Dish of the Week: Creamy Avocado and Chicken Salad

Salad for lunch? It’s a great option for a hot summer day, but many of us avoid making it because it’s too labor-intensive to add to our weekday out-the-door routine. Yet, many of the steps can be done as part of a weekend batch cooking process or during dinner preparations the night before. The secret to easy salads for lunch is in doing a little extra planning and prepping at those times.

What are the key ingredients for a lunch salad? It really involves four categories: veggies, protein, toppings and dressing. If you prep items in these categories ahead of time, you can assemble them at the last minute and have a great salad any day of the week. You may also choose to substitute grain or pasta for variety. Here are some tips to speed things along.

Greens: Wash your greens for the week in a bowl or the sink with a generous amount of water and dry them well—a salad spinner or a terry cloth towel are good for this. Store greens wrapped in a clean towel or paper towels in the fridge to keep them moist, but not soggy. If you know you will want salad the first few days of the week, consider speeding the process further by portioning greens into individual containers and leaving room for the rest of the ingredients to be added each day. If the greens are properly washed and dried and cut with a non-reactive knife, they should keep well for several days.

Other veggies and fruits: Keep in mind that a variety of colors provides a variety of nutrients and that veggies and fruits are also excellent for hydrating on a hot summer day. If you are serving salad for dinner, chop up some extra veggies so you will have them available for lunch salads during the week or wash some extra berries for a sweet flavor contrast.

Protein: Make sure you cook enough at dinner to have leftover chicken, steak or fish. Hard-cook eggs, drain and rinse beans, or cook quinoa (this is one of the few grains that is a complete protein) ahead of time to sprinkle on your salad. These tasks take only a few minutes while you are prepping a prior meal and your protein will be ready to add to the salad you’re assembling later in the week.

Dressing: The key to salad for lunch is to store the dressing separately so it doesn’t make the greens soggy. Consider putting the dressing in a kid-size snack container and the greens in a zip-lock bag. You can add the dressing to the bag, “toss” it and then transfer to a bowl or plate and add the rest of the ingredients when you are ready to eat. The exception is a pasta or grain salad, which is likely pre-mixed.

Toppings: These garnishes add crunch and flavor interest and should also be added at the last minute. Items such as sunflower seeds or chopped nuts, dried fruit, croutons, sliced olives and cheese shreds can liven up a salad, but keep in mind that these should be used in small quantities, because they are usually higher in sodium and calories. A little goes a long way!

Summer is the time to take advantage of nature’s bounty and eat salads to enjoy the delightful variety of seasonal produce available. Use these tips and you will be on your way to the office with a tasty, satisfying lunch that takes minimal time for maximum flavor.

Dish of the Week: Creamy Avocado and Chicken Salad

This tasty salad makes a nice change from the usual routine of veggie salad with vinaigrette dressing and a haphazard protein garnish. Its combination of creamy avocado-yogurt dressing, refreshingly crunchy greens and the substantial protein in the chicken will help you avoid the mid-afternoon energy slump that would otherwise send you in search of a sugary treat. It’s quick to assemble because it makes use of left-over chicken and the other advantage is it will keep for several days.

Real Food, Real Fast: You will love the way you feel!