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.