Salad for Dinner Back »

Main dish salads can be a sensible, enjoyable strategy for increasing vegetable intake and a quick method for serving tasty meals. The Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns, found within the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends 2-1/2 cup-equivalents of vegetables per day, for a 2,000-calorie diet. Vegetables can include fresh, frozen, canned and dried options in cooked or raw forms, including vegetable juices. There are so many options to choose from when you’re planning to make salads for dinner.

Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K, just to name a few. Begin creating a colorful, delicious main dish salad by choosing dark leafy greens such as romaine, arugula, or spinach. These leafy greens are much higher in vitamin C, beta-carotene and folate, than iceberg lettuce.  

Tips & Techniques

The following suggestions are key to making a salad a nutritional treasure chest:

  • Choose a rainbow of colors. In addition to dark leafy greens, add in chopped carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, red bell pepper, blanched asparagus or a handful of rinsed, frozen peas.
  • Mix in a variety of fruit such as mandarin oranges, grapes, strawberries, apples, or blueberries. Limit the amount of dried fruits such as dried cranberries or blueberries that you add to your salad. They often have added sugars that can increase your calorie count. 
  • Toss in some chopped walnuts. These heart-healthy nuts contain more omega-3 fatty acids than other nuts.
  • Select a protein. It keeps us full longer since it takes longer to digest. Lean meat, eggs, cooked dry beans, nuts and a little cheese are easy ways to add protein.
  • Add a simple dressing. Oil and vinegar is a healthy choice. The healthy fat from the oil helps your body absorb some of the vitamins from the salad. There are a wide variety of light dressings and vinegar-based dressings to choose from. Regardless of what kind you choose, be sure to limit the amount you add to your salad.

The following main dish salad recipes are delicious, MyPlate savvy and easy to serve anytime.

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad
Courtesy of Texas A&M Extension

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2/3 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Salad Ingredients:

  • 4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup diced, peeled avocado
  • 1/3 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (8 3/4-ounce) can no-salt-added, whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained.


  1. To prepare dressing – combine first 7 ingredients, stir well.
  2. To prepare salad – combine lettuce and remaining ingredients.
  3. Assemble salad neatly in a large bowl. 
  4. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss gently to coat.
  5. Serve immediately. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. 

Nutrition Facts (per 1-cup serving): Calories: 250, Fat: 5g, Carbohydrates: 29g, Fiber: 8g, Protein: 25g, Sodium: 380mg. Serves 5.

Colorful Berry & Orange Dinner Salad
Courtesy of K-State Extension

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup frozen or fresh raspberries or black berries
  • 2 teaspoons grainy mustard, such as Dijon-style
  • 2 tablespoons liquid from canned mandarin oranges
  • Dash of ground black pepper


Salad Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1/3 cup cooked black beans, cooked without salt, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped cooked chicken, turkey, beef or pork, (without skin)
  • 2 cups chopped or torn fresh salad greens, such as romaine, arugula or spinach
  • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese


  1. For the salad dressing - place the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and process, scraping sides of blender if needed.
  2. For the salad – combine all ingredients in a serving bowl or plate.
  3. Just prior to serving, pour dressing over salad.
  4. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.

Nutrition Facts (per 3-cup serving) Calories: 260, Fat: 7g, Carbohydrates: 30g, Fiber: 10g, Protein: 22g, Sodium: 250mg, Cholesterol: 35mg. Serves 1.

More Ideas

For additional ideas for fitting a healthy diet into a busy schedule, check out The Ohio State University Extension’s fact sheet, Life in the Fast Food Lane: Are You Living in the Fast Lane? for a sample week of 2,000 calorie daily menus. See Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Whole Meal Salad, costing $1.62 and 220 calories per serving. The Oregon State University Extension Service offers What’s in Your Cupboard: Dinner Salads.


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