Salad Sandwich

In the last year, the amount of questions I’ve gotten about food confusion–confusion about what to eat, how much to eat, what is intuitive eating vs. what is actually just following cravings, what makes up an ideal proportion of meal components–has increased a lot. I don’t know if it’s a cumulation of way too much focus on nutrition-ism, fad diets and sensationalism in the media, an increase in individuals transitioning to vegetarian or plant-based ways of eating, long months of COVID stay-at-homes, or something else.

But just know, if you’re confused about what a healthy way of eating looks like, or you struggle a lot with food and your body, or you’ve followed so many restrictive ways of eating in order to heal but are still in chronic illness, you are definitely not alone.

But also, settling for an unhappy status quo or giving up is not the answer.

One thing that’s safe to say is that most of us are better at making little changes gradually rather than making sweeping overhauls in how we eat. And another is it’s likely you eat less vegetables than you think. As much as exotic and trendy superfoods seem so much more exciting, most vegetables are actually the real superfoods on our everyday plates.

So as you wind down your summer, have a few meals on the go after active summer adventures, or transition into a more structured back-to-school / back-to-work schedule, here’s an update on a fairly standard mid-day lunch. The Salad Sandwich.

There are many ways to go about making this, but the idea is that you’re eating a balanced plate meal in sandwich form. Whole grain bread, shredded root vegetables, lots of leafy greens and a hummus spread. Condiments to add texture, the six flavors to satisfy taste buds and to help digest the meal, and if you can’t stuff your sandwich quite so full to add *enough* veg, a side salad with the remaining filling components to balance the meal out.

That’s the idea anyway. Every summer of late, I’ve had an ideal repeat meal. Below is a brief list of some of my past ones. This salad sandwich is the 2021 rendition.

Roasted Zucchini and Crookneck Squash with Pumpkin Seeds, Oregano and Olives
Sourdough Pizza
Cooling Kitchari
All-Healing Anti-Inflammatory Green Soup and Sourdough
Zucchini Noodles, Crookneck Squash, Garlic, and Pesto using All-The-Greens Interchangeable Pesto

Salad Sandwich, Serves 1

1 cup Hummus, my favorite recipe below
1 medium beet, finely shredded
1 large carrot, finely shredded
2 cups romaine or other leafy greens
1-2 Tbs. herbs of choice – Mint, Basil, Fennel Tops, finely minced
1-2 tsp. Dijon mustard, optional
1-2 Tbs. of something pickled, such as quick-pickled onions or radish, sliced olives, or sauerkraut
2-4 tortilla chips, optional
2 slices thick, whole-grain (preferably sourdough) bread

  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  •  Prepare your toppings. Then make the sandwiches by either toasting the bread to start, or leaving untoasted.
  • Spread the bread with a thick layer of hummus on each side, and a little Dijon mustard, as desired.
  • Then layer the shredded roots, herbs, pickled condiments, and greens. Top with a couple crunchy chips and then finish with your other slice of hummus-ed bread.
  • Combine any extra filling components in a small bowl and combine together. If you’d like a little dressing to finish it off, a little drizzle of olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice is often super nice.

Easy to Digest Hummus, serves 4

1 tsp. ghee (or use untoasted sesame oil)
2 tsp. untoasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. mineral salt
1 tsp. kombu, wakame, or bladderwrack seaweed (dried)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground fenugreek
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup whole mung beans (soaked at least 6 hours)
3 Tbs. tahini
Juice from 1/4 lemon, or more to taste
Water

  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  •  Heat the ghee and sesame oil in a pot over medium heat.
  • Then add the salt, dried seaweed, and spices. Simmer until an aroma is present. Then add the soaked and drained mung beans; stir and simmer for another minute or two.
  • Add water to above the beans by a couple inches. Then bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the beans are soft and breaking apart.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
  • Then blend the beans and their cooking liquid with the tahini and lemon. Add additional water to thin if needed.

What Does a Balanced Meal Look Like?

How to Make a Balanced Meal  

One of the things I hear on repeat is that ‘meals just don’t taste good’ which often leads to dissatisfaction in a number of ways. Your taste buds aren’t satisfied so you reach for more even after you’re no longer hungry, nibbling on this and that and ultimately being dissatisfied and frustrated at overeating — or in some cases, undereating — because of it. 

OR

You’re needing to eat a certain way to heal your digestive system, but “it’s so boring” and “it just doesn’t taste good.” And you resist the healing effect that should be taking place.   

OR

You want to eat intuitively, but you’re overcome by cravings for “junk foods” and comfort foods and simply don’t want to eat “healthy foods.”

The Balanced Plate

One of the best ways to solve a lot of the problems listed above is to build meals that are balanced. This means your meal includes the six primary flavors of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent

But it also means there’s a balance of those flavors, in the ideal-for-you proportions. A way that tends to be both nutritious and simple to apply is dividing those six flavors into categories of building and lightening foods. 

You can ask the question of each food ingredient, will this build my body or lighten it?, to help you.

Here’s a good list:

Building Foods (comprising the flavors of sweet, sour, and salty)
Whole Grains
Sweet Vegetables (often root vegetables)
Dairy
Oils
Sweeteners
Fruit
Animal Protein

Lightening Foods (comprising pungent, bitter, and astringent flavors)
Beans and Legumes
Nuts and Seeds
Green Vegetables
Spicy/Bitter/Pungent Vegetables – such as radishes, horseradish, spicy turnips, onions, garlic, and hot/spicy peppers, eggplants
Fresh Herbs
Spices

An Ideal Ratio for Your Balanced Plate

What’s an ideal ratio of building and lightening foods? This can depend on the person, but not as much as you might think. For most, aiming for a ratio of 60% building foods and 40% lightening is ideal.
In the process of doing this, you’ll also nearly always incorporate the six flavors, and meals start to taste better, you enjoy them more, and you notice that you’re feeling satisfied without reaching for more — or struggling to eat because nothing tastes good. 

Omnivore Balanced Plate

To make a basic meal that contains meat or eggs, it’s good to think about splitting the 60/40 ratio into the different components. I recommend 20% meat or eggs, 20% whole grain, and 20% sweet vegetables, like carrots, peas, or zucchini. Then the 40% can be mostly leafy greens, like romaine lettuce with a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing, a small handful of chopped nuts or seeds, and a pinch of fresh basil or mint.
When you add in the oil/fat, spice and seasoning components, depending on your preference for the meal, it will be complete, satisfying, and balanced. 

Plant-Based  or Vegan Balanced Plate

To make a basic meal that’s free from most animal products, split your 60/40 ratio into a whole grain, a sweet vegetable, a legume, and a green/astringent vegetable. Start with 30% whole grain, and 30% sweet vegetables, like any of the examples above or fennel, sweet potato, or corn. Then the 40% can be split between 20% legume, tofu, or tempeh, and 20% leafy greens, like cabbage with a nut-based dressing, and a pinch of fresh basil or mint.
When you add in the oil/fat, spice and seasoning components, depending on your preference for the meal, again, it will be complete, satisfying, and balanced. 

One Idea, Many Variations

The beauty of this Balanced Plate idea is that ultimately, it can apply to any type of food, cuisine or flavoring profile. It worked out just fine when I made a Lasagna, rolled up ingredients into a Sushi Burrito, make homemade Pizza, pasta or noodles, and more.

It also helps to keep this idea in mind when you’re eating out. When your preferred dish on a menu isn’t quite as balanced as this, is there a way to make it a little more so by choosing a specific side or leaving off/adding something? 

But I’m an athlete training for a race and need lots of food! Does this balanced meal ratio apply?

Yes, it does! There are two frequent meal scenarios that athletes tend to get into before recovery or performance starts to suffer. Either there’s not enough of the lightening / green vegetable component to most meals OR there’s too much of it, and not enough of the whole grains, root vegetables and (for plant-based athletes), beans or legumes. If you think one of these might apply to you, see if you can add in more of what’s missing, and see how you start to feel. 

One Final Caveat

These percentages are not meant to be exact or obsessively measured. When you look at your plate, does about 60 percent of it contain a grain, sweet root vegetable, and maybe an animal protein or dairy? And does about 40 percent of it look like it’s green vegetables and maybe beans and a sprinkle of toasted nuts? That’s what we’re aiming for here. 

When you begin to eat more meals that have a balance of the flavors in ideal proportions, you’ll also notice that ongoing digestive symptoms may begin to reduce and eventually go away. And because meals simply taste better without being elaborate or extra complicated, cravings and over- or under-eating begins to be less of an everyday issue.

Much of my nutrition practice is focused on individuals and athletes with digestive health issues such as leaky gut, food allergies and intolerances, chronic GI distress, malabsorption of foods and nutrients, and inflammation. If you’re tired, stressed, and not really sure what to eat to help or hurt anymore, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.