June/July 2024 Issue

Supercharge Your Summer Salads
By Liz Weiss, MS, RDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 26 No. 6 P. 26

From the Refreshing to the Filling, Salads Can Do It All

Salads can be so much more than a simple bowl of lettuce with a few veggies tossed in. They offer a world of nutrient-rich mealtime possibilities where interesting flavor, texture, color, and ingredient combinations can shine. When temperatures rise and produce is at its peak, assembling summer salads that require less time hovering over a hot stove and more time enjoying leisure activities outdoors, may be especially appealing.

Dietitians who work in multiple settings recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to good nutrition. Nutrient needs differ tremendously based on age, gender, activity level, preexisting conditions, and genetics. In addition, food likes and dislikes, cultural foodways, budgets, and access to nourishing foods can vary. Therefore, when talking to clients and patients about easy and healthful mealtime solutions, now is the ideal time for RDs to suggest creative summer salads tailored to their unique, individualized needs.

When building star-studded summer salads, start with a bed of greens. While iceberg is always an option, this pale-green lettuce is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities (pun intended). Today, most supermarkets stock an array of other colorful, nutrient-dense lettuce and leafy green varieties, including romaine, red and green leaf lettuce, radicchio, arugula, spinach, kale, Bibb, and endive. Once the foundation has been set, continue with your choice of seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, raspberries, watermelon, sliced peaches, shredded carrot, sliced radishes, roasted beets, and sliced cucumber, as well as grilled or sautéed zucchini, bell peppers, asparagus, corn, and more.

“Salads are such a fabulous way for summer produce to shine,” says San Francisco-based cookbook author and food writer, Katie Morford, MS, RDN, from MomsKitchenHandbook.com. “There’s nothing I love better than to go to a summer farmstand without a game plan and just see what looks good. I’ll bring it all home and turn it into a bright, fresh salad for lunch or a light supper.”

While these crave-worthy salads made with interesting greens and seasonal produce are delectable, there’s no reason to stop there. Dietitians can also encourage clients to make their salads more substantial by adding grain foods, including quinoa, rice, bulgur, barley, or farro; toasted almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, or other flavorful nuts and seeds; and foods like chicken, beans, and seafood that bring satisfying protein to each bowl.

Main dish summer salads can offer supercharged and customized nutrition in a single bowl. For example, when planned appropriately, salads can help your clients reach their daily fiber requirement, which can be a challenge for many people; consume adequate protein throughout the day; stay well hydrated; and fine-tune their diets with a specific health goal in mind, such as brain health.

Fiber Fueled
More than 90% of women and 97% of men don’t meet the daily fiber intake recommendations of 25 g for women and 31 g for men.1 Steering clients toward summer salads made with fiber-rich foods, including avocados (1/2 cup: 5 g), raspberries (1/2 cup: 4 g), sunflower seeds (1 oz: 3 g), pistachios (1 oz: 3 g), cooked lentils (1/2 cup: 7.8 g), and cooked chickpeas (1/2 cup: 6.3 g) to name a few, can help to fill in the fiber gap.2

“Beans are one of the easiest things that you can add to a meal like a salad to bulk up on fiber. A half cup of cooked white beans alone provides about 6 g fiber, so adding a full can to a salad along with other vegetables helps to add valuable grams of fiber that support digestive health and provides more satiety to a meal,” says Catherine Perez, MS, RD, LDN, founder of the plantbasedrdblog.com in Elmwood Park, New Jersey.

Protein Packed
Salad skeptics may think of salads as “rabbit food,” but when topped with grilled or rotisserie chicken, grilled salmon or shrimp, beans and nuts, or hard-boiled eggs, a salad made with lettuce and fresh veggies can quickly become a hearty main meal for lunch or dinner complete with high-quality protein. Within the protein category, there’s also room for plenty of flexibility. For clients who may prefer chicken over fish or a vegan option of beans vs eggs, swaps can easily be made.

Topping It Off
Salad dressings come in a variety of options, offering the opportunity to enhance the natural flavors of ingredients already present. The classic mix of olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice is low in added sugar and simple to put together on your own. Other creative low-sugar choices might include homemade poppyseed dressing made with plain Greek yogurt, vinegar, and a drizzle of honey; a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and garlic or shallot; and a blended green dressing with light mayonnaise, lemon juice, chopped leafy herbs such as basil and/or parsley, and garlic.

Brain Health
Research shows that consuming the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet can support brain health. Moderate to strict adherence to the MIND diet has been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk by 35% to 53% respectively and preserve brain function.3 Dietitians should offer clients various ways to incorporate the nine food groups featured in the MIND diet into colorful summer salads. (See sidebar.)

Staying well-hydrated is important for overall good health. It helps regulate body temperature, deliver nutrients to cells, facilitate removal of cellular waste products, prevent infections, prevent and relieve constipation, and may also help to improve cognition and mood, to name just some of the benefits. Drinking plenty of water, especially during the heat of summer, is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when discussing hydration with clients, but summer produce with high water content, including watermelon, berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and celery can also be recommended for a thirst-quenching dish.

— Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, is the mom of two grown boys with a specialty in family nutrition and healthy aging. She shares recipes and healthful living advice on LizsHealthyTable.com and her podcast, EAT, DRINK, LIVE LONGER. Weiss is a cooking instructor, speaker, and frequent lifestyle guest on TV shows across the country.


1. US Department of Agriculture; Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Published December 2020.

2. Food sources of dietary fiber. Dietary Guidelines for Americans website. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials/food-sources-select-nutrients/food-0

3. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014.


Top 9 MIND Diet Food Groups
The MIND diet includes foods rich in brain-supporting nutrients like vitamin E found in nuts, lutein and zeaxanthin in kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, B vitamins in poultry and protein-rich foods, and omega-3 fatty acids in salmon. The following are the nine food groups in the MIND diet and the amounts recommended:

1. Leafy greens: One 1-cup serving of kale, spinach, Swiss chard, or romaine lettuce daily;

2. Other vegetables: At least one serving of another colorful vegetable per day, such as bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, or winter squash;

3. Berries: Two or more 1/2-cup servings of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or other berry variety each week;

4. Nuts: Five 1-oz servings of walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pecans, or other nut variety per week;

5. Olive oil: When cooking, use extra virgin olive oil most of the time;

6. Whole grains: Three 1/2-cup servings of whole grains a day, including brown or black rice, quinoa, oats, or farro;

7. Fish: One or more servings of salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp, or other fish variety per week;

8. Beans: Three or more 1/2-cup servings of black beans, chickpeas, pinto, kidney, or other bean variety each week; and

9. Poultry: Two or more servings of chicken or turkey per week.


Salmon Salad With Raspberries, Chickpeas, and Almonds
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe courtesy of Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, lizshealthytable.com

This flavor-filled salad is brimming with several food groups from the MIND diet, including fish, beans, berries, leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, and an olive oil-based dressing. Instead of salmon, clients can use other seafood varieties including shrimp, canned tuna, or any other favorite fish.

Dressing Ingredients
1/4 to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
Drizzle honey or maple syrup, plus more to taste
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Salad/Salmon Ingredients
1 T reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
Kosher salt and pepper
4 5-oz salmon filets
8 cups mixed salad greens
1 cup raspberries
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. For dressing, place olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, and honey in small jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously until well combined. Add salt, pepper, and additional honey to taste. Set aside.

3. For salmon, place soy sauce, Dijon mustard, honey, and salt and pepper in small bowl and whisk to combine. Lay salmon on baking sheet. Brush soy sauce mixture evenly over each salmon filet. Place in oven and bake until cooked through, 13 to 14 minutes.

4. To assemble salad, fill four plates or bowls with salad greens. Top each with cooked salmon, raspberries, carrot, chickpeas, and cucumber. Drizzle with dressing, and top with almonds. (Serve any extra dressing on side for additional drizzling.)

Nutrient Analysis per salad
Calories: 302; Total fat: 12 g; Sat fat: 1.5 g; Cholesterol: 55 mg; Sodium: 450 mg; Total carbohydrate: 23 g; Total sugars: 13 g; Dietary fiber: 3 g; Protein: 28.5 g


Minty Watermelon Blueberry Salad
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Andrea Mathis, MA, RDN, LD, beautifuleatsandthings.com

The juicy watermelon in this salad provides hydration as well as nutrients like vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect against certain cancers. The addition of blueberries offers even more hydration, and the mint adds a burst of fresh, summertime flavor.

6 cups watermelon, cubed
11/2 cups blueberries
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime

1. Place watermelon, blueberries, and mint in large bowl. Add lime juice and stir gently to combine.

Nutrient Analysis per 11/4-cup serving:
Calories: 57; Total fat: 0 g; Sat fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 3mg; Total carbohydrate: 14 g; Total sugars: 11 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Protein: 1 g


Chopped Salad With Chicken and Lemon Oregano Dressing
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe courtesy Katie Morford, MA, RDN, momskitchenhandbook.com

This satisfying summer salad has nearly 40 g of protein. (For a vegetarian version, swap the chicken with chickpeas or hard-boiled eggs.) It also has great texture from the toasted almonds, snap peas, chopped romaine, and cucumbers. The recipe features a fabulously flavorful marinade for the chicken that doubles as a dressing for the salad, so it’s basically a two-for-one in terms of prep.

Dressing/Marinade Ingredients
2 T lemon juice
1 T red or white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
11/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

Chicken/Salad Ingredients
11/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large head Romaine lettuce or several heads of Little Gems
1 cup Persian or English cucumber, diced (about 2 Persian or 1/2 English)
6 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fennel, diced
1 cup sugar snap peas, diced (about 3 oz)
Handful baby kale or arugula (optional)
1/3 cup roasted almonds, chopped (I prefer salted)
3 T chives, minced

1. In small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, Dijon, honey, oregano, salt, and crushed red pepper. Add olive oil and whisk until blended. Add smashed garlic cloves.

2. Put chicken in medium bowl or storage container and add 2 T dressing, including one of the garlic cloves. Smother chicken with dressing and marinate at least 1 hour or up to overnight (cover and refrigerate if longer than an hour or so). If you don’t have time to let it marinate, not to worry. It will still be tender and tasty.

3. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Put chicken on parchment-lined baking sheet and season both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake until chicken is just cooked through in the center, 13 to 18 minutes depending on thickness of breasts. I aim for an internal temperature of 150˚F in the thickest part of the breast (the temperature will continue to rise as it rests). It’s worth noting that this is lower than the USDA recommended 165˚F.

4. While chicken bakes, chop crunchiest leaves of Romaine until you have 6 cups. Wash, dry well, and transfer to large bowl with cucumbers, radishes, fennel, and snap peas. Add handful kale or arugula for a boost of color and nutrition, if desired.

5. When chicken is done, cool at least 5 minutes. Cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Remove garlic cloves from remaining dressing, whisk well, and dress salad. Portion salad onto four serving plates, arrange chicken on side of plates, and scatter almonds and chives over top. Serve immediately.

Nutrient Analysis per salad
Calories: 460; Total fat: 27 g; Sat fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 80 mg; Sodium: 370 mg; Total carbohydrate: 20 g; Total sugars: 9 g;
Dietary fiber: 9 g; Protein: 39 g


White Bean and Zucchini Salad
Yield: 3 servings
Recipe courtesy of Catherine Perez, MS, RD, LDN, plantbasedrdblog.com

This summer salad is loaded with marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh lemon, all tossed together with seared corn and zucchini for a flavorful and satisfying bite of summer. The addition of white beans pairs perfectly with the fresh summer veggies and adds an extra layer of heartiness thanks to the fiber and protein it provides.

Salad Ingredients
1 T olive oil
1 large zucchini, cut into half-moon shapes
1 large ear corn or 11/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
Salt and pepper
1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced

Dressing Ingredients
2 T marinade liquid from jar of artichoke hearts
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half lemon
5 to 6 fresh basil or mint leaves, ripped into small pieces
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp maple syrup (optional)

1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini to one side of pan and corn cob (or thawed kernels) to the other side. Season with pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring zucchini and turning corn cob often, until tender and golden on all sides, 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Remove pan from heat. Use tongs to remove corn cob to a cutting board. Let cool. Use a sharp knife to carefully slice off kernels. Place zucchini, kernels, beans, artichoke hearts, and sundried tomatoes in large bowl. Stir gently to combine.

3. To make dressing, place artichoke marinade, garlic, lemon zest and juice, basil, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and maple syrup (as desired) in small bowl and whisk to combine.

4. Pour dressing over salad. Toss gently until well combined.

5. Place in refrigerator to marinate, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.

Nutrient Analysis per 11/2-cup serving:
Calories: 276; Total fat: 6 g; Sat fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 500 mg; Total carbohydrate: 47.5 g; Total sugars: 6.5 g; Dietary fiber: 9.5 g; Protein: 13 g