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The List: Salads that will make you smile

Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 2:02 p.m. CDT

I'll begin this list with a much shorter, sadder list.

Corn.

That's it. That's the long version of the list of vegetables I would eat before I met my wife, Kayla. And, to be honest, corn joined the list when I was about 18. Let's just say that, while growing up, I was about as finicky as eaters get.

Today, I have another list.

Onions.

That's pretty much the only veggie I won't eat (happily).

The key? Like any loving, creative caretaker, Kayla came up with unique ways to work veggies into recipes. Slowly, but surely, I was able to remove the cheese, dressing, etc., and enjoy many vegetables on their own, many of them even (gulp) raw!

As I entered my 30s, it got harder and harder to keep the extra pounds off. Exercise alone wouldn't cut it anymore. So I started enjoying a salad for lunch a few days a week. OK, maybe I didn't enjoy it, initially. Today, I love my salads, and I love thinking outside the plate with my combinations.

Here are five combinations that might just help picky eaters take them down with a smile. With a light hand, any of them can check in at fewer than 500 calories. If you're looking to lose weight, measure everything, and track it. Take it from a father of 8-month-old twins: I understand it sounds time-consuming. But eventually, you'll be able to eyeball your ingredients.

1) The Entry-Level: This was my starter salad, and I still go back to it frequently.

• Crisp greens

• Grilled chicken, salted, and peppers and cut into strips

• Cooked bacon, chopped small

• Sharp cheddar cheese, grated

• Light ranch dressing

2)From Asia, With Love: To streamline grocery shopping, I usually make all of my salads with my green of choice, spinach. But this one would be great with crisp greens and cabbage.

• Grilled chicken, cut into strips (marinate it with soy/sesame oil, if you have the time)

• Mandarin oranges

• Chow mein noodles

• Sesame dressing (I'm a big fan of Kraft's light toasted sesame)

Optional: Throw in some edamame for protein. But go easy. They're packed with calories, albeit good ones.

3) The Indoor Tailgate: Nothing like deconstructing a brat into salad form. Even non-Wisconsinites will feel their mouths water over this one.

• Spinach

• Grilled brat, cut into medallions

• Hot cauliflower (I found this little miracle at Kroger. Anything picked is great to cut through the greasiness of that brat)

• Red/yellow/orange bell peppers, chopped

• Light ranch dressing

4) The Green Hawaiian: If you like the pizza, you'll love, ... well, at least like ... the salad.

• Baby kale

• Cooked bacon, chopped small

• Cubed ham (You can go without this, by all means. You can do it, Capt. Carnivore)

• Fresh pineapple chunks

• Roasted almonds

• Chickpeas (canned or fresh-cooked and drained)

5) The Bleu Apple: Totally ripped off this one from one of Kayla's favorite blogs, theKitchn.

• Baby spinach

• Chicken breast, grilled or sautéed

• Apple, chopped and submerged in water (drain before using)

• Blue cheese crumbles

• Pearl barley, cooked

Your turn. Which salad recipe do you crave most?

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