Any time is a great time to focus on nutrient-dense foods for your growing family, but Michigan’s springtime offers an extra incentive in the form of wonderful, fresh produce. And there’s no easier way to boost your family’s nutritional profile — and make every bite count — than a great salad, either to start a meal or to be a meal. The best salads come from your own creativity, so let yourself and your kids loose in the kitchen and see how you can innovate on your plate.
What is it that makes the best salads so healthy? The easy answer is vegetables, but the truth is that salads are a foundation for variety. Start with some greens, add a few more vegetables, your favorite cheese or other nutrient-dense dairy foods, plus a great dressing and you have a healthy meal that’s fun to make.
Most fresh salads start with a leafy green or two, but don’t limit yourself to this one vegetable. There’s a benefit to adding more vegetables, too. “People who eat more vegetables and fruits as a part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases,” says the USDA MyPlate website. “Vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body.”
The vegetables on your salad provide potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C, and each is a superstar in its own way, so be sure to choose a variety for your salad. Start with mixed greens or romaine, or for something new, try Swiss chard, kale, or collard, turnip or mustard greens, or shred raw Brussels sprouts or cabbage. Then add carrots, peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, artichokes, avocado — really anything you can think of.
Best salads include dairy, too!
Don’t forget the cheese. Rich in calcium, protein and phosphorus, cheese makes “significant contributions to a nutritious diet,” according to Undeniably Dairy, the National Dairy Board website. Cheese can also make a significant contribution to a healthy salad, so slice, cube or crumble your favorite variety and enjoy every bite.
There are plenty of types of cheeses that are made right here in Michigan, including Pinconning, which has made the Bay County city of the same name famous since 1915. Never tried Pinconning cheese? Your kids are sure to love its creamy texture and mild taste.
Every now and then, switch it up and add a spoonful or two of cottage cheese to your salad creation. Cottage cheese is a great fridge staple because it’s great for toddlers and can also be a developmentally appropriate food for babies who are ready to try solid foods.
Don’t forget the dressing
Sure, you can top your salad with a dressing from a bottle or jar, but homemade dressings are just as easy — and very customizable.
Plain yogurt, Greek yogurt, even buttermilk makes a perfect basic ingredient for your dressing. Just add mustard, honey, maple syrup, salt, pepper, dried herbs, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, or any seasoning your family likes. Mix well and pour it right over your salad.
Need some best salads inspiration?
Visit Milk Means More for easy recipes to make the best salads. This downloadable Delicious Dairy Salads recipe booklet is full of recipes for both salads and dressings and proves that all of your favorite foods can become salads, including grilled steak, roasted root vegetables, even chopped chicken with taco spices.
The blend of vegetables and fruits in the Sunflower Broccoli Salad, the Summer Salad with Strawberry-Ricotta Toast and the classic Spinach Strawberry Salad with Fresh Mozzarella make these salads perfect for kids who love a sweet and savory mix.
After a visit to the farmers market, you’ll have all you need to make Summer Vegetable Pepe Pasta Salad and this flexible Orzo Salad with Yogurt-Dill Vinaigrette. And, because daily lunches are always a great place to include a fresh salad, here’s a great lunchbox idea for Chef Salad in a Jar.
Learn more at Milk Means More. Visit milkmeansmore.org.