Healthy Dressing Ideas

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Our long time subscriber, Anne Linge, RDN, CD, CDE, made a request, "Hi Judy, I just had a patient wanting salad dressing recipes. You have a lot of salads in the recipe section, but I don't see a handout of just a variety of dressings. He would like a tasty oil and vinegar dressing.  He is not a fan of balsamic vinegar."

What a great request!

As it turns out, there are many types of salad dressings you can choose from.

Salad dressing styles:

  • Impromptu
  • Vinaigrette
  • Creamy
  • Sprays
  • Squeezes


  • Oil or cream
  • Vinegar or acid
  • Flavors like fresh or dried herbs
  • Textures like nuts or bits of dried fruits and vegetables

The impromptu “toss it all together” method of making salad dressing is the easiest and most creative. It is the one I use most often. It only requires 2-3 steps!

  1. I spray or drizzle the lettuce leaves with just a tiny bit of olive or avocado oil.
  2. Then I add a splash of vinegar or citrus juice.
  3. After the oil and vinegar are added, I usually go for a few more items that feature complementary flavors to my lettuce greens. These might include herbs, spices, nuts, or sun dried tomatoes.

I keep a cabinet full of flavored vinegars handy for my salads, including red wine, balsamic vinegar, flavored vinegars, and vinegar glazes. A favorite is apple cider vinegar. Vinegars are inexpensive because a little goes a long way and they last a long time.

The advantage to this impromptu dressing style is that you can make it quickly and it is lower in fat, calories, sugar, and sodium when compared to a bottled dressing. It is also easier to lightly coat your lettuce leaves versus drown them by pouring too much from a bottle.

For a vinaigrette you can measure out oil and vinegar in a 3:1 ratio, oil to vinegar.  So for every cup of vinegar you use the classic amount of oil to use is 3 cups. You simply mix the oil and vinegar and then add seasonings and shake it well. A popular example is dijon vinaigrette, which uses a little mustard as a base and the vinegar and oil are whisked in so that it stays emulsified longer. These types of dressings are sometimes called temporary emulsions because they stay together when you shake or stir them but they separate once they stand still.

The advantage to a vinaigrette is that you get a rich creamy dressing with an outstanding presentation for your guests. But the disadvantage is often the higher amount of fat and calories since the oil to ratio is high and the amount that is poured is greater than a simple spray.

Creamy dressings often start with a mayonnaise base. But you can also use a yogurt to make a fun dressing that tastes rich while being low in fat, calories, sugar, and sodium. Of course if you purchase a creamy dressing such as thousand island, ranch, or Caesar, you are often buying the highest-calorie dressing in the aisle.

Sprays are the "new kids" on the grocery store aisle. You can buy a dressing in a spray bottle so you get a spritz of flavor in a very light coating. These are often sold in the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store. The advantage is that all ingredients come already mixed in a spray bottle and you use very little compared to a dressing that is poured.

Squeezes are usually from lemon or lime and they are simple you just put a squeeze of lemon or lime on a salad. You can also sprinkle a little vinegar. Sometimes I like to spray a little oil and then add a little squeeze of lemon in place of vinegar just to change it up.

Commercial dressings are high in sodium, fat, and sugar. They are expensive. But they are familiar and convenient. One approach might be to wean off of them slowly. Make an oil and vinegar dressing one night a week. Then go for two nights. And three. Pretty soon you will forget to use the bought dressing.

Chefs tips:

  • Having ingredients on hand is the key to making anything fast.
  • Also having large mixing or salad specific bowls within reach makes it easier and more fun to mix a salad fast.
  • Get ideas for your next favorite salad by reading magazines, following blogs, and looking at specialty salad restaurants like Mixt or Sweet Greens because they are constantly concocting seasonal specials.
  • Think out of the box. One of our favorite ways to make salad is to roast fresh vegetables in oil. When they are done we let them cool slightly and then top with a flavored vinegar. They already have the oil on them so there is no need to add more.

Salad shopping list:

  • spray oil
  • vinegar
  • vinegar glazes
  • spritzers
  • your favorite bottled dressings that are not too high in sodium or calories
  • fresh lemons, limes, oranges, and herbs
  • fun and tasty bits to go in salads like sundried tomatoes, nuts, and veggies
  • a variety of greens in season

Great flavor pairings:

  • arugula with lemon and toasted hazelnuts
  • fresh grape tomatoes and olive oil
  • fresh lemon and garlic
  • yogurt and cucumber
  • avocado and red wine vinegar
  • sundried tomato and fresh basil
  • mustard and honey
Take a look at one of our most popular blog posts: 12 Ways to Present A Salad
Or make your own flavored vinegar. Or learn about how salads aid weight loss. Or make a super salad. 
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