This Is the Secret To Making the Most Nutrient-Dense and Delicious Salads, According to Dietitians

Photo: Stocksy/Sophia Hsin
We all know that salads are nutritional powerhouses. Loaded with fiber, antioxidants and nutrients, a bowl full of fresh vegetables packs a slew of good-for-you ingredients. Making a salad at home doesn’t have to mean throwing a bunch of raw veggies into a bowl and calling it a meal, though.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans aren’t consuming the daily recommended servings of fruits and veggies, so finding ways to jazz up these important foods—and saying goodbye to sad desk salads—can be an important part of fueling your body with the nutrition it needs. Enter: creative salad toppers. Every single one of these delicious, RD-approved additions will add texture and nutrition to any salad you’re throwing together this summer (yes, even one made with iceberg lettuce!). Choose one or a few to help you look forward to diving in fork first.

Experts In This Article

9 delicious (and creative) salad toppers that pull you out of your salad rut

1. Cheese crisps

Throw on some cheese crisps for a protein-rich salad addition that is full of flavor and important nutrients like calcium, says nutrition expert and registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN. We love that they can stand in for crunchy croutons for those who avoid gluten.

DIY it: Bake small heaps of shredded cheddar cheese on a baking dish at 400°F for seven minutes. Let cool before adding to your salad.

Buy it: Whisps Tangy Ranch Cheese Crisps pack 10 grams of protein and only one gram of sugar per 16-crisp serving.

2. Jammy eggs

Humble eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein and contain valuable nutrients like iodine, choline, and vitamin B12. Adding jammy eggs to the top of your salad can add a nutritional boost and a bit of creaminess with little effort.

DIY it: Boil water in a saucepan and add eggs. Cook for six and a half minutes. Remove from water and let cool. Peel eggs and then chop, slice or quarter, depending on your desired texture. (Like your eggs more well-cooked? Tack on a few extra minutes.)

Buy it: Eggland's Best Hard-Cooked Peeled eggs in a pouch come in handy when you’re pressed for time.

3. Roasted pistachios

Topping your salad with shelled pistachios (a complete source of plant-based protein!) can give your salad a satisfying crunch along with fiber and healthy fats, says Manaker. Plain roasted nuts are great, but seasoned pistachios can add even more flavor.

DIY it: Toss 1/4 cup shelled pistachios in one teaspoon of olive oil and roast at 300°F for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and your favorite seasoning, then let cool before adding to your salad.

Buy it: Wonderful Pistachios, No Shells, Honey Roasted have a kiss of honey and a dash of salt for a tasty addition to salads.

4. Dried apples

Topping your salad with fresh fruit like berries is a nutritious way to add natural sweetness. Manaker says she’s also a big fan of adding dried fruit, like apples, to salads, as they add a bit of crunch along with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just be sure to watch out for added sugar in packaged varieties.

DIY it: Peel, core, and dice apples and cook in an air fryer at 150°F for four hours. (Yes, it's that simple to DIY your own dried fruit.)

Buy it: That’s It Apple Crunchables are perfectly portioned to sprinkle over your greens and add fiber, protein and zinc for only 35 calories.

5. Sunflower seeds

This nut-free option adds satisfying crunch to your salad along with plant-based protein and fiber. Sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of vitamin E.

DIY it: Toss 1/4 cup in a teaspoon of olive oil and roast at 300°F for 10 minutes, sprinkling with a pinch of sea salt before cooling and adding to your salad.

Buy it: Blake's Hot & Spicy Sunflower Seeds are allergen friendly and gluten free, and made with a blend of spicy seasonings that add just enough kick to your greens.

6. Croutons

They’ve long gotten a bad rap, both in the taste and nutrient-density department, and wrongfully so. When croutons are made from quality ingredients, they can be a tasty and nutritious addition to your salad, says Manaker. At the supermarket, just keep an eye on nutrition labels to avoid the extra sodium.

DIY it: Cut slightly stale, whole-grain bread or sourdough into cubes and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until slightly golden. Cool before serving.

Buy it: Kooshy Croutons are made from delicious sourdough bread, olive oil, rosemary, and black pepper.

7. Buckwheat

The groat version (hulled seeds from the plant) of this gluten-free whole grain has become easier to find at supermarkets in the last few years, and for good reason. Buckwheat can make any salad more delicious (thanks to its nutty flavor and tender texture) and nutritious, thanks to protein and fiber, and also have anti-inflammatory benefits.

DIY it: Toast raw buckwheat groats in a medium-hot pan until brown.

Buy it: Lil Bucks Everything Seasoning has all the flavor of the ever-popular everything bagel seasoning, but with added crunch, texture, protein, fiber, and minerals thanks to sprouted toasted buckwheat. It works on salads and adds pizazz to just about anything else you can eat, too.

8. Pomegranate arils

Fresh pomegranate arils elevate salads with texture plus vibrant color, making your bowl look incredible elegant, says Manaker. Their deliciously sweet and tart flavor pairs well with other salad ingredients, and they’re full of fiber and free radical-fighting antioxidants, too.

DIY it: Buy a fresh pomegranate and scoop out the seeds (try this clever hack for doing it more efficiently).

Buy it: POM Pomegranate Arils are widely available in grocery stores and perfect for meals when you’re low on time.

9. High-quality EVOO

Finally, for a finishing touch to any salad, pour on a little high-quality olive oil, like Kyoord. “Data shows that eating your veggies with some healthy fat can help your body to absorb more of certain nutrients, like vitamin E,” says Manaker. Shop Graza's Drizzle and Sizzle oils here. Drizzle away!

Try 'em all out on top of this super nutritious (and simple) kale salad:

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