How to Keep Greens Alluring, Plus a Protein-Packed Chicken Caesar Salad Recipe

Each New Year, people all around the world make resolutions, confident that this year they will meet their goals. But all too often, a few weeks later, their lists — along with their resolve — are cast off and forgotten. If you vowed to take charge of your health in 2015 by eating more greens, here are 5 yummy tips to keep those salads that you promised to eat interesting, vibrant and alluring.

Start with dark leafy greens

Create a strong foundation by upping the nutritional ante and choosing a base for your salad that provides important nutrients. Give up the iceberg for mesclun greens, baby spinach, or a spring mix that includes a variety of dark green lettuces. For less than 20 calories per two cups, you can have a tasty, nutrient-rich base.

Pile on the veggies

Select vegetables with a variety of colors to get the most health benefits — red bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, sugar-snap peas, cucumbers, radishes and red onions are all great choices. Shredded veg add a nice texture and crunch! 

Your salad becomes a meal when you add protein

If you're opting for animal protein, select one lean source (or two if you're extra-hungry), such as four egg whites or three ounces of skinless chicken or turkey breast, water-packed chunk light tuna, wild salmon, sardines or lean sirloin steak. If you're vegetarian or just want to mix it up, choose half a cup of cubed tofu or three-quarters of a cup of chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or other legumes such as peanuts.

Extras, extras

These ingredients add another dimension and flavor to your combo of greens, vegetables and lean protein. While some of these extras are packed with nutrients, they're also packed with calories, so they should be added sparingly. Luckily, a little of these goodies goes a long way, so you won't need more than one of the following:

  • 2 tablespoons cheddar, Parmesan, goat, Swiss or feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried peas, chopped walnuts, peanuts, pecans or sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon crunchy soy beans
  • 1 ounce avocado
  • 10 small olives (canned/jarred in water)
  • 1/4 cup whole grain croutons
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins

Lighten up on the dressing

Unfortunately, dressing can take a salad from fresh and nutritious to downright unhealthy. When making your own dressing, use Greek yogurt in place of creamy ingredients. Not only does this cut way down on the saturated fat and calories, but also has the benefit of giving your salad a real protein boost. Also, focus on adding liquids such as lemon, lime, and even orange juice. Fresh salsa always serves as a nutritious and delicious salad topper. Experiment with different vinegars and oils, such as sesame and olive oil. Mustards, garlic, herbs, and capers with the juice also add some welcome variety. Finally, nutritional yeast is a good substitute for shredded cheese (or experiment first with a combination).


Protein-packed Chicken Caesar Salad

Developed by Andrea Teresa Roche, MS, RD, LDN

This crowd-pleaser has half the calories and saturated fat associated with more traditional Casears. I typically serve this as a main dish, however it could certainly be a decadent side at any dinner party!

Ingredients
6-8 free-range or organic chicken legs (the bones add flavor!)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1/3 cup  of olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf whole grain bread toasted and cut into 1-inch thick cubes (be creative and mix whole grain breads with pumpernickel)
2 or 3 heads romaine lettuce (baby kale is a great addition as well)

Dressing
4 anchovy fillets in olive oil
3 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, plus a few shavings to serve (can substitute nutritional yeast)
4-ounce container of plain, non-free Greek yogurt
1 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, chopped
Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Oil a baking dish with olive oil and cover the bottom with the cubed bread. Sprinkle with half the rosemary, half the garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Place the chicken legs directly on top of the bread. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to make sure everything is well coated, then lift the chicken legs up to the top, so they sit above the bread. This way, the bread will soak up all the juices from the chicken, giving you the best croutons ever! Place directly in the oven for 1 hour. The chicken legs are ready when you can pinch the meat off the bone easily. When they're cooked, remove the pan from the oven and set it aside for the chicken to cool down slightly.
  3. For the dressing, mix the chopped garlic and anchovy filets, Parmesan, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and extra olive oil if necessary for a creamy texture. Season with pepper (but not salt: the anchovies and Parmesan are both already quite salty).
  4. Pull the chicken meat off the leg bones – you can use 2 forks to do this, or your hands and tear it up roughly with the croutons.
  5. Wash, spin dry and separate the lettuce leaves, tear them up and toss with the chicken, croutons and dressing. Scatter with remaining Parmesan shavings.
Andrea Teresa Roche on Blogger
Andrea Teresa Roche
Andrea Teresa Roche, MS, RD, LDN, is a research dietitian specializing in maternal and child health and the treatment of disordered eating. Her research extends beyond the clinic to the culinary scene. You can follow on her website, The Research Kitchen.