Salads are a great way to pack more veggies into your diet, but they can also start to show up on the scale if you aren't careful.

Everyone who goes on a diet thinks that salads are automatically a safe diet food. They are a great way to pack more veggies into your diet, but they can also start to show up on the scale if you aren't careful. When I was trying to reach my Feel Great Weight, my salads weren't always figure friendly. Here are some of the tips I've picked up.

Apply the 3/4 rule
Prior to losing weight, I made a number of simple mistakes at the salad bar. I thought I was creating healthy salads, but I was loading up on high-calorie ingredients. Like many dieters, I chose full-fat cheeses, iceberg lettuce, and starchy carbohydrates like pasta salad and croutons, thinking that as long as they were served over greens, they were healthy. Wrong! At the same time, I avoided high-calorie healthy fats like nuts, olives, and avocados. Now, I realize that these healthy fats are good for me and help me feel full for hours. So when making a salad, I apply what I call the 3/4 rule. Three-quarters of my salad is made up of leafy greens and raw veggies, while 1/4 is devoted to small portions of healthy fats and higher-calorie "fun" ingredients. That way, my salads never get boring—and I never feel like I'm depriving myself.

Think twice about dressing on the side
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but many dieters assume that asking for their salad dressing on the side instantly saves them hundreds of calories—I know I did. But I realized that I was dipping every piece of my salad into it and eating the entire portion! I still ask for my salad dressing on the side, but I pour a small amount onto my salad and lightly dress it myself. I don't dip my fork right in. This way, I avoid a salad drenched in dressing, but I don't feel deprived or miss the flavor. My favorite dressings are actually very simple: a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or a homemade mix of chopped cucumber, low-fat plain yogurt, fresh dill, and lemon juice.


Think outside the box
I used to make the same salad day after day, which, as you can imagine, ended up boring and unappetizing. Now, I don't let myself get into a salad rut; instead, I experiment with interesting ingredients. Perusing the farmers' market always gives me ideas. Lately I've been experimenting with fresh herbs—particularly basil and cilantro. The natural flavors lightly pervade my entire salad, so I often don't need to add dressing. And while I always try to add some colorful veggies for their nutritional benefits, I like to have fun too. Almost anything goes! My favorite ingredients include: pecans, chickpeas, sprouts, kiwi slices, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and even falafel, but I'm always looking for new additions to keep things interesting.

What are your favorite salad toppings?