You are here

How to turn your leafy green mix into a power-packed meal 

THE EXPERT: Chelsea Burkart is a sports dietitian for Texas State athletics.

When choosing a large plate of greens for a main course, salad lovers of the world should remember: Lettuce alone does not a meal make. Of course, it starts with the greens — romaine, spinach, arugula, take your pick — but a well-rounded dish that can carry you through lunch or dinner calls for a hearty assortment of ingredients. Texas State sports dietitian Chelsea Burkart reminds her student-athletes of this often and offers one primary rule of thumb. To qualify as a meal, she says, a salad must have three components: protein, carbohydrates and color.



Whether you’re going for a taco salad or a chef salad, options abound for protein-packed foods that can enhance your meal.    

• CHICKEN, STEAK OR GROUND BEEF | Burkart recommends her student-athletes buy and prepare chicken in bulk to use not only on salads but also in pasta and sandwiches.  

• FISH | Salmon, a popular salad addition, is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, good for fighting inflammation.  

• NUTS AND SEEDS  | These provide fiber, calcium, vitamin E and healthy fat — and bring a nice crunch to your salad. Consider nuts such as almonds, peanuts, pecans or walnuts, and seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower.  

• BEANS | Black beans, edamame and other types of beans play a dual role in a salad — they’re a carbohydrate source, too.  





“Athletes’ primary source of fuel is carbohydrates,” Burkart says. “A lot of times, student-athletes will have a salad for lunch that has color and protein, but they’re missing a carbohydrate.”   

• QUINOA OR WILD RICE | These grains may not be the most common salad toppers, but Burkart swears by them for their carb-carrying attributes. Cook the quinoa or wild rice ahead of time and save the leftovers for later.  

• FRUITS | While not as carbohydrate-dense as the grains, fruits such as dried cranberries, strawberries or blueberries offer plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as a sprinkle of sweetness.  



“Oftentimes, foods of similar color provide similar vitamins or minerals,” Burkart says. “I try to challenge athletes to have at least three colors in their salad. If they can have more, that’s awesome.”   

• VEGETABLES | The easiest way to add more color to your salad is by chopping up veggies and tossing them on top. Bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots are just a few popular favorites.   


Don’t forget the dressing. Burkart recommends topping your salad with an oil-based dressing, which will have more of the healthy unsaturated fats than the saturated fats common in creamy dressings. For those hesitant to part with their ranch, she suggests a culinary compromise: Consider mixing it with a vinaigrette.



About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.