10 Protein-Packed Salads That Will Actually Keep You Full
We love salads for what they offer nutritionally: multiple servings of vegetables, along with all the vitamins and fiber that come with such healthy choices. But salads have a reputation for being boring, and given the unassuming side salads we grew up with, we get it. We also happen to love salads for being pleasurable meals unto themselves. Great salads are harmonious in nature: myriad flavors, textures, and temperatures working together for appealing results. Even in a world full of pizza and tacos, a terrific, high protein salad can easily rival those options for some of our favorite meals.
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Adding protein is a great way to turn any salad into the kind of hearty meal that has real staying power, giving you focus and energy throughout your day. (And who even says that meal has to be lunch or dinner?) As with any memorable salad, the approach to adding protein need not be programmatic or uninspired: many salads don’t just rely on a straightforward topping of grilled salmon or chicken, though there’s nothing wrong with either of those. Protein sources for interesting salads need not be limited to just animal protein, either. Here are 12 creative, protein-packed salads for hearty meals at any time of day.
1. Poached Egg & Avocado Breakfast Salad
There’s something about the idea of eating salad for breakfast that really sets the tone for a go-get-’em kind of day. A perfectly poached egg has the superpower of always making a meal feel decadent while simultaneously being a superfood itself, as it’s stacked with protein and nutrients, and is made without any added fat. Here it tops a superfood salad combo including arugula, avocado, and quinoa — also a great source of protein. For an even stronger nutrient boost and a little fancy-feeling zhuzz, top with a sprinkle of antioxidant-packed micro greens.
2. Mediterranean Chopped Salad with Lemon Garlic Shrimp
Shrimp is a terrific protein option for salads because it’s basically already bite-sized, and quite literally cooks in a flash of the pan. For this salad, shrimp gets the lemon-garlic treatment for maximum flavor and is added to an equally flavorful Mediterranean-inspired salad packed with vegetables, chickpeas, and herbs. We love the shrimp in this high protein salad recipe, but if you don’t have any on hand, you could always replace with chicken breast — it would be fantastic in this marinade as well.
3. BBQ Seitan Salad
Seitan is a vegan protein made from wheat gluten, and it’s now readily available even in conventional supermarkets, but it’s also very easy (and satisfying) to make seitan yourself. You can flip the script on the very idea of barbecue when you enjoy it in salad form — it turns out that barbecue doesn’t have to be a meat coma-inspiring dish after all. Zingy and robust, this seitan salad joins forces with protein powerhouse black beans to make a super-filling dish, but for even more color and flavor, you could add some skillet-seared fajita vegetables like strips of orange bell pepper and red onion.
4. Thai-Inspired Beef Salad
Thai food is notably balanced in flavor, simultaneously hitting salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and umami notes. In salad form, with crunchy veggies, tangy dressing, and marinated skirt steak, it’s a taste and texture sensation. Nobody brings iron to the party quite like red meat — and speaking of parties, this salad is brilliant enough to entertain with. We’d replace the vegetable oil with avocado oil, which has a similarly high smoke point, but is much higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and lower in inflammation-causing unsaturated fat. Similarly, we’d swap the brown sugar in this recipe for honey, which has a lower GI value and some seriously powerful antioxidants.
5. Peach Salad with Grilled Basil Chicken and White Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette
Grilled chicken breast probably gets the award for “most versatile” where adding protein to salads is concerned. For its effort, doesn’t it deserve something a little more original than your typical lettuce/cucumbers/cherry tomatoes format? Here, a bed of spring greens plays host to a true VIP: Very Inspiring Peach. Fruit belongs in green salad as much as it belongs in fruit salad, full stop. If peach season isn’t in full swing yet, feel free to get creative with your fruit: sliced apples, nectarines, or blueberries would also be beautiful here.
6. Kale Salmon Salad with Mozzarella Cheese
Canned fish can be just as good a source of protein as fresh fish, along with a convenience factor that fresh fish can never aspire to (and at a much lower price point). We admit that salmon is a usual suspect for salads, but here it gets some especially jazzy salad-mates in kale, fennel, and mozzarella — itself a great source of protein — and the whole affair comes together with a lively, citrusy dressing for a meal that is anything but usual. This recipe is already protein-packed, but for added crunch factor and a little natural sweetness, some lightly toasted pecans would be delightful here.
7. Turkey Burger Salad
Proof that burritos aren’t the only food that can be cleverly reimagined in bowl form, there’s so much to love about this turkey burger salad, from the mini air-fried turkey burger patties to a gastropub-inspired dressing made from buttermilk and sun dried tomatoes. In place of the mayo the recipe calls for, you could easily swap 2% Greek yogurt or grape seed oil Vegenaise for a healthier spin. This is a bowl full of fun burger toppings like avocado and goat cheese, and just a small smattering of croutons so the bun doesn’t feel too left out. However, if you’re avoiding refined grains and still want a little crunch factor, a handful of spicy, baked chickpeas make a great substitute.
8. Tuna Salad with Arugula, Celery, Roasted Pepper, and Herbs
Salade niçoise is already a terrific, protein-packed salad, but here it takes a slight detour through Greece for a fresh, extra-flavorful take. Arugula and celery provide a snappy base, fresh herbs amp up the flavor, and the briny notes of niçoise are met by capers and marinated peppers to kick things up a notch. This is an excellent high protein salad recipe on its own, but if you want to make it a bit more filling, feel free to throw in a half-cup of cooked quinoa or wild rice for a heartier meal.
9. Falafel Salad
We love this deconstructed salad approach to eating falafel. A tahini-based dressing is redolent with falafel flavor with an assist from traditional spices like cumin and cayenne, and a big hit of lemon juice. Meanwhile, protein-rich chickpeas join forces with bulgur, tomato, and herbs for a salad that proves greens are in no way mandatory for a memorable (and healthful) salad. In fact, cilantro and parsley contain tons of vitamins A, C, and K, so when you eat them in large quantities like this — rather than just as a garnish — you’re enjoying plenty of the same benefits you get from nutrient-dense lettuces, but with more concentrated flavor.
10. High Protein Vegan Salad
This recipe author has even gone so far to just call it like it is with the name “High Protein Vegan Salad.” Fortunately, it also happens to be inspired and flavorful, with protein coming from multiple sources: tofu, quinoa, sweet potato, green peas, and even a peanut butter-based dressing. For those who eat meat, this salad would also be fantastic with leftover rotisserie chicken in place of the tofu, if you happen to have some on hand.
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