Creative Salad Toppings for Satisfying Salads

Need some salad toppings inspiration? Look no further! If you’ve ever found yourself in a salad rut and in need of some new salad topping ideas, save this article! These creative salad toppers can help make your salads not just healthy and balanced, but more satisfying and delicious, too!

a wooden bowl of brightly colored salad

Not to be a walking cliché, but as a registered dietitian, I love a good salad. But it has to be good – no sad rabbit food salads here!

And maybe you are all about the greens, but for me? The toppings are what makes a salad interesting.

First of all, the right salad toppings are absolutely what makes a salad an actual meal. Greens are great, but adding in some protein, healthy fat, and high-fiber carbs is essential for a salad that fills me up and keeps me energized.

But on top of that more practical piece, toppings are what can make a salad so interesting and fun. (And I’d argue that truly enjoying your food is a huge component of healthy, satisfying meals.)

I definitely encourage you to think about what it is you want in a salad. Do you like different textures, like chewy dried fruit, juicy grape tomatoes, creamy feta cheese, or crunchy candied nuts? Maybe you like different temperatures, like cool greens and warm, freshly grilled chicken. Or maybe you like different flavors, like salty olives, sweet fruit, or savory dressings.

All these different components can help add interest and satisfaction to a salad.

What to Put in a Salad

Before we get to all these salad topping ideas, let’s start with the basics – what to put in a salad.

While there are no hard and fast rules (do what works for you!), try this general salad meal template if you’re looking for a place to start:

  • Salad base: 2-3 cups of leafy greens (note that you can get creative with your salad base, too – experiment with different types of lettuces and leafy greens, mix different greens, and add ingredients like broccoli slaw, shredded cabbage or coleslaw veggies, and shredded brussels sprouts).
  • Protein: 4-6 ounces (aim for at least 20-30 grams protein in a meal)
  • Vegetables & Fruits: 2-3 types, totaling at least 1/2-1 cup
  • Healthy Fats: 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup
  • Carbs: 1/4-1/2 cup
  • Dressing: 2 tablespoons
  • Satisfaction Boosters: this is optional & varies, but check out the section below for ideas on how to get more satisfaction out of your salad.

Salad Toppings

Protein

If you want to turn a salad into a meal, one essential salad topping is protein. Protein helps keep you fuller longer and is associated with many other benefits, like reduced cravings and late night eating, decreased blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, and can support weight management. Check out my more detailed post of Proteins for Salads, but to get you started, some protein salad toppings include:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken sausage
  • Cottage cheese
  • Deli meat
  • Edamame
  • Eggs
  • Ground meat, like beef, turkey, chicken
  • Ham
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Steak
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Tuna
salad ingredients in a bowl

Vegetables

Adding vegetables to your salad is a great way to add more volume, more textures, more tastes and flavors, and can increase the fiber and variety of vitamins and minerals you’re consuming, too. Some ideas include:

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bell pepper
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Hearts of palm
  • Onion
  • Radish
  • Sugar snap or snow peas
  • Summer squash
  • Tomato
  • Zucchini

Fruits

If you like a little sweetness in your salad, fruits are a fantastic addition! Fresh fruit adds a juicy sweetness, whereas as dried fruit adds a nice chewy texture and freeze-dried adds a crunch. And fruit is another great way to add more fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your salad meal. Try fruit salad toppings like:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Dried cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Mango
  • Pear
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
peaches and pecans on a salad

Healthy Fats

Long gone are the days of fearing fat (or any food for that matter – all foods can fit any balanced diet!). Fat is an essential nutrient, needed for functions like for aiding absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), supporting cell function, and are critical for your hormonal health, too. Try adding healthy fats to your salad with toppings like:

  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Bleu cheese
  • Burrata
  • Cashews
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Guacamole
  • Olives
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Carbs

Carbohydrates don’t need to be feared! If you find yourself struggling to be satisfied from eating a salad for a meal, or you find yourself hungry again soon after eating a salad, play around with adding carbohydrates, such as:

  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Crunchy chickpeas
  • cooked pasta
  • Croutons
  • Fruit
  • Granola
  • Pita chips
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tortilla chips

Dressing

If you recall diet trends like the 90s fat-free fad, or the advice to dip the prongs of your fork into the dressing to use less of it, there’s something I need you to know:

Salad dressing is nothing to fear.

If you enjoy salad dressing, you can absolutely use it in a way that works for you and your health goals.

For example, it’s fine to prefer lower sugar salad dressings, like if you’re trying to stay within the American Heart Association’s <25 grams daily added sugar recommendation (<36 grams for men).

Use your nutrition knowledge, the nutrition label, and your personal preferences to decide what works for you.

There are SO many options, but some of my personal favorite dressings include:

people eating salads

Satisfaction Boosters

Satisfaction boosters are what I like to call all the little things that can elevate the enjoyment of your eating experience. It may be simple ingredients that add a ton of flavor, like citrus zest or juice or fresh herbs. Or it could be playing around with the preparation of different ingredients – like fresh chickpeas versus crunchy, roasted chickpeas.

Get curious and play around with what brings you the most enjoyment and satisfaction from a meal. Some ideas include:

  • Crunchy chickpeas
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Cheese crisps
  • Roasted vegetables instead of raw
  • Different cuts of food, like grated carrots instead of chopped
  • Candied nuts
  • Roasted nuts
  • The juice from a lime or lemon wedge
  • Citrus zest
  • Fresh herbs
  • Dried herbs
  • Vinegars
  • Different oils (i.e. sesame oil)
  • Hot grilled chicken instead of cold
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Everything but the bagel seasoning
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • Pickles
  • Pickled onions or other vegetables
  • Instead of eating a quesadilla on the side, try using a pizza cutter to cut it into small cubes to make quesadilla croutons
  • Adding a drizzle of honey, or hot honey
  • Try a drizzle of balsamic glaze
  • Instead of salad dressings, try getting creative with different dips and other satisfaction boosters (I love mixing romesco dip and balsamic glaze, or guacamole and lime juice).

Delicious Salad Recipes

Need some salad inspiration? Then try these recipes (some you’ll need to add a protein to turn it into a full meal):

What are Your Favorite Salad Toppings?

I hope you found this helpful! I would love to know your favorite salad toppings or combination of salad toppings that make your dream salad! Share in the comments below for inspiration.

a wooden bowl of brightly colored salad

Salad Toppings

DIY your salads by learning what to put in a salad with this extensive list of salad toppings.
5 from 4 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1
Author: Lindsey Janeiro, RDN

Ingredients

Salad Base (2-3 cups)

  • leafy greens (any)
  • shredded cabbage or coleslaw
  • broccoli slaw
  • shredded brussels sprouts

Protein (4-6 oz or 20-30 grams total)

  • Chicken
  • Chicken sausage
  • Cottage cheese
  • Deli turkey
  • Edamame
  • Eggs
  • Ground beef
  • Ground turkey
  • Ham
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Steak
  • Tofu
  • Tuna

Vegetables (2-3 types, at least 1/2-1 cup total)

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bell pepper
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Hearts of palm
  • Onion
  • Radish
  • Sugar snap or snow peas
  • Summer squash
  • Tomato
  • Zucchini

Fruit (can be part of the 2-3 vegetable toppings, or can be used as a carb)

  • Apple
  • Apricots
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Dried cranberries
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Mango
  • Pear
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Healthy Fats (2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup)

  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Bleu cheese
  • Burrata
  • Cashews
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Guacamole
  • Olives
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Carbohydrates (1/4 – 1/2 cup)

  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Cooked pasta
  • Croutons
  • Fruit
  • Granola
  • Pita chips
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tortilla chips

Dressing (2 tablespoons)

Satisfaction Boosters (anything that adds to the enjoyment of a meal, like varying tastes, textures, temperatures, etc.)

  • Crunchy chickpeas instead of fresh
  • Chewy dried cherries instead of fresh
  • Cheese crisps instead of shredded cheese
  • Candied nuts instead of dry roasted
  • Herbs
  • Citrus juice
  • Vinegars
  • Seasoning blends (i.e. everything but the bagel seasoning, freshly cracked black pepper)
  • Hot grilled chicken instead of cold
  • Pickled vegetables or pickles
  • Roasted veggies instead of raw
  • Grated or finely chopped vegetables instead of slicing or dicing
  • Balsamic glaze
  • Romesco dip, other dips

Instructions

  • Mix and match from the salad topping categories to create your dream satisfying, nourishing, balanced salad meal.

Did you found this article on Salad Toppings and what to put in a salad helpful? Don’t forget to save it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook!

This article was originally published on July 10, 2022 but was updated and re-published on March 4, 2023.

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5 Comments

  1. My wife gives me odd looks because I enjoy a few pickled ginger strips (think sushi) and several sardines added to a big salad, and a sprinkle of salt. Grapes work well also.

  2. I like yogurt covered raisins.. Not the healthiest option but for me, its a healthier option than a sandwich

    1. All foods fit! Yogurt covered raisins can be a delicious snack, but for a full meal, I’d personally go for a sandwich. Sandwiches can actually be pretty awesome options – you can easily use a high fiber whole grain bread for carbs, and use fillings to add protein, healthy fat, vegetables, more fiber, etc. A sandwich can actually be a great start to a balanced meal for many folks!

  3. I really like all of these ideas but I must add to it. Fennel seeds! Oh my! They add such a boost of flavor. I like them with ranch, Caesar, or Italian style dressings. Paired with celery, black olives and red bell peppers! I recently discovered 2’s company wafer crackers as well and I like to crumble them over the top for even more crunchy goodness. I also like to sprinkle thyme, dill and creole over certain salads. I love flavor! Thanks for this!

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