Salad days: Packable salad tips, tricks and recipes to help keep your resolutions on track

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

The holidays bring an avalanche of excess, but there comes a time when we must get a hold of ourselves and our waistlines. That time is often around the turn of the New Year. Sober-ary anyone?

One healthy habit to get into: packing your work lunch. We've provided some tips and tricks to help get you there. 

Ideas for fast and easy salad making

Want to pack lunches that are the envy of the office or make your work-from-home lunch easier to assemble? We've got you covered.

Prep work is the key. You'll want to turn your refrigerator into an easy-to-access salad bar. Have an array of greens on hand, including boxed baby lettuces, romaine and baby kale. Living lettuce, the type sold in plastic clamshells with the roots attached, keeps for a surprisingly long time.

You can make your own salad dressings, but that takes time. It's nice to have on hand a basic Caesar, a vinaigrette you like, and an Asian dressing made with toasted sesame oil or miso. 

A protein-packed salad with hot-smoked salmon, fermented beets, pea shoots, cucumber, hard-boiled egg, cubed purple potatoes and greens.

Now it's time to prep your toppings. 

Proteins are generally sturdy and easy to prep ahead. A rotisserie chicken, for example, can be pulled to make a huge batch of chicken salad. Just chop and mix with lemon juice and a little mayo. Add chopped onion and celery or other seasonings and herbs to your taste.

Comfort and joy:How to make comfort food and health coexist in the New Year

Other protein ideas

  • Hard-boiled eggs.
  • Sliced chicken breast or pulled rotisserie chicken.
  • Tinned tuna or salmon or smoked fish.
  • Canned beans, particularly chickpeas.
  • Shelled and steamed edamame.
  • Toasted nuts.
  • Shredded and crumbled cheese.
  • Chopped ham or turkey.
  • Hummus.
  • Meatballs.
  • Falafel.
  • Cubed tofu.

It's nice to incorporate a variety of colors in your salad, which is where fresh vegetables come in. Not all vegetables are created equal, however. While sliced red peppers will keep fresh for some time, shredded carrots will dry out quickly and should be made the day you plan to eat them. Here are some more ideas:

  • Steamed green beans.
  • Pickled or roasted beets. I like fermented beets and cabbage from Wildbrine.
  • Broccoli, roasted, steamed or made into a classic broccoli salad.
  • Pickled red onions
  • Sliced radishes, stored in cold water to stay crisp.
  • Peas.
  • Cubed and cooked potatoes.
  • Chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.
  • Shaved cabbage.
  • Roasted corn kernels.
  • Roasted sweet potato or butternut squash, cubed.
  • Sturdy sprouts, like sunflower sprouts.

Other ingredients

  • Dried or fresh fruit.
  • Croutons or pita chips.
  • Cooked pasta.
  • Grains, including brown rice or quinoa.

Now it's time to assemble your salad. Pick flavors that work well together, such as cubed roasted butternut, toasted nuts and shaved cabbage. Sturdier greens and fall flavors work well with creamy dressings, while delicate vegetables will want a vinaigrette. Slice anything that turns brown, including apples and avocados, at the last minute.

If you're packing your salad to go, pack the fresh vegetables and greens separately from the dressings and premade salads. Assemble it all right before you eat to keep everything fresh.

Salad assembly ideas

  • Chopped chicken, sliced jalapeno, corn, beans, tomatoes, cilantro, shredded cheddar and sliced green onions over a bed of lettuce with guacamole, a light vinaigrette and a lime wedge.
  • Salmon, edamame, sliced green onion, sliced sweet peppers and shredded cabbage and carrots over cold rice with sesame vinaigrette.
  • Chicken salad, cubed potatoes and peas over a bed of greens with a citrus vinaigrette.
  • Tuna salad, chopped tomato, green beans, hard-boiled egg, olives and greens with a basic vinaigrette.
  • Shaved cabbage or Brussels sprouts with Caesar dressing, shaved parmesan, cubed and roasted butternut squash and toasted almonds.

Looking for something more composed? Here are a few recipes for hearty salads that can be eaten alone as a meal or served with dinner. They’re also so full of flavor you’ll wonder why you waited for the new year to make them. 

Trout and Green Goddess salad

Here, smoked trout breaks free from the bagel. Rich, creamy flavors also help prevent trout's salinity from becoming too aggressive. Green Goddess is up to the task. The brightness and sweetness of pickled onions adds a zippy flavor to unite the whole shebang, so don't skip that step. No trout? No problem. Substitute hot-smoked salmon. Get the recipe. 

Citrus-fennel salad

One of the best things about winter is the abundance of fresh citrus. Oranges, tangerines and grapefruit add zing to what would otherwise be a fairly dull produce season. 

This bright, refreshing salad also makes a perfect accompaniment to grilled or roasted seafood.

A tip: remove the bitter white pith from the citrus segments, leaving sweeter (and more attractive) supremes. If you’re sensitive to spice, be sure to seed and devein the jalapeño — or just omit it altogether. Get the recipe

Roasted beet salad with goat cheese

Salt-roasting beets concentrates their flavors and colors as they cook. Tangy goat cheese is a classic pairing for earthy root vegetables.

While making the goat cheese mousse in this recipe lends an elegant presentation, you can skip that step if you'd like; omit the milk, crumble your goat cheese, increase your portion of greens and toss everything together. You've got lunch. Get the recipe 

Black-eyed pea salad

Black-eyed peas are a Southern staple, often eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck. The versatile legume, packed with nutrients, takes center stage in this easy-to-throw-together salad that can be served as a hearty side or light meal on its own. Feel free to skip the bacon. Get the recipe 

Fall Harvest Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

Harvest salad with dijon vinaigrette

For a hearty seasonal dish, try this winter vegetable salad of roasted butternut squash, nuts and chayote squash. Chayote, also known as mirliton, is native to Mexico and Central America. You can find it in many grocery stores but if you come up short, Asian pears or tart apples would make a fine substitute. Get the recipe

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen. Reach me: