Despite the annoying long lines, ridiculous add-on charges ($1.50 for avocado!), and skimpy portions (well, that’s about five pieces of sweet potato for a pound of lettuce...), we’ve been missing our favorite overpriced takeout salad spot. There’s something about someone else preparing our lunch that just makes it taste so much better. For those of us lucky enough to work from home, it’s time to take a break from all the Sad Desk Lunches (ahem, PB&J and jalapeno chips) and bring that healthy green routine back into our lives. Although it sounds simple, washing and cutting up vegetables, shredding cheese, and rifling through the cabinet to find the dried cranberries just isn't possible in the middle of the work day. One solution: Prep all your favorite ingredients and create a DIY salad bar in your fridge. Here’s how to whip together a healthy—and delicious!—lunch in minutes.
Make Room in Your Fridge
Here’s the thing, a DIY salad bar is going to take up a good chunk of refrigerator real estate. To make room, toss expired condiments and old foods and follow our fridge organizing tips to free up some valuable shelf space.
Get the Right Containers
If you can’t see it, you wont eat it. The key to having a successful salad bar, and using items rather than creating more waste, is storing ingredients in clear, stackable containers. These containers, whether glass or plastic, allow you to easily see what you have and stack like items together creating clear zones.
Prep Your Greens
Greens are tricky. We often end up tossing a head of lettuce because we forgot about it or didn’t have time to deal with washing and cutting leaves during the week. The best way to ensure you’re not wasting your greens is to have them ready to go. Prep hardier greens such as kale, romaine, and chard by chopping the leaves and submerging them in cold water to clean. Once clean, spin leaves in a salad spinner to dry. Next, cover leaves with damp paper towels (you want to retain a little moisture) and store leaves in the basket of the salad spinner and place in your fridge or better yet, invest in a crisper container. Salad leaves should keep for three to five days.
Create a Foolproof System
One of the benefits of DIY salad bar is being able to mix and match ingredients to create interesting salads every day. But first, set up your ingredients in an organized system. To start, go through the food groups you want in a salad and assemble options in clear storage containers, says Amy Palanjian recipe developer and founder of Yummy Family Food, a site that helps families eat well. For example, place shredded carrots, some sliced up cucumbers, and cubes of pepper in one container. This is your veggie box.
Designate another container to protein and fill with options such as diced up turkey, chicken breast, hard boiled eggs, cheese, or beans. Cooked carbohydrates like grain or pasta get their own container. Stack and store these containers in a group in your fridge. You can go one step further and corral your fixin’s in a bin in the fridge so they all stay together. Finally, create a bin of toppings (roasted sunflower seeds, croutons, or sliced almonds) and place in your pantry. Now putting together a salad, even during your busiest days, is simple. Pick at least two items from each container to put on your plate. “It’s very straightforward and you know you’re getting all your food groups,” says Palanjian.
Include Treat Ingredients
Hey, if you’ve come this far, you deserve a treat. This includes a burst of sweetness every now and then. “Include ingredients like cut up strawberries, sliced grapes, or dried cranberries to your salad,” says Palanjian. “You want a variety of textures and flavors.” Another item that makes everything taste better: Cheese. “Shredded cheese, crumbled cheese, or cubes of cheese can make salads more appealing to you,” she says.
Toss With a Delicious Dressing
To make your salad feel extra fancy, forgo the store-bought variety for a homemade batch of dressing. Shake up ingredients in a ball jar and store in the fridge with the rest of your condiments on a trusty turntable so it’s easy to find. Go ahead and post your fully constructed salad bowl on Instagram. You deserve all the likes.