Low calorie salads may be main or side dishes. They can be fruit or vegetable based and may or may not include grains or protein. In order for a salad to be considered low calorie, the dressing used must be not be high in calories as well. Low calorie salads may have many ingredients or as little as two.
For example, mixing sliced cucumbers with some vinegar and chilling before serving can create a refreshing low calorie side salad to serve alongside meat, poultry or fish. A green side salad may be as simple as serving washed and torn lettuce with a low calorie vinaigrette dressing. To make a low calorie vinaigrette salad dressing, orange juice or vinegar may be combined with olive or canola oil. Seasonings such as pepper, mustard and garlic powder can add flavor. Although low calorie dressings are available commercially, homemade versions may reduce the sodium count as well as avoid food additives.
Commercial, reduced calorie mayonnaise based dressing may be used to make a slimmer version of macaroni salad. Macaroni low calorie salads can further be made healthier by using whole wheat pasta. Some home cooks like to use some plain, nonfat yogurt in with low calorie mayonnaise to mix into cooked whole wheat macaroni. Another way to make a creamy low calorie salad dressing is to place cottage cheese in a blender with lemon juice and seasonings and mix until smooth. Thinly sliced celery or chopped green onions make a good addition to a low calorie, creamy pasta salad.
Besides pasta, croutons are another way to add grains to a salad. Commercial flavored croutons can be high in salt and fat, but toasting multi-grain bread and cutting it into squares can make a healthy topping for low calorie salads. Croutons and low calorie dressing may be added to a simple lettuce based salad. Instead of lettuce, using raw spinach in a low calorie salad will add more vitamins and nutrients. A classic spinach salad with sliced hard boiled egg and creamy dressing can be made lower calorie by using a low fat cottage cheese topping as described above.
In addition to sliced, hard boiled eggs, other proteins that can make a salad a meal are leftover cooked meat or poultry slices. Adding canned fish to low calorie salads is another option. Thinly sliced green pepper and celery make great vegetable additions to salad meals. Leftover cooked vegetables such as kernel corn or green beans may also be added to a low calorie salad.
Low calorie fruit salads either have no dressing or a low fat one rather than whipped cream or a sugary topping. When fruits are used in low calorie salads, virtually any type may be used, but the portion size should be monitored. Eating a very large bowl of fruit salad can mean consuming hundreds of calories if a whole banana, apple, orange and/or other fruits are eaten.