Throwing together a salad is a lot like making scrambled eggs. Everyone thinks they’re a pro, but in reality, almost everyone is doing it wrong (seriously, here are 7 mistakes you’re making with your scrambled eggs.) And chances are, that means you! Even if you think your salads are just fine, thanks, you could probably stand to learn a few tips that could make your bowl o’ greens even better. Here, the common salad crimes you’re likely committing—and how to do better.
1. Washing your greens, but not drying
Washing that fresh romaine, spinach, or arugula is a no-brainer. (Dirty, sandy salad? No thanks.) But unless you take the extra step to dry your greens thoroughly, you’ll end up with a soggy salad. And since fat and water don’t get along, your dressing won’t cling to your greens, either.
So after rinsing, always dry them. A salad spinner is magic, if you have one. But if you don’t, just place the greens in a single layer on a paper towel, and gently press a second towel on top to soak up the liquid. (Sick of greens? These 10 low-cal salads are lettuce-free!)
2. Loading your bowl with everything but the kitchen sink
Sure, there’s a time and a place to throw everything into the salad bowl willy-nilly. Like, when you’re trying to use food that’s on the brink of going bad. Otherwise, it’s worth using a handful of ingredients that pair well together. That way, you get to enjoy salads with different flavor profiles instead of the same giant mish-mash.
There’s no official formula, but in general, aim for a leafy green, 2 to 3 other vegetables, a protein, 1 or 2 fun extras, and a dressing. Think: arugula with roasted beets and chopped cucumber, cooked lentils, chopped walnuts and crumbled feta, and lemon vinaigrette. Or chopped romaine with broccoli and sliced carrots, grilled chicken, diced avocado, and spicy peanut dressing. Drooling yet?
3. Skipping the seasoning
If you’re using bottled salad dressing or homemade vinaigrette (like these 11 simple salad dressings you can make at home) that includes salt and pepper, you don’t have to worry about this. But if you’re the kind of person who just tops her salad with a drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice or vinegar, you’ve gotta add a pinch of salt and pepper to make those flavors pop. Otherwise, it’ll taste pretty blah.
4. Using the wrong amount of dressing
It’s no secret that dressing turns a bowl of what might otherwise count as literal rabbit food into a delicious meal. Still, it only works its magic if you add the right amount. To strike the right balance, aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing for every 4 cups of greens. (You won’t believe how bad these 10 unhealthiest salads you can order are.)
5. Adding your dressing right away
Of course, drizzling on your vinaigrette is perfectly fine if you’re planning on eating immediately. But if you’re making a salad for later, do yourself a favor and hold off. The acid and salt in dressing causes the vegetables in your salad to start breaking down—so hours from now, when it’s time to eat, you’re stuck with a limp, soggy mess. (Though at least it doesn’t contain sawdust like these 31 foods you’re eating.)
Ideally, you want to store your dressing separately and toss it with your salad at the last minute. But if you don’t want to deal with multiple containers, put your dressing in first, before adding any veggies, so it sits at the bottom of your container or bowl instead of coating every single leaf. That way, your salad stays fresh, crisp, and delicious until you’re ready to eat it.