Growing up, I was always that weird kid that answered "salad" when someone asked what my favorite food was. No, not pizza or chicken nuggets like my other classmates; I was the self-proclaimed salad-lover. I partially have my dad to blame for this because he is the designated salad maker for every family get-together. I guess you could say my love for salad-eating and salad-making runs in my blood. And while my salad game has evolved over time, after eating many, many salads, I think I've figured out the perfect algorithm for how to build a salad.  

So, you need some salad inspiration? I got you. Salads don't have to be boring, and they certainly can be more than a side dish if packed with enough hearty and colorful ingredients. Here's how to build a salad with 6 simple components that will bring your salad game to the next level.

1. Leafy Greens

spinach, cabbage, salad, pasture, lettuce, vegetable
Caroline Ingalls

Mix it up and go with a variety of greens in your salad. Start off with a base of your favorite tender greens such as romaine, butter lettuce, or baby lettuce such as lola rosa or red bibb. Next, add some stronger greens such as spinach, kale, or curly endive. Be adventurous and add arugula or sorrel to the mix; however, be careful to add them sparingly because they have a strong flavor that can overpower your salad. Ignore lighter colored greens such as iceberg and try to go for dense, dark colored greens which contain more antioxidants that promote heart health and cancer prevention. 

2. Vegetables and/or Fruits

vegetable, sweet
Delissa Handoko

Now to the fun part: toppings! Adding a variety of colors is key for building the perfect salad because the more colorful the salad is, the more range of vitamins and minerals you'll get from it. Toppings such as cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, corn, and cabbage are great options as they add crunch and vitality. Fruit may sound like an odd pairing for a salad, but mandarin oranges, diced apples, strawberries, dried fruits, or pomegranate seeds can add freshness and brightness to the dish. 

3. Texture/Crunch

cereal, corn, wheat, pasture, groats, sesame seed
Amy Yi

Is your salad missing some spunk? I suggest changing it up, and throwing in some roasted pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, or sunflower seeds. You can even add in some micro-greens such as sprouts or watercress to garnish the dish and add texture. These will most likely not be an option in the dining hall salad bar, but if you can get your hands on them, give them a go! 

4. Filling Foods

If you’re opting to make your salad into a meal, make sure to add calorie dense foods such as black beans, sweet potatoes, edamame, and squash to bulk up the plate and leave you satisfied. If you have leftover lentils, rice, or quinoa, add those in there as well to add protein to your salads. 

5. Herbs

herb, vegetable, parsley, dill, condiment, chives, relish
Paula Kreutzer

The world is your oyster when it comes to herbs. There are so many options such as basil, cilantro, thyme, oregano, dill, mint, and sage that can add pizzazz to any ordinary salad. If you have fresh herbs available at your fingertips, go for those, and add them straight to your salad. Similar to strong greens, use these sparingly as they can overpower the salad. If fresh herbs are not an option, mix in dried herbs to your dressing to elevate the flavor. 

6. Dressing

sweet, honey, juice, milk, jam, tea
Helena Lin

Salads can be a healthy meal option if paired with the right kind of dressing. Greens are packed with vitamins A, K, and C, small amounts of iron, folates, carotenoids, and calcium; however, with the addition of a dressing that is high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugars, the calorie content of the salad increases. Opt for dressings that are not only delicious, but maintain the healthy qualities of the salad, like olive oil, avocado oil, or tahini-based dressings.

What makes a well-rounded dressing is a perfect combination of sweet, savory, sour, and fat elements. For example, the sweet element can be found in maple syrup, honey, or agave. The savory element could be salt, black pepper, cayenne, or dried herbs. The sour element is often underestimated but crucial to creating balance. This can be found in lemon juice, Dijon mustard, or apple cider vinegar. Finally, the fat component can be avocado, greek yogurt, tahini, or even hummus.

If this sounds complex, here are some ideas to get you started: mix your favorite hummus with a splash of lemon juice, cayenne, and agave. You have your fat, sour, savory, and sweet elements.

#spoontip: If you’re not a fan of thick dressings, mash an avocado, add Dijon mustard, roasted garlic, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup to create a "creamy" dressing. 

See, salads are far from boring. Learn how to build a salad with these 6 components, and you will bring your salad game to the next level in no time. Remember, have fun and mix it up with toppings and dressings. Try something new; who knows, you might've found your new salad staple!