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Portable Salad Toppings To Make Your Salad at the Office Less Boring

If you take a plain lettuce salad to work, here is a collection of ideas for ingredients you can carry in your lunch bag. Ideas for non-perishable foods are included for people without access to refrigeration.

Salad Toppings: sun-dried tomatoes, Fiber One, almonds and cranberries
Left to right: sun-dried tomatoes and almonds, Fiber One, and dried cranberries and almonds

Wondering what I put on all the lettuce I vacuum-seal into Mason jars?

I like variety, but convenience, calories, and healthiness are more significant concerns. Add in the fact that we only have a dorm-size personal refrigerator at my work for about 8-10 employees.  So, non-perishable and easy-to-carry salad toppings are vital.

salad dressing packed in individual containers for easy lunch packing

Let’s look at the dressing issue first: 

I can’t store a lot of bottles of salad dressing in our small work refrigerator, so I have devised an alternative system.   In the past, I used small (2-3 oz) hard plastic containers to make individual servings.  But they were hard to keep up with inside the dishwasher and my “plastics” drawer. 

Does anyone else have problems with missing lids or unmatched sets? 

I found the solution at the restaurant supply store–small, inexpensive individual plastic cups with lids like restaurants use.  Can’t beat them for convenience.  Toss when done. 

I like the small size for two reasons:  portion control and easy-to-carry in my lunch bag. Prepare plenty and store in the butter compartment of the refrigerator.  It’s not a satisfactory place to store butter because butter needs the coldest spot in the fridge.

How do you carry the dressing?

Regarding the dressing itself, I prefer homemade.  But time constraints and laziness more often prevail.  I look for something at or below 80 calories per serving.  For a quart jar of lettuce, I need about 2-3 oz. The amount varies according to the viscosity of the dressing.

My favorite is the Honey Mustard Great Seasons Brand from Walmart. I have done extensive research on diet Honey Mustard Dressing, and declare this one the winner.

I also like Ken’s Raspberry Pecan and most any of the diet balsamic vinaigrette dressings. Beware of the extremely low-calorie dressings.  I think they taste like flavored water but suit yourself.  I’m not willing to eat crummy food in the name of saving calories.

examples of what I like to add to my salad that are easy to carry to work:  fiber one, dried fruit, dried tomatoes, almonds

Keep add-ons simple.  If I ate lunch at home with a large refrigerator at hand, I would be much more creative. 

For now, I like to mix toasted almonds (see note at the end) with smoked sundried tomatoes (found at Krogers and much tastier than plain sundried tomatoes) or dried cranberries, blueberries or other dried fruit. Bags of these combinations will keep for weeks in your desk drawer.

How to add fiber to your salad:

Sprinkle ¼ to 1/3 cup of Fiber One in place of croutons.  It may seem weird at first but it really is good and adds lots of crunch and fiber.  It’s also good in place of tortilla strips or fried wonton strips. 

Eating salad at home is much more interesting.  I may add marinated mushrooms or artichoke hearts, sliced pickled beets, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, etc.  You probably have your own favorites.

How I pack my salad every morning:

  • Grab a jar of lettuce from the fridge.
  • Choose a salad dressing (already packaged in an individual container).
  • Keep Fiber One (or substitute) and bags of almonds/dried fruit/vegetables at your work or in the pantry ready to go.

Now you can have a healthy salad with no preparation in the morning if you have done your homework (less than 30 minutes with practice) beforehand.

how I pack my lunch salad

Did you know you can toast nuts in the microwave?

Did you know you can toast almonds (or pecans or any other nuts) in the microwave?  Place about ¾ c. on a paper plate. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute.  Stir.  Microwave an additional minute and let sit on the counter till cool.  DO NOT try to cook for 2 minutes without stirring.  They will burn.  (Times may vary with different microwaves.)

Need more information about vacuum-packing chopped lettuce?

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lynda

Monday 13th of October 2014

I love this site! One question...I see you suggest a third cup of the fiber one, but i didn't see how much of the other bagged goodies you suggest to put on the salad with it. I'm trying hard to lose quite a bit of weight so calories count. do you measure out a specific amount for each baggy? Thanks!!!!!

Anchorage, Alaska

Donna

Thursday 5th of June 2014

Paula, I am new to your your website, but have enjoyed learning about the Salad in a Jar. Thank you for taking the time to enlighten us with this. So many people have asked the same question about adding vegetables . . you have patience, lol. Anyway, I have to admit that was my concern, too. I liked that you had only lettuce in the jar to increase produce life, but I also felt a need for other vegetables. I think I'll try Kristy's suggestion and pack them separately in a cup size mason jar. Again, thank you for making my life easier. This is SO NEAT!

Sis

Saturday 8th of March 2014

I like the dressing-to-go containers! http://www.amazon.com/Evriholder-Dressing-Salad-Container-2-ounce/dp/B0076PNQNU They are much more secure than the little plastic throwaway cups.

JP

Tuesday 4th of February 2014

Salad in a jar is a fabulous idea, thank you. Being a widower, I'm constantly fighting the Best Before Date and hate throwing away food so my two best friends are now the freezer and the FoodSaver. In any case, I found this product that would compliment your idea here: http://www.cuppow.com/products/bnto-04 I personally find it extremely expensive for what it is and have begun a quest to find a little container that would do the same as the BNTO canning jar adaptor. But I am wondering if the vacuum would only happen for the vinaigrette and not the salad portion. Here is a video too: http://vimeo.com/68870138

Paula

Thursday 6th of February 2014

Hi JP, I have been introduced to this product but did not find it useful for my purposes and I agree with you. It's a bit expensive. To begin with, you can use small plastic containers inside a quart jar if you want-I happened to have some that fit perfectly. Furthermore, I want to fill the entire jar with lettuce so there is no room for anything else. I just add them as I go. Thanks for writing.

kristyreal

Saturday 4th of January 2014

I love your idea and prefer Romaine lettuce so it works great for me! I see that you get asked about adding the other salad veggies into the jars quite often so I thought I would share a trick I learned by accident years ago. Everyone else in my family prefers a simple salad, but I have always loved great variety in the "fixin's" for mine so I had to get creative. I made one basic salad of carrots, red or green cabbage and Romaine and then made up a bowl of the extras for me (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, raw garlic, radishes, celery, mushrooms, etc.) Obviously, my extras would not last as long as the basic salad until I realized that I could "quick pickle" it in the fridge and it lasts much longer with very little change to the texture. Just chop all those veggies, add in ACV, balsamic or rice vinegar, EVOO and salt. You can add a touch of sweetener, spices or herbs, dijon mustard, etc. to the mix and it will keep fresh for many days. Tomatoes even work because the acidity of the juice will contribute to the pickling, but it won't last as long with them included.....my solution is cherry tomatoes. Now, the trick is to mix up a batch of this and then package it into the 1/2 pint wide mouth mason jars and vacuum seal them as well. You won't need as much dressing for the salad (quite possible you won't need any extra) because you are using a basic homemade vinaigrette for the pickling. The only problem that I can't seem to solve is how to have fresh mushrooms on my salad without washing and slicing them that day so I use canned mushrooms in my extras - you can also include things like artichoke hearts or pickled peppers or beets.

Also, another handy tip is to keep Mrs. Dash or Bragg's spice mixes in your desk along with sunflower seeds, gamasio, dulse flakes, red pepper flakes or whatever other toppings you like. I have used the disposable containers to package shredded cheese and cooked, diced meat or boiled egg, beans or lentils so I can grab those along with my lettuce in the morning as well. Obviously I prefer paleo for losing weight rather than calorie and fat counting, but it would work for any style.) I also make lacto-fermented veggie relishes (pickling method that uses salt brine like traditional sauerkraut) that I use in place of my extras when crunched for time or in addition to my extras just because I love pickles.

One more tip for those who love grains like brown rice and quinoa in their salads: cook a big batch, portion it out in snack baggies, flatten the baggie, seal it and freeze. These flat little envelopes take up almost no room in the freezer, thaw quickly, and are the perfect portion for adding to a lunch salad. Pre-cooking large batches of beans or lentils and freezing the same way will allow you to take them directly from the freezer into your lunch bag where they will thaw by lunch time. This is my preferred method for beans, although I do sometimes make a bean salad and portion it out in disposable containers as a salad topping.

Donna

Thursday 5th of June 2014

Kristy, thank you so much for your ideas about including other vegetables. I liked Paula's method of preparing lettuce to make it last awhile, as it makes so much sense and I plan on doing that. But, I also wanted other vegetables in my salad. Bringing along a small cup size of 'pickled' vegetables and a small container of condiments will round it out perfectly.

Paula

Monday 6th of January 2014

Wow Kristy--so many good ideas here. Can't wait to try them. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and share.