6 Tips for Building a Better Salad

A restaurant salad bar can be a smart main-dish choice for people with diabetes -- if you know what healthy foods to put on your plate. Here are helpful tips for building a flavorful and healthful one-dish meal.

To make your own main-dish salad from salad bar offerings, start with a base of nutrient-rich dark leafy greens. Salad greens are so low in carbohydrate (1-2 grams per cup) that you typically don't need to count them. But top your salad greens carefully, and count along the way.

Our main-dish salad tips show you how to build a tasty and nutritious salad:

Add some starch. Starchy vegetables and beans (legumes) need to fit within your carbohydrate goals for the meal.

Count it:

  • 1/4 cup legumes = 60-70 cal., 10-13 g carb.
  • 1/2 cup starchy vegetables such as peas or corn = 80 cal., 15 g carb.

Dress it up. Choose a light vinaigrette dressing on the side (or bring a single-serve light dressing packet). Dip your fork into the dressing before spearing a bite.

Count it:

  • 2 tablespoons light vinaigrette dressing = 25-80 cal., 1-7 g carb.

Include fruit. Opt for unsweetened fresh fruit such as melons, berries, and pineapple.

Count it:

  • 3/4 cup blueberries or pineapple; 1 cup cantaloupe, honeydew, or raspberries; 1-1/4 cups strawberries = 60 cal., 15 g carb.

Don't forget protein. Choose about 2 ounces of lean protein, such as chicken, or 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese. If it's not on the salad bar, order it separately.

Count it:

  • 2 ounces poultry = 90 cal., 0 g carb.
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese = 90 cal., 4 g carb.

Say cheese. Shredded cheese adds a bit of protein and calcium, but typical offerings are moderate to high in fat, so take no more than 1 tablespoon.

Count it:

  • 1 tablespoon shredded cheese = 20-30 cal., 0 g carb.

Go with veggies. Make most of your toppings fresh and colorful nonstarchy vegetables, such as cucumbers, radishes, peppers, and broccoli.

Count it:

  • 1 cup nonstarchy vegetables = 25 cal., 5 g carb.

Need dinner ideas? Check out these easy-to-make salad recipes.