Salad is a fabulous way to get a huge number of your recommended 5-7 vegetable servings in one meal. But just because a salad is all vegetables doesn’t mean that you’ve done it right.

I mean, vegetables are great, and if you’re eating them, then you’re ahead of the 91% of Americans who don’t eat enough vegetables. That is a pathetically high number, so give yourself a pat on the back, and then up your salad game by not making these 5 mistakes:

You assault it with sugary, low quality, or fat free dressing

Let’s get one thing straight. Even if you love ranch dressing, bottled, shelf-stable dressings are a mess of wrong. Usually loaded with sugars and gums, they’re comparable to putting canned cake frosting on your salad and masking all the flavor. That’s so not giving the amazing vegetables in your salad a chance to shine!

If you must buy dressing – and believe me, it’s super easy to make but yes, easier to buy – try to choose one that’s refrigerated and has ingredients that you would use in your own kitchen. My guess is that you wouldn’t use these to make your own dressing (ingredients are from Kraft brand Catalina dressing):

Sugar, Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Vinegar, Soybean Oil, Water, Salt, Contains Less Than 2% of Modified Food Starch, Phosphoric Acid, Dried Onions, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Natural Flavor, Red 40, Blue 1, Sorbic Acid And Calcium Disodium Edta (to Protect Freshness).

You shouldn’t be buying them, either.

As far as fat free dressing, it’s usually loaded with fillers, sugars, and gums too, and you need fat to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that your salad is full of – vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat also helps keep you full for longer, so ditch that gross fat free dressing and welcome the fat back onto your salad. One of my favourite tips is to dip your fork into the dressing, then spear the salad. You’ll get dressing in every bite but you won’t use too much. I use this trick because I am obsessed with blue cheese dressing, which is super easy to overdo. Don’t drench your salad with fatty dressing, but don’t feel guilty about using fat. Rememeber – you’re supposed to enjoy your food, not punish yourself with it.

You’re not using herbs

This one isn’t so much of a mistake as it is an oversight. When most people think salad, they think vegetables. But herbs, like cilantro, chives, basil, dill, and parsley, for example, are amazing in salad and add huge flavor to that bowl of greens. Different greens like purslane and amaranth, if you can find them, are delish too. Herbs aren’t always for garnish – use them like lettuce in your salad!

It’s only vegetables

When my clients tell me that they ate a garden salad for lunch, I cringe. How anyone is supposed to feel full and satisfied after a bowl of plain greens is anyone’s guess, and it’s definitely neglectful to your poor salad to leave off the protein!

Protein on your salad is like the crowning jewel. It helps keep you full, it makes the salad into a meal, and it makes it interesting, which doesn’t sound like a good reason to eat something – but it is! You don’t want boring food.

You can put any protein onto a salad – eggs, lentils, steak, beans, shrimp, tofu, tempeh. Nuts and cheese, while they’re sources of protein, aren’t what I would consider high-quality proteins like the ones I listed above. If you’re depending on nuts and cheese as proteins in your salad, you’re probably into the 400-600 calorie zone by the time you get your recommended 25 grams of protein for the meal. 4oz of protein in your plain salad will improve your lunch significantly.

It’s like a garbage can

A salad with greens, nuts, cheese, candied fruit, sweet dressing, seeds, avocado, goji berries, meat, and whatever else you find in your kitchen isn’t a salad, it’s a trash can with 1000 calories. Hungry yet? Yes, salads can be super healthy, but let’s be reasonable. Adding 11 fatty or high calorie extras isn’t making your salad any healthier, even if it is technically a salad. I tell people to choose 2 higher-fat options – for example, avocado and goat cheese, in reasonable portions – and leave it at that. Lean protein should always be there, and you’ll need a dressing of some sort, so that should be enough to satisfy.

You stick with the same old same old

If you’re ignoring cool options like kohlrabi, beets (slice em raw!), or purple potatoes, you’re missing out!

Mix those salads up with healthy, lesser-used vegetables in various forms (raw sweet corn is amazing!) to add texture and variety. There’s a ton of heirloom and newer variations of vegetables out there, so keep your mind open when you’re at the store or farmer’s market. And hey – good job with eating those vegetables!

If you want the recipe for the salad that’s the cover photo for this post, it’s here.