There is a line of people waiting impatiently behind you, a sea of ingredients stretched before you, and your stomach growls louder than ever. What do you do? If you're anything like me, you might let a little bit of anxiety ruin what could have been a filling and incredible salad. (Did I really just combine chick peas, bacon bits and candied walnuts?) Perhaps you're just tired of creating a salad that leaves you feeling hungry or unsatisfied two hours later...but you're also still concerned with the amount of stir-fry you've been ordering lately

Even though hamburgers might be one of the most emotionally satisfying foods–few things are comparable to the first bite of a hot, greasy cheeseburger–they're also like an awkward first date. At first it was exciting, but sometimes you're left feeling uncomfortable in the end. A tasty and hearty salad will instead leave you feeling better off than when you started: satisfied but not stuffed and energized for a long afternoon or evening. 

Whatever salad bar resentment you might have, here is a simple break-down of the salad-building steps...keeping in mind the various parts of that greasy (if delicious) fast-food favorite. 

1. The Bun

vegetable, spinach, salad, herb, lettuce
Grayce Nieberle

It all starts with the base, or shall I say "the bun." It's what ties everything together in perfect harmony. When choosing your "bun," try to steer away from iceberg lettuce; it's mostly made of water and lacking in nutrients. Go for the spinach or mixed greens instead if you're looking for that filling salad to hold you over for the next several hours.

In fact, combining several types of greens will ensure that you're taking in a variety of nutrients. If you're feeling both hungry and adventurous, the base can also consist of larger vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli or the grilled vegetables (squash and zucchini) occasionally offered.

2. The Protein

salad, pepper, vegetable, onion, tomato, lettuce, parsley, chicken, meat
Grayce Nieberle

Now, for arguably the most essential part of your salad: the protein. Just as the hamburger patty is the main component of a burger, this part will be the main player in your salad, whether it's animal- or plant-based.

Skimping here is not an option if you're trying to create a satisfying meal. Paws and Go offers a variety of protein-packed ingredients like beans, feta cheese, grilled chicken strips and hard boiled eggs that you can heap on to your plate or stuff into your to-go box.

As an addition to the above or as a replacement option for vegans, go for some high-protein grains like quinoa. If you aren't a fan of quinoa, try barley as an alternative grain, which, surprisingly, contains more grams of protein than quinoa in certain preparations. 

3. The Toppings

vegetable, pepper, salad, tomato, meat, chicken, lettuce
Grayce Nieberle

This is the fun part. Above all else, lunch should be enjoyable, and eating healthily shouldn't have to feel like a chore. Because the salad bar allows you to choose exactly what you want and how much of it, this part is where you can really personalize it.

Mixing up different textures can help steer your salad away from the bland and unsatisfying. For example, combining carrots and cucumbers with grilled veggies will make for a hearty salad with a combo of soft and crunchy textures. This blend of raw and cooked components will add depth of flavor to your meal.  

Another easy tip to ensure you're making the most of your salad is to keep it colorful. For example, including beige mushrooms, green peas, yellow and orange bell peppers, and red tomatoes is a good way to guarantee you're consuming a range of vitamins and nutrients.

Topping your salad off with some garnishes from the section near the dressings may not add very much nutritional value, but it will keep your dish zesty and cohesive. That said, I would suggest steering away from the Goldfish and croutons and choosing the sunflowers seeds and (a few) Craisins instead to avoid adding empty carbs. If these extra toppings feel like too much, just adding a little salt and pepper before you dive in can save your salad from being bland (without packing on the extra calories of a creamy dressing).

The next time you choose a healthy meal over another half-and-half, you'll be a confident salad expert. You won't need to worry or hesitate because you already know how to make the salad of your dreams (and mine, too, at this point).