Nicky's Blog

Making Friends With Salad

This week, I've been consciously trying to eat more salads. For a while now, I've been trying to eat healthier on my lunch, my recent favourite being a pasta salad with kale, cherry tomatoes, pancetta, olive oil, and a small hill of parmesan. It's tasty, relatively healthy, gets me two of my five a day, but is also takes a fair amount of time to prep, cook, eat, and clean up.

Meal prepping is one solution, but there's definitely a set time limit on how long those are good for, and there's a decent chance I'd be doing another batch in the week, which again, time, energy, clean up, ugh.

Salads, however, tick all of the boxes.

A couple of years ago I came across a YouTube video pointing out why your salads suck. Bland greens, predictable toppings, no or poor dressings and seasonings, etc.

It pretty much hit the nail on the head for me. Lettuce, tomatoes, chicken or ham, maybe a bit of coleslaw. Boring, predictable, and eventually unsustainable. The number of heads of lettuce I've chucked out over the years is sad.

First change was the lettuce. The crispness is nice, but the taste isn't exactly adding to the salad. It's fine for bulk, but could easily be improved by swapping it out kale.

Yes, kale gets talked about a lot as a superfood. But that stuff aside, I love it. It has a pretty distinctive taste, and eating it raw adds a great crunch and mouthfeel. Plus, it's size means you can eat more to add a solid amount of bulk to the plate.

Tomatoes can stick around. They get a bit of a bad rep over winter in my neck of the woods; people complaining that they're not as juicy or flavourful. Not a problem for me though; they're juicy enough, tasty enough, and cheap enough to keep them worthy of my plate.

Other veggies I like to add are spinach (if I can't get kale, less crunch but still flavourful), cucumber (rarer; more of a summer veg to add some cooling feels to it), carrot (extra crunch; I like to use a peeler to strip off ribbons instead of cutting into rounds or batons to hit the balance between crunch and bulk), and various legumes depending on my mood. I also like to pickle my own onions over summer and throw them liberally on pretty much everything. Adds beautiful sweetness and acidity, with a little more texture.

The protein, though, is the bigger change in more recent times.

No more chicken. No more ham. No more meat.

I'm not going fully vegetarian or vegan yet, but we are trying to reduce our meat consumption in the house, and i can't really do that by eating chicken breast or honey roast ham chunks five or six times a week.

There's a few vegetarian choices for protein, although none really match up to the content of chicken. My favourite at the minute is uncooked tofu. I've been buying the cartoons of extra firm tofu from Yutaka and just cutting it up straight from the packet. Minimal moisutre, and it's not rock hard, but I've been treating it like a flavourless feta cheese, almost crumbling it over the salad.

My back up plan is tempeh, a much firmer soy protein that has a very unusual but pleasing mouthfeel. Kind of stodgy, like a compressed potato cake, but almost crispy in firmness. It's not something I want every day though, hence the back up status, and also not as absorbant of flavours as tofu in my experience. That could just be the sauces and dressings I use though.

That last point is what I love about tofu. It has pretty much zero taste on it's own, but it works well in absorbing the flavour of whatever I put with it. I used to do thai red curry with it on the the regular, until that caused problems, and have used it in stir frys and currys (coated in cornflour and crisped up in the pan on it's own first).

Eggs and fish are also on the list, but as a real occasional thing largely due to prep time. Great sources of protein and healthy fats, and still in keeping with reducing meat consumption, but the whole idea of the salads is not wanting to more spend time cooking and ready prepped and flavoured offerings add more price. Not practical by and large, but as an occasional thing, maybe on the weekends? Great

Also, my wife hates eggs. With a passion. Especially the smell. Gotta try and cook as few as possible.

My go to dressing at the moment is M&S honey and mustard dressing. Goes with tofu and the rest perfectly, relatively low calories, and nicely balanced. If I can get them, I'll also add a half pack of their spicy nuts and seeds on top, although at some point I'm sure I'll put the effort in to make them on my own. I want to explore apple cider vinegar based dressings at some point, but saivng that for a day I'm not overwhelmed by everything else.

The main thing through all this is that it seems to be working slowly. I'm down around a pound and a half so far this week, and feeling fairly full after lunch. Combined with a few changes at breakfast (adding berries and maple syrup to the oatmeal, and supplementing with low fat greek yoghurt, more berries, and a touch more maple syrup; yes, I might have a problem but the calories work out), and my snacking is going down.

Sure, I've reduced the tempation. No more regular buys of Celebrations, less crips and snack bars in the house, all of the Easter chocolate eaten on the last cheat day. But the need for snacking reduced too; I'm actually feeling fuller.

Well, most of the time. Right now, I want to plow through a few bags of crisps and whatever else I can fit in. But that way leads to madness, and besides, I have a workout to get in pretty soon.

Gotta get in shape if I'm going to a special meet and greet with a weekend at the Arnold Classic next year.

More on that tomorrow.

Words - 1,047 Running total - 36,328(72.7%, 8,681 words behind target)

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