My golden food prep rule - start the week with the base of a salad in the fridge. Always. I call this my salad starter - really my no excuses food prep plan.
Mark Bittman recently wrote about "sustainable New Year's resolutions." Check out his article if you haven't already. He has easy suggestions that are reasonable for all of us. If me, then you too. However, I think he missed something. I probably should not be so bold as to tell Mark Bittman what to do, but still, I think, this is an important habit to get into. So I'm adding my own sustainable resolution...
Prepare fresh vegetables for salads several times per week
This is not a new idea, so I can't take full credit. This is, however, probably the most important thing I can do each week to make sure my family eats healthy.
When I get home from the grocery store I clean veggies and prep a huge salad. I don't mean a large salad that I will eat for dinner. I mean a bowl of salad large enough that we can eat from for several days.
I call it my salad starter.
And it can be complex and full of a variety of vegetables or it can be as simple as a couple of kinds of lettuce cleaned and chopped. I dare say that you could even buy pre-cleaned and prepped boxes of greens and call it done.
A note about eating well during a global health crisis - Spring 2020:
I have to say lately circumstances have been a bit strange and we all might be off our "normal" schedule. And for me is all the more reason to stick to a food prep practice when things feel off. It will help keep you grounded and keep your personal health at its best.
Prepping food ahead of time, and focusing on what is good for you, will keep healthy options available. You might not be completely able to avoid mindless snacking, but keep healthy food around gives you something to go to first. Sometimes that is all that is needed to make better decisions.
As well, having a plan will help keep the grocery bill in control. Something we all need all time, but maybe now more than ever.
Why a salad starter?
A salad starter gets rid of so many excuses.
There are so many health benefits to eating raw foods, I make an effort to eat a raw salad every day. Sure, prepping in advance may diminish some of those vitamins and enzymes -- but I figure eating some greens that were washed and cut 3 days ago is light-years ahead of not eating any at all. Those veggies don't do me any good in the garbage can - which is where they would eventually end up if I did not prep them in advance.
My salad starter generally lasts about three days before it starts to lose flavor and texture. So I try to make just enough for three days - for a few lunch salads for me and a side salad or two for family dinners. Also, knowing my hard work would go to waste if I didn't eat it all is often enough motivation to make sure it all gets used with that three-day window.
How to use salad starter
This salad saves me at lunchtime.
Before I leave for work in the morning I grab a couple of handfuls of the salad in a small container. And voilà, I'm eating something healthy that day. No question. I can toss it with a bit of oil and lemon juice and I have a very clean and healthy salad with my lunch.
If I want to make a meal out of just the salad, I'll add some cooked beans or grains, perhaps some goat cheese, and some of those veggies that need to be added at the last minute. Grab some homemade dressing and you are good to go.
I also keep small bottles of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar at work so I dress salads at work.
Of course, too, you will always have fresh, clean, greens ready for a salad with dinner. No excuses.
How to store fresh cleaned greens
I've tried a number of options, and since I am only keeping this on hand for a few days, I don't find much difference between specially designed food storage containers and using mason jars. As long as your container is air-tight, it will do the job. A few options:
- A couple of large mason jars will work, these are my favorite size for food storage. I keep dry grains, rice, beans in these too. Largemouth size is best.
- Any large plastic or glass container with a sealing lid are all good options you probably have around the house. I usually put a cotton kitchen towel along the bottom to hold excess moisture. I find greens like romaine last longer this way.
- I've also just used a large glass bowl covered in plastic wrap when I knew I would eat my way through it in a day or so.
- These large storage containers are made just for keeping veggies fresh like this one.
Through trial and error, I have learned that some veggies do better than others when cut and chopped in advance. All veggies should be well cleaned and dry. The most important point here is to avoid added moisture. Avoid the really juicy fruit and veg. You want vegetables that will last once cut. Here is a list of things I often use:
Veggies that are good for your salad starter (all veggies are raw)
- Romaine lettuce
- Kale leaves and other heavy greens like chard or dandelion
- Brussels sprouts
- Raw beets (although you might want to keep them separate to avoid colour transfer)
- Sweet potato (yes, raw!), shredded or finely chopped
- Jalapeño peppers (adds great zest when finely chopped)
- Field peppers - the thin-skinned and long peppers (usually green or light yellow, avoid sweet peppers)
- Radishes, any variety
- Fresh herbs - especially parsley, basil, cilantro
- Apples - best are hard crispy varieties like Granny Smith
Veggies to avoid in the salad starter - add these just before serving
- Bell peppers
- Juicy fruits - oranges, pineapple, mango, etc.
- Berries of any kind
- Cooked veggies - like roasted sweet potato, peppers, or cauliflower
- Onions - their strong odor and flavors will penetrate everything if added ahead of time
- Nuts, seeds, or other crunchy bits- these will wilt and lose their crunch
More prep ahead salads you might want to give a try:
My favourite Detox Salad
Now for a specific recipe. This is one of my favourite combinations. I'm calling it a Detox Salad because at this time of the year - but I eat this all the time, all year round.
It's a chopped salad. The greens and veg all chopped to about the same size so that each bite will have several flavours going on at once. A party in the mouth kind of salad.
The crunchier vegetables get chopped smaller than the leaves. Except for the kale, the kale needs a fine slice. I like the little bit of heat the jalapeño gives. And the apple offers some sweetness. And yes, the apple will be just fine chopped in this salad for a few days. I'm convinced that because it gets little air exposure when it's all tossed with the other veg it really doesn't turn brown.
For the dressing, I use a good quality olive oil and lemon juice. That's it.
In a large bowl add about 3 cups of this salad starter and toss with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Toss and massage until all the veg are covered. Important step and it makes the salad taste so much better. I do this in the morning when I pack the salad for my lunch.
I've been enjoying this high quality full-flavoured olive oil I received for Christmas. It really does add so much flavour. Good oil is a must here. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt if you are going to eat it right away. Or just pack a lemon wedge for squeezing on later.
At this point, you can add other toppings you might have - your favorite roasted chickpeas, beans, grains, goat cheese, nuts, etc..
For Detox Salad
- 2 cups salad starter see below
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup cooked chickpeas
- ½ cup cooked grain I used a wild rice and quinoa blend
- 1 teaspoon hemp seeds
- sesame oil or flax seed oil for finishing
For the salad starter:
- 1 large head of romaine or two romaine hearts, small chop
- 4-5 radishes sliced
- head of broccoli florets loosely chopped and the stems/stalks thinly sliced, peel away any of the tougher outsides of the stalks.
- 1-2 jalapeños finely diced
- 1 large carrot small dice
- a generous handful or parsley chopped
- a generous handful of cilantro chopped
- 1 hard apple small diced
- 6 large kale leaves stems removed and thinly sliced
For the Detox Salad - makes one serving:
- In a large bowl add 2 cups of salad starter. Pour olive oil over salad and toss very well. Coat all vegetables with the oil. Add a pinch of salt and lemon juice. Toss well again. Add chickpeas and rice and mix in. Add salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle with hemp seeds and toasted sesame oil.
For the salad starter:
- Prep all vegetables by washing and drying very well. It is important to dry the vegetables completely. Be sure to remove any wilted or discoloured bits. Chop and slice vegetables as directed and combine in a large air-tight container. Salad starter will keep for about 3 days.