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Friday, January 8, 2021

A Week's Worth of Three-Minute Salads

I go through about 3 quarts of a lettuce and
veggie blend each week for my lunches

I have a large salad for lunch as often as I can. I love the freshness, the flavors, and the way my body feels after I've eaten. I feel fueled without feeling weighed down. But, as I mentioned earlier this week, I'm a busy person and don't want to take more than 3 or 4 minutes out of my day to make my lunch.

I thought today I'd show you what my meal-prepped salads look like for a week. But before I do, I wanted to share my cost comparison of bagged salad blends and doing that prep-work myself.

A medium head of iceberg lettuce weighs about 19 oz, and this winter is selling for 40 cents a head at my local Walmart. So, that's about 34 cents per pound. Carrots sell for about 69 cents per pound in a 5-lb bag and cabbage has been priced at 40 cents/pound for green and 88 cents/pound for red, all at my local Walmart.

A couple of shelves over, the 12-oz bag of Marketside Classic Iceberg Salad blend (iceberg lettuce, carrots, red cabbage) is priced at $1.48. (That's $1.97 per pound.) If I put together my own salad blend from a head of iceberg lettuce, some carrots and cabbage, I estimate my cost at about 45 cents per pound.

The bagged salad blend offers great convenience. However, making a salad doesn't take much finesse or expertise. Some foods take a great deal of experience in order to do a good job in their preparation, like croissants or Beef Wellington. But salad is easy. Tearing lettuce is a job that we give to children. So, the convenience is in time-savings. To make a salad, I would need to get out the cutting board and a good knife, wash and chop some lettuce, peel and dice a carrot, wash and shred a little cabbage, then clean up my mess. So, that's where bagged salads make their sale. If I have a salad every day of the week for lunch, then I am going through this process 5 times in a week.

On the other hand, I don't need to go through the process 5 times in a week to have salad 5 days in a week. Making 4 or 5 days' worth of salads, all in one go, doesn't take that much more time than making 1 day's worth of salad. Getting out the cutting board and knife take the exact same amount of time. Washing a head of lettuce and head of cabbage takes exactly the same amount of time whether I'm using the entire head or part of a head. Cleaning up my mess takes exactly the same amount of time. The part that takes extra time is chopping more lettuce  -- an extra couple of minutes. Same with the cabbage. Peeling and dicing two carrots instead of one will take an extra few minutes, too. But that's it on the extra time for prepping a basic salad blend that will last me all week.

When I was just beginning with meal prep, I started with prepping salads and chopped onions and minced garlic. These were the items that gave me the most bang for my buck. Just a little extra work, but a lot of time saved. And the payoff was that I could have a large salad as my lunch everyday if I wanted, even on the days when I was steeped in a project or course assignment, or even if I was away from the house.

Of course, a main-dish salad is much more than lettuce, carrots, and cabbage. I also keep items like olives, raisins, nuts & seeds, shredded cheese, hard-boiled eggs, cooked grains, canned veggies, avocados, cooked beans, bacon bits, and canned tuna for quickly adding to a salad. If I were to just eat the lettuce/cabbage/carrot combo, I'd call these 30-second salads -- 30 seconds to grab a fork. I estimate that I spend between 3 and 4 minutes quickly throwing ingredients onto the salad blend base. Dressings are almost always super simple -- oil, vinegar and seasonings poured directly onto the salad. Occasionally I mix 2 ingredients in a small dish to make a simple dressing (like the salsa and mayo below). So, on average, a three-minute salad.

Although I like to prep my salad ingredients, I also like the flexibility of waiting to see what I want to add to a salad just before the lunch hour. So, I prep the basic blend and dice one or two vegetables (as part of the rest of my dinner prep) in advance, and the add-ins come from the fridge, freezer and pantry at the last minute. 

I store the basic salad blends in quart-size canning jars and the extra diced veggies are stored in a large plastic container. The lettuce is the most fragile of all of the salad ingredients, keeping for about 5 days.

So what was in my three-minute salads this week?

Monday-- lettuce, carrots, celery, cabbage, boiled egg, raisins, sunflower seeds, olives, shredded cheese, vinaigrette dressing, and oyster crackers plus a pre-prepped beet/apple/spinach juice drink

Tuesday -- lettuce, carrots, cabbage, celery, rice, boiled egg, cheese, sunflower seeds, Mexican seasoning powder, oil & vinegar

Wednesday -- lettuce, carrots, cabbage, celery, cheese, sunflower seeds, ham cracklins' (like bacon bits), olives, oil & vinegar, pretzels on the side

Thursday -- lettuce, carrots, celery, cabbage, olives, cheese, sunflower seeds, mayo/salsa dressing, toasted corn tortilla (toasted in the toaster while adding ingredients to salad)

It's early-early on Friday morning, so too soon to know what will top today's salad. Maybe some canned tuna, cheese, canned green beans, and olives, dressed simply with mayo. Yum! I can hardly wait.

What's your go-to weekday lunch? What are your favorite salad toppings?


  1. Your lunches look really good-just my kind of fare. We do buy bag salads from Costco. They are not cheap, but the carnivores in the family really like them (they are quite good, better than any I've gotten elsewhere) and that is one way they will eat something green. They are organic and have added ingredients like dried cherries, feta cheese, fried onions, almonds. We could put them together more cheaply, but the men in the family will actually go out and buy salads and eat them, I'm going to leave it alone for now.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I do love my lunchtime salads.
      Those bagged salads from Costco sound delicious. And they work within your budget, so that's great!

      Have a great weekend, Live and Learn.

  2. I’ve rediscovered my Tupperware containers. I have a low circular one , maybe for cupcakes. It’s big and holds a lot of romaine or head lettuce in my fridge. I wash large quantities of the lettuce and it makes the creation of salads so easy during the week. I also like you prep a few containers of add ons that I get on sale.

    1. Hi Teresa,
      When I was a teen, my mom bought a plastic container salad bar set that came on it's own lazy Susan. There was a large center container for the lettuce and all of these smaller containers fit around the edges to fill with the toppings. Salad bars were just becoming very popular in restaurants at that time. I wish I had that container set. I've been using a lot of my Tupperware-type containers, too. I nearly gave a bunch of them away a few years ago. So glad I didn't!
      I completely agree that washing a bunch of lettuce and prepping all at once saves so much time (and mental energy) during the week.

      Have a great weekend, Teresa!

  3. That is a great system; thanks for sharing! We try to eat a big salad for lunch most days and then salad as a side with most suppers. I pre-prep 2 different salad dressings early in the week to keep in jars in the fridge for the rest of the week.

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Making salad dressings in advance is another great item to prep for the week. My daughters don't care as much for oil & vinegar as I do, so they will make up creamy dressings to have on hand. Do you have favorite dressings that you make in advance?

      Have a wonderful weekend, Jenny!

  4. I have to admit that I don't love salads. My favorite is a spinach salad, which is super simple to pull together--so many ways to switch it up! In the summer we eat a lot of home grown lettuce from the garden (hubby usually cleans it as, along with eating salads, cleaning greens is not a favorite activity of mine .... do I sound like I'm spoiled? I probably am!). Sometimes in the winter I will buy bagged salads from Aldi as their prices are pretty reasonable. Anyway, you have a great technique that works well for your taste buds and dietary preferences.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I love a good spinach salad, especially if there's bacon involved!
      It sounds like you have a pretty good system for growing and cleaning lettuce -- your hubby! Cleaning garden veggies is the one thing that I really dislike about gardening.

      Have a great weekend, Kris!


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