I've never considered myself a lover of salad, much less committed enough to eat a salad a day for a year. To me, anyone who claims they love salad is either a) lying or b) in love with the health benefits of salad, but not actually with the taste of raw lettuce. However, having eaten a balanced diet for most of my life, eating salads wasn't unusual for me, though I usually preferred the sweetness of fruits over the blandness of lettuce. So how did I end up eating a salad a day for a whole school year?

salad, salsa, tomato
Joanna Chyu

Going into my sophomore year of college, I decided I wanted to improve my lifestyle in a big way. I'd spent most of the summer hobbling around in a boot and going to physical therapy for a sprain-turned-tendinitis injury in my right ankle, an ordeal that involved lots of pain and, ultimately, self-reflection, which spurred me to take better care of my body for the rest of my life.

onion, beet, cheese, vegetable, salad
Joanna Chyu

Just as importantly, I wanted to track the progression of my sophomore year in a way that would promote my well-being. I didn't have time to journal every day or make a yearlong video-diary, but I did have to eat every day. Living on campus again as a sophomore also meant I was stuck eating in the dining halls for another year, so I figured I'd get my money's worth by eating something that was actually healthy.

The Rules

To begin, I set some rules for myself. First, I had to take photos of every salad I ate as proof of consumption to hold myself accountable. While I received some concerned looks from strangers, I took photos of my salads anyway, and got into the habit of adding them to an album called "SALAD OF THE DAY" on my phone. Second, all the ingredients of the salads had to come from the dining hall, so I was forced to be creative with the ingredients available.

cheese, lettuce, spinach, salad, vegetable
Joanna Chyu

Third, I couldn't use any kind of salad dressing besides olive oil, because I wanted to avoid the hidden sodium many dressings contain, regardless of how "healthy" they may seem. I know this sounds like some form of self-torture, but you'd be surprised at how quickly your tastebuds get used to raw lettuce that isn't coated in a buttermilk or oil-based dressing. Additionally, the other ingredients of my salads weren't bogged down by dressing, so I could taste them better and more thoroughly enjoy their flavors (though in all honesty, often they were equally tasteless). 

The Journey

I began making salads with ingredients with which I was most familiar. My favorite lettuce base was spring mix, but since the dining hall usually only offered iceberg lettuce, I went with that about half of the time.

I'd add about two toppings solely to add flavor to the salad (since olive oil contributes next to nothing flavor-wise). For example, I'd add a small amount of crumbled feta cheese (too much contributes just as much sodium as dressing does), dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, or — if it was available that day — bean and corn salsa

As a last resort, I'd add shredded cheddar cheese, though I quickly learned that cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce is not a favorite combo of mine (see below).

lettuce, salad
Joanna Chyu

Next, I'd usually add a protein or "heavier" ingredient to the salad to increase its nutritional value. My go-to add-ins included things like shredded tuna, bits of hard-boiled egg, tofu, chickpeas, lima beans, green peas, or sweet potato and kale mix if it was offered that day.

These ingredients filled me up due to their higher protein content and gave the salad some physical mass, so I didn't feel like I was only eating an airy bed of greens.

cucumber, salad, corn
Joanna Chyu

Lastly, I always added extra fruits and vegetables to my salads, typically with no regard to how their flavors worked with the existing ingredients. For example, I'd add cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, grapes, strawberries, or cantaloupe. Just to be extra, I'd sometimes arrange them in an artsy-messy way, because salads can be aesthetic, too.

My Favorites

Something you learn from eating a salad every day is which ingredients surprisingly work well together, and which ingredients clash. Some of my favorite salads surprised me while others were known favorites. Either way, I discovered a few that were good enough for me to want to make them at home of my own accord.

spinach, cheese, salad
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: feta cheese, dried cranberries, green peas, spring mix, and olive oil

I liked the lightness of this salad, but also the saltiness of the feta and sweetness of the cranberries worked really well together.

salad, salsa, beans, black beans, corn
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: bean and corn salsa, hardboiled egg, grapes, spinach, and olive oil

Honestly, the salsa saved the taste of this salad, but the other ingredients still worked pretty well together.

spinach, broccoli, salad, vegetable
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: feta cheese, dried cranberries, green peas, tofu, kale, and olive oil

Again, the feta and cranberries were great, and the tofu added a nice source of protein and texture.

corn salad, vegetable, tomato, salad, corn
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: corn and tomato salsa, grapes, spring mix, and olive oil

Another light salad — I imagine eating this at a summer picnic, served with barbecue and coleslaw. 

cheese, vegetable, salad
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: sweet potato and kale mix, wild grains, strawberries, kale, and olive oil

The sweet potato, strawberries, and grains made this salad filling and refreshing.

pea, legume, salad, vegetable
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: green peas, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, feta cheese, kale, and olive oil 

The green peas surprisingly worked with the other ingredients, all of which I used often in my salads.

I also grew strangely attached to an extremely tough, shredded kale mix served at the dining hall that had bits of carrot and purple cabbage mixed in (see above). It was so rough that I could physically feel it traveling down my esophagus with each swallow, but a dose of olive oil fixed its rough texture. Eating this uncompromising variety of kale so often and so willingly prompted my friends to call me a cow, but hey, I consider that a compliment.

The Off-Days

Just as any journey has its ups and downs, so did this one. As funny as it sounds, my salads reflected the mood I was in, my stress levels, or how generally content with life I was at the time I made the salad.

For example, on days (or sequences of days) that I was especially busy with school, my salads looked visibly sadder and tasted worse, but strangely enough, I couldn't bring myself to improve them — I just ate them more quickly to end the pain.

Other salads tasted bad because they were failed experiments in testing which ingredients worked with one another.

pasture, lettuce, tomato, vegetable, salad
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: green peas, beets and quinoa mix, cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and olive oil 

I quickly discovered that beets are my least favorite food due to both taste and texture. 

chicken, salad
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: green peas, tuna, romaine lettuce, and olive oil 

This salad was just sad, and its flavors were too distinct to pair well with one another.

cabbage, lettuce, salad
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: Hardboiled egg, cherry tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and olive oil.

Nothing too wrong with this salad, but nothing great about it, either.

beef, rice, lettuce, salad
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: Shredded cheddar cheese, sunflower seeds, quinoa, iceberg lettuce, and olive oil.

Can you tell by now that I'm not a huge fan of iceberg lettuce? Also, the quinoa was mixed with raw onions highly do not recommend this flavor combination for any occasion.

basil, kale, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, salad, vegetable
Joanna Chyu

The Salad: kale, spinach, olive oil, and one strawberry 

A reflection of a slightly frazzled day as shown by its hasty assemblage. 

romaine, spinach, salad, vegetable, lettuce
Joanna Chyu

The Saddest Salad: romaine lettuce and olive oil

Another hastily prepared salad that was basically just a plate of lettuce. It would probably make my salad-hating roomie throw up, but I finished it anyway.

Additionally, I found myself eating these salads more mindlessly and without much thought to the flavors of their ingredients. However, I'd always try to eat without going on my phone so I could stay mindful of my meal, an act that also helped me momentarily forget my responsibilities and take a mental break from college life.

What I Learned

Even though the dining hall I ate at most frequently gets a lot of bad press among students who'd rather eat out or have "real" food, eating a salad a day from there made me more thankful for the food it offered on a daily basis. 

My standards for salads also went down a lot, to the point where I can now eat a plate of raw lettuce without batting an eye at the taste (or lack thereof). Though admittedly cheesy, I even became friends with the dining hall staff, who recognized me as the girl who'd sit down with one plate of hot food and one plate of salad everyday at lunch.

lentil, tomato, arugula, salad
Joanna Chyu

More importantly, eating a salad a day genuinely felt good because I knew I was improving my health while expressing my creativity in at least a small way through deciding the ingredients that went into each salad. I felt healthier, had clearer skin, and had more energy to bike every day and go to the gym every week.

Additionally, I didn't get sick the entire school year, even when both my roommates were sick at the same time and our room was basically a breeding ground for the plague (their words, not mine). When I ate out, I began noticing how salty restaurant food was and became more aware of how to avoid hidden sodium in my diet.

lettuce, salad
Joanna Chyu

As I look back on my sophomore year, eating a salad a day was my own, weird way of record-keeping, of creating a sense of progression to future days while maintaining a continuation with days past. The predictability of my salad routine, as well as the sense of newness offered by each salad combination, gave me a strange sense of contentment and accomplishment.

Eating a salad a day also gave me something to look forward to that counted strictly for myself, and that was completely unrelated to the mundaneness and stress of classes, extracurriculars, or college relationships.

beans, salad, black beans, corn
Joanna Chyu

Not everyone wants to eat salad a day (or maybe ever), so the key is finding a meaningful sense of progression in your life that works for you. Whether it's starting a workout routine with your best friend, making a stop motion video by adding a single freeze-frame a day, or sketching an object a day, the little moments of everyday life are absolutely worth remembering. After all, someone once said, "Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things."