How to Be a Damn Grown-Up and Learn to Love Salad

salad, making a salad, healthy food

Salads: they’re green, damp, and kids like to eat them. Oh, wait. Those are boogers. Kids hate salad. And while it’s all well and good to have the same palate as someone who considers mac and cheese haute cuisine (no judgment, that stuff is delicious), you’re going to eventually need to get some antioxidant- and fiber-rich greens into your system.

Because being a grown-up means a lot of things related to responsibility, one of which is taking care of yourself. Here's how to fully enter adulthood and start liking salad.

Take baby steps

You don’t have to run out and pile your plate with greens. Start small, by eating a salad as an appetizer or side dish instead of the main course, advises registered dietitian Tiffany Newenhouse. And even though it’s trendy, salad-phobes might want to steer clear of kale at first, because the cruciferous vegetable can be bitter. “Start with romaine lettuce,” says Stacy Goldberg, a registered nurse who has a master’s degree in public health, with a specialization in nutrition. “Kale can be less palatable to salad newbies.”

Mesclun, arugula, or spinach are other alternatives that pack way more flavor than iceberg lettuce. If the thought of raw greens really grosses you out, try a non-lettuce-based salad, such as a beet salad or a Caprese salad of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, Goldberg suggests.

salad, avocado, salad dressing, salad toppings
Eric Urquhart/Shutterstock

Imagine salads as a vessel for rich and decadent toppings

Nobody’s saying you should pile a pound of bacon on top of your salad... but you can get away with a few ounces of everyone’s favorite carcinogenic meat if you play your cards right. Dietitian Dena Norton has a warm bacon dressing recipe she swears by. “If you’re having a huge bowl of plant foods and you sprinkle it with some bacon so you’ll enjoy it, I think you’ll come out ahead in the long run,” she says, adding that she buys pastured bacon directly from a farmer and salts it at home, so she avoids consuming the nitrates that are used to preserve most commercial bacon.

Anyway, enough bacon talk. When it comes to indulgent toppings, there’s also Chinese noodles, croutons, and creamy dressings like ranch or blue cheese. Remember that old trick where you order dressing on the side and dip your fork in it to get the flavor but not the calories? Forget that stupid trick! Douse your salad in rich, savory dressing. “If you’re eating a good salad with lots of vegetables, who really cares if you use one or two tablespoons of dressing?” says holistic nutritionist Christina K. Major.

Use homemade dressing

On that note, you should definitely make your own dressings, not only because they’re delicious, but also because many commercial brands come loaded with crap ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. Homemade dressings are also a key component of a salad that doesn’t suck. “The dressing needs to be killer,” Norton says. “It can completely change the taste of the salad. If you make them at home, they taste 1,000 times better.”

Plus, it’s super easy to make dressings. No matter how lazy you are, you are most certainly capable of combining extra-virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Feeling ambitious? Add a touch of honey and mustard, advises clinical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta.

cooked vegetables, vegetables, veggies

Add some warmth

Cold, raw lettuce and sliced carrots in winter? That’s gross, and not what a tasty salad should look like. “It’s important to mix raw and warm ingredients,” Cassetta says. This can mean freshly roasted nuts and vegetables, quinoa, a soft-cooked egg or two, sauteed asparagus... any of these will make you feel more like you’re eating a full meal and less like you’re cleaning out your refrigerator produce drawer bite by bite.

Pack it up, pack it in

Sure, bringing a salad to work involves some prep work. But once you get past a slight learning curve, it’s actually not much more time-consuming than bagging up a sandwich and potato chips. “Salad preparation has never been easier,” says Dr. Philip Goglia, who has a PhD in nutritional science. “Many of the big-box stores offer salads pre-made... bagged without dressings, with great mixes of lettuce groupings.”

He suggests making salads ahead of time and combining dry ingredients in a zip-lock bag. Norton stores wet ingredients, like avocados or tomatoes, in baggies and puts dry ingredients in Tupperwear containers. “The jar salad craze is a great way to pack things for lunch,” she says. “You can layer a salad -- it packs so well -- and then have the dressing separate.”

salad, tuna salad
Josie Grant/Shutterstock

Key things to remember

When you’re assembling your salad, think textures (creamy, crunchy, chewy), proteins (hummus, chicken, turkey, eggs, shrimp, nuts, beans), homemade dressings, mixed greens, varied cheeses, and a whole bunch of vegetables. “I probably put six to eight different things in it and mix a variety of textures, colors, and flavors,” Norton says. “I make the goal to make the salad amazing.”

And if salad still doesn't sound appetizing? Get over it!

“Eat the damn vegetables,” emphasizes Newenhouse. “You’re an adult and you do the things you need to do to survive... Those veggies have a ton of vital nutrients you can’t get anywhere else, so suck it up.”

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Missy Wilkinson isn’t crazy about salad, but she mixes a big handful of greens into her smoothie each morning. Follow her for more spinach-hiding tips: @missy_wilkinson.