What to Serve with a Salad as The Main Dish

When you’re planning a meal with salad as the main dish, it’s essential to think about how to create a satisfying, well-rounded experience that leaves everyone feeling full and happy. Salads can be so much more than just lettuce and dressing; they can become a canvas for countless meal possibilities that are both delicious and nutritious.

To turn your salad into a main dish, you’ll need to consider the right balance of ingredients, including proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates, and flavorful accents. With so many options to choose from, creating a nourishing and appetizing salad-based meal is easier than ever.

Key Takeaways

  • Balance proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates for a satisfying salad main dish
  • Use fresh ingredients and creative combinations for a variety of flavors
  • Consider dietary needs and preferences for personalized, healthy meal options
Copycat Olive Garden Salad

Understanding Salads as a Main Dish

When you think of a salad, the image of a side dish or appetizer might come to mind. However, salads can also be the star of your meal when they are made to be the main dish. Main dish salads offer a nutritious and healthy option for a satisfying meal. They can be filling and delicious, with a wide range of flavors and textures.

To create a main dish salad that will leave you feeling full and satisfied, it’s important to include a variety of nutrients. Start with a base of leafy greens which are packed with vitamins and minerals. Add a mix of colorful vegetables and fruits for additional vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Don’t forget to include a source of protein, such as lean meats, legumes, or tofu, to provide the necessary amino acids for building and repairing body tissues as well as for overall body function. Finally, incorporate a healthy fat source like avocado, nuts, or seeds to help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins and keep you feeling full longer.

Variety is key when it comes to main dish salads. Try different combinations of ingredients to keep things interesting and ensure that your meal is both tasty and nutritionally balanced. Experiment with different types of greens, such as spinach, kale, or arugula, and use a mix of raw and cooked vegetables for added texture. Make sure your salad includes a wide range of colors, as each color provides different health benefits and creates an appealing visual presentation.

To enhance the flavor profile of your main dish salad, use herbs and spices in your dressing or as additional ingredients. This will not only make your salad more appetizing but also provide extra health benefits, as many herbs and spices have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Be mindful of the dressings and toppings you use; opt for homemade dressings with a base of olive oil and vinegar rather than store-bought versions, which can be high in calories and unhealthy fats. Limit high-calorie toppings such as croutons and large amounts of cheese.

In conclusion, a main dish salad can be a nutritious and satisfying option for a meal. By including a variety of nutrients and experimenting with different ingredients and flavors, you can create delicious and healthy salads that will keep you coming back for more.

Choosing the Right Protein

When planning a salad as the main dish, it’s crucial to include a protein that pairs well with the other ingredients and satisfies your hunger. Here are several options to consider for a fulfilling and delicious salad.

Chicken is a versatile choice that can be grilled, baked, or poached. It complements different flavors and textures, from leafy greens to crunchy vegetables or nuts. For a classic combination, try adding sliced grilled chicken to a Cobb or Caesar salad.

Beef is another protein option that can be served cold or warm in your main dish salad. Thinly sliced steak, cooked to your preferred level of doneness, works well in a mixed greens salad with bold flavors like blue cheese and caramelized onions.

Seafood, including tuna, shrimp, or salmon, adds unique flavors and textures to the salad. For example, you can mix flaked tuna with a leafy green base, bell pepper, and a light mustard-based dressing. Alternatively, grilled shrimp can be paired with avocado and mango for a tropical twist.

Don’t overlook vegetarian protein options like eggs or plant-based proteins such as tofu or tempeh. A simple hard-boiled egg is a delicious and nutrient-rich addition to any salad. In contrast, crispy tofu works well with Asian-inspired flavors like sesame dressing and edamame.

Ham and turkey are not only for sandwiches. These cold cuts can easily enhance a salad when rolled, sliced, and layered with other ingredients such as cheese and veggies. Utilize these proteins in a chef’s salad, augmented with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and a creamy ranch dressing.

Lastly, bacon in any form – crumbled, chopped, or whole – adds a smoky flavor profile and a crisp texture to your main dish salad. It pairs especially well with spinach, avocado, and blue cheese.

Remember to get creative with your protein choices for your salad main dish. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different ingredients to create your preferred balance of flavors and textures. By selecting the right protein, you’ll elevate your main dish salad to the next level.

Incorporating Fresh Vegetables

When it comes to creating a salad as a main dish, incorporating a variety of fresh vegetables is key for both taste and nutrition. An array of veggies ensures that your meal will be satisfying, while also providing essential vitamins and minerals.

Tomatoes are a classic choice that provide a burst of flavor and color; mix different varieties like cherry, heirloom, and roma to add texture. Onions add a tangy crunch, and you can experiment with yellow, white, red, or green depending on your preference. Corn, whether on the cob or off, is a sweet and juicy addition. Don’t be afraid to try lesser-used vegetables, such as jicama, bok choy, or kohlrabi!

Carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers are all delicious choices for adding crunch and nutrients. You can easily slice or dice these veggies and mix them in raw, but you might also consider roasting them beforehand for a deeper flavor. Mushrooms and Brussels sprouts are other veggies that benefit from roasting, as it helps to bring out their natural flavors.

Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and arugula are a great base for your salad. A generous spinach salad is not only tasty, but it also packs a punch of iron. Mixing different greens together adds variety and complexity in both taste and appearance.

Edamame can provide plant-based protein in your salad, amping up its nutritional value. Consider adding beans or legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils, for additional protein and texture.

No matter the combination of vegetables you choose, remember to use fresh, in-season produce to ensure the best flavor possible. Enjoy the process of building your salad by incorporating an array of colorful and nutritious vegetables. Your taste buds and your body will thank you.

The Importance of Flavor

When crafting a salad as the main dish, it’s essential to consider the importance of flavor. As the star of your meal, you want your salad to be both delicious and satisfying. To achieve this, combining various flavorful elements can make your meal feel more substantial and enjoyable.

A key factor in creating flavorful salads is the use of fresh ingredients. Incorporating ingredients like garlic, lime, cilantro, and lemon juice can elevate the taste of your salad and impart a refreshing zest. Don’t be afraid to experiment with various combinations and quantities to find your personal taste preferences.

Additionally, harmonizing flavors can enhance your salad’s complexity and appeal. Balance different flavor profiles like sweet, salty, sour, and spicy to create a multidimensional taste experience. For example, you can add a hint of sweetness with fruits or honey, counter with spicy peppers or aromatic herbs, and finish with a tangy, tangy dressing like lemon juice or vinegar.

Here are a few flavor-enhancing ingredients to consider:

  • Herbs: experiment with fresh basil, mint, dill, or parsley for a burst of garden-fresh aroma.
  • Spices: season your salad with flavorful spices, such as Cajun, Italian, or curry blends, for a unique twist.
  • Cheeses: crumbled feta, blue cheese, or goat cheese add creaminess and depth of flavor.

Ultimately, by focusing on the importance of flavor, you can create main dish salads that excite and satisfy your taste buds. Keep exploring different ingredients and combinations to discover the perfect symphony of flavors for your next salad main course.

Including Carbohydrates

When planning a salad as your main dish, it’s essential to include carbohydrates to round out the meal and keep you feeling satisfied. Carbohydrates should be balanced with the other components of the salad, such as vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Here are some popular carbohydrate options that you can consider adding to your salad:

Bread: Adding a slice of whole-grain bread on the side or incorporating croutons into the salad can provide a satisfying crunch. You can also opt for pita, flatbread, or a whole grain roll for a more filling addition.

Rice: Rice is a versatile carb option that you can easily mix into your salad. Brown rice, with its nutty flavor and chewy texture, is a healthier alternative to white rice. It contains more fiber and nutrients, making it a great choice to blend with your salad ingredients.

Quinoa: This protein-packed pseudo-grain is a perfect choice for a main dish salad. Its fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor make it ideal for pairing with various dressings and flavors. Simply prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions and toss it with your salad.

Pasta: Including pasta in your salad can add bulk and satisfying chewiness. Choose whole-grain pasta for added nutrients and fiber. You can combine cooked pasta with fresh, crisp vegetables, and your choice of protein, such as grilled chicken or shrimp.

Whole grains: Including whole grains like farro, barley, or bulgur in your main dish salad can contribute to a more well-rounded meal. Cook the grains according to the package instructions and mix them into your salad to add nutritional value and satisfying texture.

Remember to balance the carbohydrate portion with the other components of your salad, and be mindful of portion sizes. Including a variety of carbohydrate options in your main dish salads will keep your meals interesting, flavorful, and satisfying.

Adding Dairy Accents

Adding dairy accents to your salad can elevate the dish and provide a richer, more satisfying flavor experience. Cheese is a popular addition to many salads, giving texture and a creamy taste to contrast with crisp vegetables. Feta cheese is a classic choice for salads, as its tangy, salty flavor works well in combination with greens, tomatoes, and olives. Crumble feta cheese on top of your salad for a touch of Mediterranean flair.

Cheddar cheese is another versatile option you can cube or shred, adding a milder, nutty taste to your salad. Cheddar pairs well with ingredients such as apples, nuts, and bacon, making it an excellent choice for a hearty main course salad.

For a lighter dairy accent, consider adding a dollop of yogurt to your salad. This can be especially beneficial if you want to create a creamy dressing without the heaviness of mayonnaise. Simply combine yogurt with herbs, spices, and a splash of vinegar or lemon juice for a tangy, refreshing dressing.

When incorporating dairy into your salad, be mindful of the overall balance of flavors and textures. Too much dairy may overwhelm other ingredients and create an overly rich dish. To ensure a harmonious blend of flavors and textures, remember these key points:

  • Use a variety of cheeses to add interest.
  • Be cautious with the quantity of dairy added to avoid overpowering the salad.
  • Experiment with different dairy products, such as yogurt or even cottage cheese, for unique tastes and textures.

Incorporating dairy accents into your main dish salad can add depth, creaminess, and complexity, creating a satisfying and enjoyable meal.

Incorporating Fruits and Nuts

When creating a salad as the main dish, incorporating fruits and nuts can greatly enhance the flavor and texture of your meal. These additions bring a variety of tastes and crunchiness that blend well with salad greens, making it enjoyable and satisfying to eat.

Olives and avocado are fantastic additions to salads, providing healthy fats to your dish. Olives, whether black or green, deliver a salty, tangy flavor that can complement the natural taste of leafy greens. Avocado, on the other hand, brings a creamy texture and a subtle nutty taste to the salad.

Incorporating fruit in your salad not only adds a burst of natural sweetness, it also introduces vibrant colors to your meal. Some popular fruits to include are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, orange segments, and apple slices. These fruits can be used individually or in combination to achieve different flavors. To create a more balanced taste, you can add a hint of acidity with lemon or lime juice.

Nuts and seeds elevate the texture and nutritional value of your main-dish salad. Options such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or sunflower and pumpkin seeds, deliver a layer of crunchiness that is both satisfying and enriching. Additionally, these elements provide essential nutrients, such as protein and fiber, helping you feel full after eating.

When incorporating fruits and nuts in your salad, feel free to experiment with different combinations to find the one that suits your taste buds. This way, you can confidently serve a delightful and nutritious salad as the main dish.

Exploring Main Dish Possibilities

When you’re serving a salad as the main dish, you’ll want to ensure that the accompanying dish complements the flavors and textures. Here are some tasty options that pair well with various salads:

Pizza: A classic favorite, pizza offers endless possibilities for toppings, allowing you to customize it to pair perfectly with your main salad. Opt for a lighter pizza, like margherita or veggie, to keep the meal balanced.

Quiche: This versatile dish can be served hot or cold, making it an ideal pairing for salads. Choose a quiche with complementary flavors, such as spinach and feta or caramelized onion and Gruyère.

Stew: A hearty, warming choice for colder months, stews pair well with green salads. Consider a slow-cooked beef and vegetable stew or a rich Moroccan chickpea and butternut squash stew.

Risotto: A creamy, comforting side dish, risotto works harmoniously with leafy salads. Tomato and basil risotto or a lemon and asparagus version make great companions for your main dish salad.

Ratatouille: This French vegetable medley is a vibrant addition to any salad-focused meal. The combination of eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and tomatoes adds a burst of flavor and color to the plate.

Shepherd’s Pie: A classic comfort food, shepherd’s pie is a savory choice to serve alongside your salad. Opt for a vegetarian version with lentils and mushrooms to keep the meal lighter.

Paella: A Spanish dish centered on rice, paella brings a mixture of flavors and textures that create a great contrast with your salad. A seafood or vegetable paella would be an excellent choice.

Hamburgers: For a casual, cookout vibe, serve your salad with juicy hamburgers. Offer a variety of toppings like avocado, grilled onions, or mushrooms to enhance the experience.

Tacos: Let your guests customize their meal by offering a build-your-own taco bar alongside your main dish salad. Offer a mix of protein options such as grilled chicken, steak, or roasted vegetables.

Enchiladas: Add some spice to your meal with enchiladas. Choose from options like chicken, beef, or vegetable-filled enchiladas, and top with a mild, tangy tomatillo sauce.

Lasagna: For Italian-inspired fare, opt for lasagna as your accompanying dish. A hearty vegetable lasagna or a light spinach and ricotta version both enhance the salad-centered meal.

By considering the flavors and textures of these main dish options, you can create a well-balanced, satisfying meal for your guests that showcases the salad as the star.

Creating Complementary Side Dishes

When crafting the perfect meal with a salad as the main dish, it’s essential to consider complementary side dishes that will elevate your dining experience. There are several options you can explore to enhance the flavors and textures, while keeping the overall meal balanced and enjoyable.

A warm and comforting soup can be the perfect companion to your salad. Tomato soup, for instance, provides a rich, savory contrast to the freshness of the salad greens. Its tangy and slightly sweet taste pairs well with most salad dressings. Plus, the velvety texture of the soup is a pleasant contrast to the crisp texture of the salad.

Another excellent option is chili, which adds a hearty and satisfying element to your meal. The bold flavors and robust spices of chili can provide a welcome contrast to the lighter, more delicate taste of the salad. Combining the two dishes strikes a balance between richness and freshness, creating a truly memorable dining experience.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your side dishes. Pickled vegetables are a fantastic addition to a salad-centric meal, as they offer a tangy and slightly acidic component that helps cleanse the palate. Pair your pickled cucumbers, carrots, or radishes with the salad to add a bit of zing to every bite.

Lastly, consider a classic like macaroni and cheese to round out your meal. The creamy, cheesy goodness is an indulgent contrast to the healthier main dish. While being satisfying and filling, it still allows your salad to shine as the star of your meal.

By selecting side dishes that complement your salad main dish, you can create a balanced meal that is both satisfying and delicious. Whether it’s a comforting bowl of soup, a robust portion of chili, tangy pickled vegetables, or indulgent macaroni and cheese, make sure to choose side dishes that will enhance the overall dining experience, showcasing your salad in the best possible light.

Salad Dressings and Toppings

When serving a salad as the main dish, the dressings and toppings you choose can elevate the meal and satisfy your guests’ cravings. Here are some options to consider.

A classic salad dressing is always a safe bet, such as a simple vinaigrette made with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. You can also experiment with different vinegars, like balsamic or red wine vinegar, to change up the flavor profile.

Tahini sauce is a popular choice in Middle Eastern cuisine and can be a delicious, creamy alternative to a traditional dressing. This sesame seed-based paste is often combined with lemon juice, garlic, and water to create a perfect accompaniment for your salad.

For something with a Mediterranean flair, try a Greek salad dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, and oregano. This dressing pairs wonderfully with a variety of vegetables, cheeses, and olives.

When it comes to toppings, the sky’s the limit. You can add protein options, like black beans or grilled chicken, to create a more filling and hearty meal. Roasted vegetables or fruits can also add flavor and texture to your salad.

If you’re going for an Italian-inspired dish, you might consider making a panzanella salad. This typically includes chunks of stale bread, ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh basil, all tossed together with a light vinaigrette.

To elevate your salad even further, you can customize your toppings and mix-ins. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Cheeses: crumbled feta, goat cheese, shaved parmesan, blue cheese
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios
  • Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds
  • Fruits: sliced apples, pears, berries, dried cranberries, raisins
  • Proteins: grilled chicken, tofu, shrimp, salmon, black beans

With these dressings and toppings ideas, you can create delicious and satisfying salads that can easily serve as the main course for any meal. Happy eating!

Special Dietary Considerations

When planning your salad-centric main dish, it’s important to take into account any special dietary needs you or your guests may have. Some common dietary restrictions include vegan and keto-friendly diets. In this section, we will address how to create a satisfying meal that accommodates these requirements.

For a vegan crowd, it’s essential to avoid using any animal-derived ingredients. Swap out dairy dressings for plant-based alternatives like tahini or avocado-based dressings. Replace traditional proteins like chicken and eggs with plant-based options such as chickpeas, tofu, or tempeh. Adding a variety of fruits and veggies, along with nuts and seeds, can also provide a satisfying and nutrient-dense vegan meal.

On the other hand, if you’re catering to a keto-friendly diet, focus on low-carb ingredients. Prioritize leafy greens and vegetables with a low glycemic index, such as spinach, kale, and cauliflower. Choose healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds, as well as high-quality proteins such as grilled chicken, salmon, or hard-boiled eggs. Avoid fruits high in sugar, like grapes or pineapple, and stick to berries for a touch of sweetness.

Regardless of the dietary restrictions, variety is key. Serve a colorful array of produce with different textures to make your salad visually appealing and diverse in taste. Experiment with flavor combinations, like bitter arugula with sweet strawberries, or create contrast with crunchy fennel paired with tender greens.

Always remember to respect the dietary needs of your guests and ensure that your salad main dish is not only nutritious but delicious for everyone. When hosting a meal for those with different diets, you can consider creating separate but complementary salads that cater to each diet without compromising the overall experience. The key is to use fresh, flavorful ingredients that leave everyone feeling satisfied and nourished.

Health Benefits of Salad as a Main Dish

Eating a salad as a main dish can provide numerous health benefits to your body. First and foremost, salads are packed with vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining good health. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or lettuce are rich in vitamin A, C, and K, while colorful vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers supply an abundance of vitamins A and C.

A salad as a main dish offers you a great way to increase your daily fiber intake. Consuming enough fiber is crucial for optimal digestion and helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Fiber-rich ingredients that can be added to your salad include beans, lentils, and whole grains.

A major advantage of choosing salad as a main dish is that it can help you consume fewer calories without feeling hungry. The high water and fiber content in most vegetables contribute to a feeling of fullness, decreasing your chances of eating unhealthy snacks between meals.

In addition to the nutritional benefits, salads offer an easy way to incorporate variety into your diet. By mixing and matching different vegetables, fruits, and protein sources, you can create a wide range of flavors and textures to keep your taste buds satisfied. This variety not only enhances your eating experience but also ensures that you receive a broader spectrum of nutrients.

Lastly, consuming salads as a main dish may reduce the risk of chronic diseases. The antioxidants found in vegetables work to protect your cells from damage, and studies have shown that regular consumption of salads can play a role in preventing conditions such as heart disease and certain types of cancer.

By making salad the star of your meal, you can enjoy a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying dining experience that benefits your overall well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What protein options pair well with a main dish salad?

You have various protein options to choose from to enhance your salad, such as:

  • Grilled or baked chicken breasts
  • Boiled or poached eggs
  • Smoked salmon or tuna
  • Shrimp or other seafood
  • Sliced steak
  • Tofu or tempeh for vegan options

Remember to season your protein choices well for a flavorful salad.

Which grains can complement a salad as the main course?

Adding grains to your salad can add a satisfying texture and make it more filling. Consider these grains to incorporate:

  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Brown rice
  • Barley

Make sure to cook and season the grains accordingly before adding them to your salad.

What are some satisfying side dishes to serve with a salad?

To make your salad-focused meal more diverse, you can serve side dishes like:

  • Crusty bread or a baguette for dipping in a soup, sauce, or dressing
  • Warm or cold soup, depending on the season
  • Grilled or roasted vegetables for added flavor and color
  • Stuffed mushrooms or mini quiches

Choose side dishes that complement the flavors and textures of your salad.

What types of cheeses can be added to a hearty main dish salad?

Cheeses can add a creamy and rich component to your salad. Here are some suggestions:

  • Goat cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Blue cheese
  • Aged cheddar
  • Gruyere
  • Fresh mozzarella

Select the cheese that best suits the other flavors in your salad.

Which dressings are best for a main course salad?

Pairing your salad with the right dressing can elevate the entire dish. Consider these dressing options:

  • Vinaigrettes for a light and tangy taste
  • Creamy dressings, like ranch or blue cheese, for richness
  • Tahini-based dressings for a nutty flavor
  • Pesto or chimichurri sauce for a herby touch

Always taste-test the dressing with your salad to ensure a good match.

What vegetarian options can be added to make a salad a filling main dish?

Create a satisfying, plant-based main dish salad by including ingredients like:

  • Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, or kidney beans
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds
  • Avocado for a creamy texture
  • Roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash
  • Whole grains: quinoa, barley, or couscous

Choose the vegetarian options that best align with the flavors of your salad, and enjoy your filling main dish.

Copycat Olive Garden Salad

What to Serve with a Salad as The Main Dish

Here's a recipe for a delicious and hearty Farro Salad:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 23 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 244 kcal


  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 small red onion diced
  • 2 cups arugula


  • Rinse the farro and place it in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the farro is tender.
  • Drain any excess water from the farro and transfer it to a large bowl.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, Dijon mustard, and black pepper to make the dressing.
  • Pour the dressing over the farro and toss to coat.
  • Add the chopped parsley, mint, feta cheese, walnuts, dried cranberries, and red onion to the bowl and toss to combine.
  • Serve the farro salad on a bed of arugula.


Calories: 244kcal
Keyword what to serve with salad
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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