of blended caramel lattes and endless bottles of coffee creamer in the refrigerator.

Salads, also, became a common item of consumption once I realized cafeteria food is never going to be as good as you think it is, considering the quantity food concept. Just a few cups of lettuce and some croutons isn’t enough to satisfy a hungry stomach, though. So what next?

As is the case when adapting to the wondrous world of Sodexo Dining, you have to get creative if you want a salad that will fill you up and leave you satisfied until your next snack or meal. Cabbage leaves and ranch dressing wouldn’t even make a rabbit happy for more than a few minutes. Unless you’re planning to grow a set of whiskers and a fluffy bunny tail, you have to do better than that.

Pick the lettuce you like, and get it while it’s fresh. Whether you’re picking up a fresh head at the store or prefer a shredded spring mix in a box, a salad without the perfect lettuce as the base will never taste right. And once you have it, use it – once it’s gone bad, there’s no turning back.

Quality protein is key. A little cheddar cheese sprinkled on top won’t be enough to fill you up and meet your daily needs. Add a hard-cooked egg or baked chicken breast to give your salad that deliciously complete feel.

Add a little crunch. A handful of croutons is great on top of any salad, but what if you forgot to put that on your grocery list this week? Toss in a few almonds or other nuts for a similar satisfactory crunch while you munch.

Produce a little produce. Depending on the taste you’re going for, anything from tomatoes to strawberries to apples can help build your ideal summer salad. Chop them up or add them whole – no matter how you like them, they’re bound to make a difference.

Dressing it up. As important as it is to choose the dressing you love, you should also make sure it goes with the ingredients you’ve already added to your salad. I love caesar dressing, but that won’t necessarily go with a walnut-apple number, will it? vinegar-based dressings go great with fruit-filled salads, and heavier mayonnaise-based dressings complement salads with chicken and other meats.

There’s nothing like a cold, refreshing salad to cool you off after a relaxing morning of reading or gardening in the sun. Try the methods and ingredients that work best for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different fruits, vegetables and protein sources to get it just right.

I used to run fast and far away from any mention of salad on the menu. It’s funny how a few years living broke and trying to get a decent education on a budget while still trying to live a healthy lifestyle can change your appetite.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

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