Plant-Based Meals: How to Make Filling Salads for Lunch or Dinner

kitchen tips and hacks Oct 03, 2022
Plant-based salad with beets, sweet potatos, leafy greens and quinoa

Many people think of salads as just big boring bowls of leafy greens, without much color or variety. This article shows how salads can be a colorful, nourishing and satisfying meal option on a plant-based diet.

Salad? No Thanks!

If you’ve been used to eating mainly ‘meat and potatoes’ for most of your life, the idea of having a salad for lunch or dinner can seem…well, revolutionary. After all, isn’t salad just a side or appetizer…like that small bowl of garden leafy greens we order at restaurants?


When I say the word ‘salad’, it might also conjure up images in your mind of a limp bowl of greens...without much color or variety. I still remember the wilted side salad my sister got at a new restaurant we went to for her celebratory birthday meal. It was very disappointing…the greens should have been crisp and fresh looking, but instead, they looked like they had been either sitting in the sun for a whole day or in the back of the fridge forgotten…until now. Not surprisingly, my sister didn’t eat it. It was all very unappetizing and disappointing. Had an experience like this?

Feeling Hungry Soon After a Salad?

Then there’s the added problem of satiety. Sometimes we know salads are a good healthy option and that we should consume more raw leafy greens…so we do. We try to have a salad for a meal, but then end up feeling hungry again an hour or two later. There’s just something inadequate and lacking in that salad to fill you up. So, you throw ‘salad-making’ to the way-side and move on to other new, and more exciting options.

Yet, salads are one of the easiest and best plant-based meals to put together. This is especially so if you already have some vegetables pre-washed and cut in containers in the fridge ready to be used. Compared to having to prep and then cook your meal, making a salad can be as simple as a ‘chop, drizzle and toss’.

And research shows that consuming some whole plant-based foods raw like broccoli, leafy greens, and onions can enable them to have more cancer-fighting power in our bodies.

Make Yourself a Filling Salad Meal

So if you tend to view salads as boring and lacking in sustenance, know that you’re not alone. But here’s the good news – salads can be both eye-pleasing and complete, filling meals too! What’s the best way then to make a satisfying salad meal? Just follow the 5 simple steps outlined here!

Step 1: Use a Base of Leafy Greens

Choose 1-2 handfuls of some fresh, crisp raw leafy greens to put into the base of the bowl. While you don’t have to put leafy greens into a salad (for example, choose chopped broccoli or Brussels sprouts instead if you like), dark green leafy vegetables like kale, bok choy, or arugula are great choices because they are packed with vitamins, minerals and a plethora of phytochemicals beneficial to our health.

Step 2: Mix in a Cooked Whole Grain 

This is an optional but recommended part of creating a whole salad meal. That’s because intact whole grains not only bring nutritional benefits but also are a good source of complex carbohydrates like starch and fiber, which are more slowly digested in the body between meals, helping to keep you fuller for longer. So, try adding in at least a quarter cup of a cooked whole grain to your salad. Some examples of this would be buckwheat, barley, brown rice, wild rice or quinoa. Alternatively, instead of a cooked grain, you can choose to throw in some cooked sweet potatoes cubes, butternut squash, yam, acorn squash or taro slices. These are also good sources of complex carbohydrates but the key is to not overcook them when you enjoy them as part of a salad. 

Step 3: Throw on a Good Plant-Based Protein Source

Make sure to add to your salad at least a ⅓– ½ cup of a cooked or canned drained and rinsed legume such as black turtle beans, shelled edamame, white navy beans, black-eyed peas, green lentils, tempeh or tofu cubes. Legumes are an important part of creating a whole meal, because they pack protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and many other nutrients, making for a much more satisfying meal.

Step 4: Add Some Crunch and Color

To me, adding a variety of colors and textures is what makes a salad that much more fun to eat and delicious. Do you agree? So, choose at least 2-3 other different colored vegetables or other whole plant-based ingredients to add to your salad. Some examples of these would be crunchy carrots, sweet beet slices, crisp cucumber slices, and grated red cabbage. You can also add on fresh fruit like blueberries, strawberry slices or crunchy chopped walnuts or roasted pumpkin seeds. Have fun experimenting as no salad needs to be the same!

Step 5: Drizzle on a Dressing

You could eat this salad as is, but to me, adding a dressing is that much more satisfying and enjoyable. So, drizzle on a healthy tasty dressing of choice – one’s that not high in refined oils or sugar.

For optimal health, it’s actually best to choose an oil-free dressing and there are many easy ways to make tasty oil-free salad dressings! This can be as simple as thinning out a few tablespoons of hummus with a little bit of unsweetened fortified plant-based milk. You can also easily make a tangy tahini dressing by mixing together 1/4 cup [60mL] orange juice, 2 teaspoons tahini (ground sesame paste) and a teaspoon low sodium soy sauce (or tamari sauce or coconut liquid aminos) until well combined.

A Final Word of Advice

Of course, if you’re just starting out on a plant-based diet, and haven’t been eating much vegetables regularly before, and already have some gut transition issues, then it’s best to take it slower on the salad front. That’s because your gastrointestinal system is likely still getting used to the sudden increase in fiber and the new whole plant-based foods you are feeding it. This can be especially so if you are eating a lot more vegetables in general, as well as legumes likes beans, chickpeas and lentils.

So if you are experiencing this, then one strategy is to start with just eating cooked vegetables with your meals first as you focus on adding in and increasing the amount of legumes you regularly eat. Then as your GI symptoms subside, start with small salads and gradually increase the portion and size of your raw salads over the coming weeks!