The salad bar

I love bars: chocolate bars, Lara bars, cookie bars... and I also love the salad bar. I don't know if you've ever eaten in a dining hall, but sometimes there's just nothing good, or nothing good for you. This is when the salad bar comes to the rescue—not to make a salad, but to allow a bit of creativity.

Don't get me wrong, I love salads. In fact, I'd consider myself a salad connoisseur. My favorite salad: green leaf lettuce, with cubes of tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper and avocado, corn straight from the cob, and half slices of carrots, thoroughly tossed in a dressing of equal parts good balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, with just enough dijon mustard to help it emulsify. Doesn't that just have your mouth water?

Unfortunately, most salad bars are not stocked in red bell pepper, avocado, corn from the cob, carrots, olive oil or good vinegar.. let alone a dining hall with a bowl big enough to get a good toss going. So I avoid salads, because why waste any room in your stomach on something that's not completely satisfying and delicious?

No, I like to use the salad bar much more creatively. I've also seen a number of grocery stores that have salad bars in their produce aisle. Here are just a few of the ways you can use the salad bar to make your life easier, or to improve your lunch.

1. Spruce up your pasta dishes. The dining hall serves vegetarian pasta dishes all the time, but I usually find them a bit heavy on the pasta and light on the protein and veggies. I'll usually fill my plate with pasta, and pile on edamame, corn, beans, cubed chicken or tofu, and a little bit of cheese. I then throw the plate into the microwave for a few minutes, and suddenly I have perfect pasta. (Sometimes I also grab a pat of butter and throw it into the mix... makes for some delicious bites).
2. Easy omelets. I usually have eggs in my (teeny) fridge, but it's rare that I have three or four kinds of veggies, or the patience to chop them all. Instead, I grab a selection of veggies from the salad bar—spinach, chopped broccoli, carrots, onion slices, etc.—and use them in my omelets. It makes for a super fast, easy, delicious and healthy breakfast.

3. Quick side dishes. I often times grab corn and black beans from the salad bar in a small bowl and microwave them with some butter on top. It's a super fiber-ful side dish that gets you some of your daily vegetables. This is also good with kidney beans and tofu, or for making spinach (just microwave it about a minute and a half per cup of raw spinach).

4. Awesome sandwiches. One of my favorite creations was a hummus sandwich with shredded carrots, walnuts and mustard on whole wheat bread. Yum! I also like to add beans or chopped mushrooms from the salad bar to chicken, tuna or egg salad, to add some vegetable and consume fewer calories. Even better, I sometimes make my own egg salad using hard-boiled eggs from the salad bar, and either some mayo or some plain yogurt mixed with mustard. Add veggies from the salad bar, like celery or carrots, for extra super bonus points.

5. Homemade trail mix. Salad bars usually have cranberries, nuts and seeds for salad toppings. Add a small box of cereal (I love Smart Start) to that and you've got a great start to a homemade trail mix. All you need are a few M&M's or a small dark chocolate bar broken up into pieces and you've got a top notch afternoon snack.

Get thinking more creatively! Think of the salad bar as a wonderful source of prepped ingredients, instead of a collection of raw vegetables.

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