5 summer salad recipes for simple everyday lunches

5 summer salad recipes for simple everyday lunches

I often enjoy a little more spontaneity in the summertime. Simple choices like grabbing an impromptu drink on the patio with friends or gathering for a spur-of-the-moment barbecue make for those perfectly long, drawn-out summer days and nights.

This summer, we’re navigating life in a completely new way. Those simple choices are not-so-simple as we weigh the risks of our favorite summer activies during a global pandemic. Spontaneous plans get interrupted by logistics, like placing lawn chairs six feet apart, or waiting for the beach to be less crowded.

Pandemic-related decisions are slowly becoming part of our regular routines, but they still take a toll. Each decision we make throughout the day uses up a small amount our finite amount of mental energy. When I find myself overthinking seemingly small decisions like what to wear today or what to eat for lunch, I know I’m suffering from decision fatigue.

I imagine many of us are struggling with decision fatigue to various degrees this season. The good news is that we can recover some much-needed brain space by minimizing our daily decision-making. Over the years, I’ve collected a few tricks to prevent decision fatigue like adopting a personal uniform, embracing my morning ritual, and eating the same thing for lunch every day.

This summer, that lunch looks like a simple salad. I follow a basic formula of greens + protein + veggie + crunchy topping + dressing and change it up based on what’s in our fridge each week. It might sound boring to some, but with summer’s abundance of produce, leftover grilled chicken, and a few homemade dressings (or simple oil and vinegar) in rotation, I’m always satisfied with my lunch. Plus, never deciding what to eat helps me spend energy elsewhere.

I hope this simple trick might help you find space for the important decisions like where to invest your time and energy and for the fun decisions like which summer read to pick up next. You’ll find more tips on how to make easier decisions, avoid overthinking, and enjoy your summer in my book Don’t Overthink It, a guide to putting aside thoughts that are repetitive, unhealthy, and unhelpful and finding more joy in your life. I certainly didn’t write this book with pandemic life in mind, but I’m so glad to hear from readers who have found it especially helpful during these strange times.

Because I love sharing recipes almost as much as I love sharing book recommendations, here are five summer salad recipes we have on rotation for lunches and side dishes. (When we’re making a meal of these, we often add chickpeas, grilled chicken, or whatever else might be in the fridge to boost the protein factor.)

5 simple salads for lunchtime (or anytime)

1. This simple Everyday Salad from Gimme Some Oven is light, delicious, and pairs well with any protein we happen to have on hand.

2. Don’t underestimate the value of Trader Joe’s salad kits. These have saved me so much time, and they just keep getting better.

3. Deb’s Chopped Salad with Feta, Lime, and Mint is a summer favorite around here, topped with greek-seasoned grilled chicken or roasted chickpeas.

4. This Apple, Dried Cherry, and Walnut Salad with Maple Dressing is another lunchtime favorite. While the recipe, as written, is quite good, we often sub in pears and grapes if we have them handy, and sometimes take the lazy way out by shaking on a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil in lieu of making a vinaigrette.

5. Nothing beats Ina Garten’s Panzanella Salad! I could eat this for every meal, all year round.

Two more salad prep suggestions:

1. Don’t overthink it! Fretting about the details defeats the purpose of a simple lunch. While all these recipes taste amazing when the directions are precisely followed, feel free to use these forgiving recipes as a starting point instead of an iron-clad list of instructions: use what you have, substitute freely, eyeball quantities.

2. Make it pretty. It takes the same amount of time to cut vegetables in a beautiful way as it does to cut them haphazardly—once I knew how to do so. I love this visual guide to giving your veggies an effortless upgrade.

Do you have a favorite summer salad, or a go-to recipe for easy lunches? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

PS: if this post made you hungry, check out our foodie book lists, including 20 fantastic and flavorful food fiction reads and 20 tasty and tantalizing food memoirs. Also, this old post is far from beautiful, but I share my favorite chopped salad recipe right here.

5 summer salad recipes for simple everyday lunches

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28 comments

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  1. I’ve been making up a sort of base salad of lettuce, carrots and cucumbers. I put it in the fridge in a gallon freezer bag. I’ve been trying to keep all natural frozen chicken tenders, some taco meat and deli meat on hand at all times as well. I’ve also got chopped nuts, dried cranberries, wonton strips and bacon bits etc. on hand. (All of this goes on the grocery list like bread or milk now.) That way my people can just rummage around and create whatever they’re in the mood for. Pretty simple and much healthier than some alternatives from the past!

  2. Heather Gillespie says:

    One of my go-to summer salads (which I’m just now realizing I haven’t made yet) includes spinach, strawberries, feta, sliced almonds, and a poppyseed dressing. I’ve been known to add blueberries, Craisins, grilled chicken, or pecans. Thanks for sprucing up my lunches, Anne!

  3. LisaF says:

    For a protein punch to get me through the afternoon, I often eat variations of tuna salad, lightening it up for summertime. My current favorite takes advantage of fresh herbs:
    I mix a packet of tuna with chopped celery, add a mixture of chives, parsley, and tarragon, black pepper, lemon zest, 1 tbsp or less of lemon juice, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, and a little mayonnaise. I like eating it with a nice handful of arugula or spring mix and some toasted naan or even some good crackers crumbled up and sprinkled on top for a welcome crunch.

  4. Kassie Joslin says:

    Two salads I’ve been loving (recipes on Pinterest):
    Strawberry kale salad with lemon honey dressing (I always add sautéed chicken breast) and a Mediterranean grilled chicken salad. I just make the chicken in the skillet. Can’t get enough of them!!

  5. Susan says:

    I found balsamic fried beets make a nice addition to a salad and provides tons of flavor and crunch. They are not low carb, though, so I use them sparingly. Also, I pack my salads in a mason jar, prepping them on the weekend for the week ahead lunches. I bought those tiny mason jars for my dressing. I’ve eaten salads in a jar through the next week and they are still fresh with very little wilting.

  6. Liz Snell says:

    Our biggest salad encouragement is to bring lettuce & greens home from the market (or from the garden), wash & spin immediately, and put into fridge in either bags or containers w a piece of paper towel (or a tea towel). They last the longest this way and are always ready, no skipping the greens because of fussing.

  7. Laura Bailey says:

    I LOVE salad kits. Taylor Farms makes a delicious roasted garlic salad and it is VERY garlic-y (just the way I like it!). Here’s another simple salad you might like:
    Mixed baby greens
    A sprinkle of raw sunflower seeds (or roasted, whatever you like 😉 )
    A sprinkle of blue cheese crumbles
    A palmful of dried cherries
    A drizzle of white balsamic vinaigrette (you can make your own, but there are also good packaged ones you can buy)

  8. Michelle says:

    Since we are empty nesters leftovers and avoiding food waste is a big issue now. I often end up with things I don’t want to toss but aren’t enough for a serving. Chicken (grilled, pulled, taco), ham, and leftover steak gets frozen and saved to top salads at a later date. I’m happy with a salad with lots of veggies, diced egg, maybe some beans and corn, but the hubs is much happier with meat topping a dinner salad. The smaller portions are just right and defrost quickly.

  9. Jan says:

    For a prepared kit the Chopped Sunflower Crunch Kit by Dole is delicious!

    Our current favorite salad:
    romaine lettuce, English cucumbers cut in chunks, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, feta or goat cheese, and I add whatever nuts or seeds I have on hand.

    Top with a LOT of Everything Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe’s (this is the most important step for wonderful flavor!). I make a simple dressing of olive oil with either a good quality white or lemon balsamic vinegar at a 2:1 ratio. Delicious!

  10. Georgia says:

    Hi Anne! I love keeping up with your newsletters. And I’m right there with you on a simple salad lunch 7 x week this summer. My go-to at the moment is this one, by Cookie and Kate. Trader Joe’s sells cooked lentils, which are easy and delicious. I’ve subbed hummus for tahini and capers for sun-dried tomatoes and mint for basil…all variations are delish! xo Georgia

    https://cookieandkate.com/greek-lentil-salad-recipe/

  11. Natalie says:

    These are great tips. Thanks for giving me some fresh ideas for lunch and helping me incorporate more veggies into my diet.

  12. Liz Wine says:

    I have trouble digesting lettuce and have a tomato allergy so I do a lot of salads with black beans or riced cauli as the base!

  13. Julia Elzie says:

    Hello! Our family joined a CSA this year to get some fresh homegrown veggies and support refugee families. It is FABULOUS! My favorite summer salad is a Dorito salad – lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber etc – grill some meat (we use beef) with taco seasoning, use a creamy southwest salad dressing, grate some Monterey Jack cheese, add chopped hardboiled eggs, add tortilla strips or crushed Doritos, mix thoroughly with dressing. Its huge and very filling!

  14. Anna says:

    I don’t have an exact recipe, but in the summer I like to copy a salad that I had at a restaurant. I use whatever greens I have on hand, add canned mandarin oranges, fresh strawberries and raspberries, and grilled chicken breasts. Sprinkle with sliced almonds or other nuts, and use your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

  15. Megan says:

    Thank you for these recipes! My favorites this summer have been from Oh She Glows: chickpea salad (delicious on a bed of greens or wrapped in a leaf of Swiss chard) and long weekend grilled salad (just made it today even though it isn’t the weekend, topped with avocado). So grateful for our CSA!

  16. La Buice says:

    For years I have received a weekly email from the amazing Dr. Ann of Charleston, SC, who stresses how very important your diet is to your health. She, too, swears by eating a salad every day and gives the four basic components (greens, fruits/veggies, herbs / seeds, and only plant based protein for lunch for several reasons) of a salad with suggestions in each. I have learned so much from her and am healthier than I’ve been in years! She stresses variety also so I’m glad to get these recipes. Thanks!

  17. Naomi says:

    I do a base of lettuce and then add all fruit to the salad using whatever we have.. peaches, apples, oranges, berries. I’ll add hard boiled eggs or salmon for a protein along with a balsamic dressing. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but both my husband and I love it.

  18. Ginger says:

    Someone gave me one of these a few years ago at Christmas and it was the salad prep item I didn’t know I needed. https://amzn.to/2BAoxIC I love a fine fine fine chopped salad, so the dressing gets on every tiny bite, so I’ll toss all my ingredients in a stainless steel bowl, and go to town with this little chopper. Bonus: a good arm workout plus a restaurant-quality pile of greens.

  19. Jennifer says:

    In the summer, we attempt to grill every night and make a practice of throwing on extra protein and veg for leftover lunch salads. I also keep leftover grains (farro, quinoa, rice) in fridge or freezer.

    Favorite combos include leftover steak + asparagus + mango with greens; shrimp + watermelon + arugula; quinoa + corn + black beans + cotija. I also love Ina Garten’s Greek panzanella. And a good fattoush riff—tomatoes, cukes, torn and toasted pita, lettuce & feta.

  20. Stefanie says:

    Costco has these cilantro lime shrimp (cooked) that I use as the protein for salads for that week. They are delish and easy to just chop and put on top. I don’t go to Costco every week so it’s like the treat for that week!

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