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9 Pro Tips for Making Restaurant-Quality Salads at Home

Have you noticed that homemade salads are never as good as restaurant salads? A former restaurant chef shares her secrets to making healthy, clean-eating salads that look amazing and taste great.

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Healthy vegan lunch bowlAnna Shepulova/Shutterstock

Whether it’s a side salad to go along with your entree or the meal’s main event, salads always seem to taste better at a restaurant. Want to know the secret? Restaurant chefs follow these tips to make those greens taste craveably good.

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Avocado and salad mixShutterstock / teleginatania

Fat Is Flavor

Don’t be afraid of fat when you’re putting your salad together. I’m not just talking about the oil in the salad dressing, either. Mix it up with your favorite nuts, seeds, hard or soft cheeses and everyone’s favorite: avocado. Those extra toppings will carry the flavors and make the salad taste exceptionally good.

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Sliced steak with couscous and vegetablesAlena Haurylik/Shutterstock

Don’t Forget About Protein

The best way to make a salad more filling is to add your favorite protein. Bacon, sliced deli turkey, grilled chicken, seared steak, smoked salmon or hard boiled eggs are go-to additions for restaurants. If you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, look for plant-based proteins like black beans, lentils, edamame, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, wild rice or nuts.

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Chia seed healthy ranch salad dressing in a jarElena Veselova/Shutterstock

Make Your Own Salad Dressing

Salad dressings are so easy to make at home! You can customize them any way you like: puree in berries or avocado, add spicy mustard or honey for flavoring or keep it simple with fresh herbs. You can also opt for a creamy dressing by using mayonnaise, yogurt or sour cream as the base.

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Healthy green salad being tossed in wooden bowl on counterShutterstock / Cabeca de Marmore

Don’t Just Dress The Salad–Toss It

There’s a reason that most restaurants serve their salads pre-tossed in dressing. It coats each leaf, preparing the greens so they taste perfectly seasoned. You’re not doing yourself any favors by just drizzling the dressing on your greens, so dirty up an extra bowl and toss ’em up right before you’re ready to serve!

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Fresh vegetable salad with red cabbage, cucumber, radish, carrots, sweet peppers, red onion and parsley on a white plate.Shutterstock / Kiian Oksana

Consider Color When Choosing Toppings

We eat with our eyes first, so choosing colorful toppings will actually make your salad taste better! Think about the colors of the rainbow when selecting your toppings. Consider adding purple cabbage, red tomatoes or bell peppers, orange carrots or citrus wedges, yellow corn, white cheese, brown croutons or pale cucumbers to the mix.

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healthy vegan food. watermelon radish, cucumber and radish salad on white plateShutterstock / Anna Shepulova

Don’t Be Afraid to Skip the Lettuce Entirely

Most salads start with lettuce, but great restaurants know to think outside the box. Mix it up with kale, chicories, watercress or arugula. Or, skip the lettuce altogether and build a salad from your favorite vegetables. Peeled zucchini, radishes, green beans or tomatoes can stand on their own without needing a green salad mix.

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Mandarin Watermelon SaladTaste of Home

Sweet Flavors Create Balance

Sweet fruits like dried blueberries, fresh citrus or watermelon (or vegetables like butternut squash) create a powerful balance to salty cheeses or savory meats. They also work hard to satisfy your sweet tooth, curbing cravings and keeping you from overindulging later in the day.

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Kale, roasted yams and avocado salad on stone backgroundShutterstock / AnastasiaKopa

Fiber Is Your Friend

If you’re hungry an hour after eating your lunch salad, chances are good you didn’t include enough fiber. Fiber and protein work hard to keep you feeling full, so think about adding some fiber-filled ingredients to the mix. Think berries, avocados, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pearled barley, quinoa, flaxseed, chia seeds or whole wheat pasta.

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Salad spinner with iceberg and red lettuceShutterstock / photopixel

Use a Salad Spinner

Washing salad greens is always a good idea (even if the container says they’re pre-washed). But, you don’t want to serve a soggy salad! Salad dressing won’t cling well to wet greens, so the meal will taste a little watered down. Invest in an inexpensive salad spinner to make sure those greens are dry and happy.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.