Digging in to salad month

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

May has finally arrived. It is a joy to welcome the warmer temperatures, and many backyard gardeners are already getting out the seeds and fertilizer in anticipation of the wealth of healthy vegetables that will soon be popping up from the ground. Is it any wonder then that May has been crowned National Salad Month? Yes, it really is true.

I am a big fan of salads. Hot days practically beg for cooler meals, and nothing fits that bill better than a plate of crunchy, colorful veggies.  Adorned with your favorite protein, dressing and a brisk toss, you are ready to sink your taste buds into some serious and delicious nutrition.

Before you start yawning from the boredom of facing another bowl of iceberg lettuce, take a stroll down the produce aisle and introduce yourself to the many other varieties of greens available at this time of year.  Romaine, red leaf lettuce, spinach and kale make delightful additions to any salad; or, start with a spring mix of arugula, Boston Bibb, and radicchio as a base and build your salad creation from there. The blend of textures and colors will delight even the most finicky eaters.

If the salad is to be the focus of a meal, adding lean protein can boost the nutritional value. Diced chicken breasts always work beautifully, as do chopped hard-boiled eggs. My personal favorite is adding salmon or tuna straight from the grill to my salad. The coolness of the veggies combined with the warmth of the fish creates an entirely new dimension. Shrimp can work wonders, too, especially with the addition of some chopped tropical fruit, such as pineapple or mango.

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The real creative fun, however, begins with the selection of fresh colorful vegetables to top your salad bowl. Cucumbers, red bell peppers, raw cauliflower or even shredded carrots and purple cabbage not only add antioxidants but delicious fiber as well. If you have a sweet tooth that demands satisfaction, toss in a few raisins or dried cranberries to really perk things up.

Dressings do not have to be the downfall of an otherwise waistline-conscious meal. Feel free to experiment by making your own dressing. I have visited one of the many olive oil stores which seem to be popping up all over town, and now have an array of flavored vinegars from which to choose. I mix one with honey mustard, and perhaps some fresh or dried herbs, whisk, and…wow.

Now is the time to clean off the patio furniture and get ready to enjoy some backyard meals. Nothing beats the combination of a barbecue and a fresh salad, especially if your veggies and herbs are home-grown.  Dig in!