7 Simple Steps to Build Your Own Salad - image of salad in a bowl

7 Simple Steps to Build Your Own Salad

Salads should never be boring.  In fact, salads can be one of the most personalized (and delicious) meals out there. Read on to learn how to you can build your own salad in 7 simple steps.

I often chuckle when thinking of conversations I have had with patients about salads.  “I don’t eat rabbit food,” some say.  When I hear this, I can’t help but picture myself hopping around the back yard mindlessly nibbling on greens and grasses. Bah-ha! It is time to shatter the idea that salads are bland, boring, and tasteless.

Build Your Own Salad Following the Healthy Plate Method

The Healthy Plate Method is one of the easiest mealtime models to follow. You merely look at your plate to see if everything is included.  The Healthy Plate Method is simple, to the point, and keeps everything balanced.

Here is a quick breakdown of The Healthy Plate Method:

  • 1/2 plate non-starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 plate starch/grain/starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 plate protein
  • On the side – fruit
  • On the side – milk/yogurt
  • Include a healthy fat
The Healthy Plate Method

1/2 of the Plate – Non-Starchy Vegetables

The Healthy Plate is packed with vegetables. In fact, the goal is to cover half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. 

What is the benefit of covering half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables?

  • Non-starchy vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. 
  • These vegetables are high in fiber, which can help you feel full.  Fiber also helps with digestion and colon health, lowering cholesterol, and improving blood sugar.
  • They also contain antioxidants, which help protect us from a variety of diseases including cancer.

1/4 of the Plate – Starch or Starchy Vegetables

Starches provide carbohydrate (an important macronutrient), fiber, and many vitamins and minerals.  Starch includes whole grains, pasta, breads, and starchy vegetables. 

To learn how to shop for your favorite vegetables, check out The Essential Guide – How to Buy Vegetables.

1/4 of the Plate – Protein

Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks for muscles, bones, skin, and hair. Amino acids also help in the creation of many hormones and enzymes.

Fruit – on the Side of the Plate

Fruit is a great way to add vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber to a meal. 

To learn more about how to shop for your favorite fruits, check out The Ultimate Guide on How to Buy Fruit.

Milk and Milk Products – on the Side of the Plate

Milk and dairy can also be a part of your healthy plate.  They can offer calcium, protein, vitamin D, and many other important nutrients.  Examples of milk or dairy include:

  • Milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole)
  • Soy milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Oat milk
  • Almond milk
  • Yogurt
  • Goat’s milk

Include Fat

Fat provides a smooth, richness to meals.  It provides a special texture (or mouth feel) you can’t get anywhere else. 

Fat is also an important macronutrient that provides energy, protection, and carries several important vitamins throughout the body (vitamins A, D, E, K).

7 Simple Steps to Build Your Own Salad

These 7 Simple Steps will help you build your own salad.  Choose one (or several) options from each category to make your salad as unique as you are. Enjoy!

Step 1 - Pick Your Base - picture of various greens

Step 1 – Pick Your Base (Non-Starchy Vegetable)

For your base, consider if you prefer a crisp crunch, a leafy green, or a tender lettuce. 

Crispy/Hearty Salad Greens

  • Brussels sprouts (shredded)
  • Cabbage (shredded)
  • Endive
  • Iceberg
  • Kale
  • Romaine
  • Radicchio

Leafy Greens

  • Arugula
  • Baby Spinach
  • Spring Mix

Tender Greens

  • Bibb lettuce
  • Boston lettuce
  • Butter lettuce
Step 2 - Add Your Favorite Vegetables - image of non-starchy vegetables

Step 2 – Add Your Favorite Vegetables (Non-Starchy Vegetables)

Here is where you can add a lot of color (Eat the Rainbow), texture, and flavor.

  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Fennel
  • Green beans
  • Green onions
  • Jicama
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Snow peas
  • Sprouts (alfalfa, bean, etc.)
  • Tomatoes
Step 3 - Include a Starch - Image of starches, grains, and starchy vegetables

Step 3 – Include Your Favorite Starch (1/4 Plate Starch or Starchy Vegetable)

Adding a delicious grain, legume, or starchy vegetable to your salad can take the satisfaction up a notch!  Plus, starch is a great way to get additional fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals into your meal.


  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgar Wheat
  • Farro
  • Freekeh
  • Kamut
  • Millet
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Wheat Berries
  • Wild rice


  • Beans – black, garbanzo, kidney, northern beans, etc. (canned – rinsed and drained)
  • Chickpeas (roasted)
  • Lentils (cooked or canned)

Starchy vegetables

  • Butternut squash (roasted)
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes (roasted)
Step 4 - Add a Fruit - image of various fruits

Step 4 – Add a Fruit

The addition of fruit is a wonderful way to add splash of sweetness, healthy fiber, and more color to your salad.

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, figs, etc.)
  • Grapes
  • Mangos
  • Mandarin oranges (juice drained)
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pomegranates
  • Watermelon
Step 4 - Include Protein - image of various proteins

Step 5 – Include Your Favorite Protein (1/4 Plate Protein)

Include your favorite prepared protein (baked, roasted, grilled, boiled, broiled, or canned).  Protein is found in animal and plant sources. 


  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork


  • Chicken
  • Turkey


  • Salmon (canned or cooked)
  • Scallops (cooked)
  • Shrimp (cooked)
  • Tuna (canned or cooked)


  • Boiled
  • Fried
  • Poached


  • Edamame (steamed)
  • Soy nuts
  • Tofu (baked, grilled)


  • Blue cheese
  • Cheddar (shredded)
  • Feta
  • Goat cheese
  • Gorgonzola
  • Parmesan cheese
Step 6 - Add Herbs and Spices - image of various herbs and spices

Step 6 – Add Your Favorite Herbs and Spices

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Enter your favorite herb/spice here!
Step 7 - Include Your Favorite Fat - image of various fats, dressings, nuts, and seeds

Step 7 – Include Your Favorite Fat, Salad Dressing, Nuts, and Seeds

These delicious options can add a smooth texture or an extra crunch to your salad.


  • Avocado
  • Bacon
  • Oil
  • Oil and vinegar
  • Olives

Salad Dressing

  • Asian Sesame
  • Blue Cheese
  • Honey Mustard
  • Italian
  • Poppy Seed
  • Ranch
  • Vinaigrette

If you are interested in making a salad dressing at home, there are several recipes available online (more to come from The Dietitian Resource soon).  Here is an easy formula for making a vinaigrette at home:

  1. Start with a good oil base
    • Olive oil (3/4 cup)
  2. Add an acid
    • Favorite vinegar, lemon, or lime juice (1/4 cup)
  3. Choose your emulsifier
    • Mustard – (1/2-1 tsp.) (Dijon is an excellent choice)
    • Mayonnaise – (1 T)
  4. Include seasoning
    • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  5. Flavor enhancers
    • Garlic
    • Herbs
    • Honey
    • Parmesan (grated)
    • Shallot (minced)
  6. Blend/whisk together

This vinaigrette will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds (ground)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Hemp hearts
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Poppy seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
image of a salad with various colorful foods.

Final Thoughts on How to Build Your Own Salad

As you can see, a salad can be a satisfying meal that includes many aspects of The Healthy Plate.  Flavors and textures are almost limitless as you mix and match your food favorites. 

Looking for a simple and delicious recipe? Check out one of our favorite side salads – The Yummy Peach & Blueberry Salad.  

Lastly, if you are concerned about food safety when preparing your salad at home, please take a peek at the 4 Steps to Food Safety.

For more information about The Dietitian Resource, visit our site or check out the blog.  Thanks for visiting!

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More About Rochelle

Rochelle Inwood MS, RDN, ACSM EP-C

Hello there! I’m Rochelle Inwood, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Exercise Physiologist (ACSM EP-C). With over 14 years of experience, I have sharpened my expertise through diverse roles, including weight management program co-coordinator, patient/employee gym supervisor, outpatient dietitian, program manager, dietetic internship preceptor, and more. I am passionate about learning, creating, teaching, and supporting personal growth and development.