Many times when tired people arrive home in the late afternoon, the last thing they want to think about is cooking a hot meal. But, the family is hungry and the already tight budget can’t endure another night of ordering out. What’s a good solution?

Consider a “super salad.” Super salad items can be arranged on the kitchen counter like a buffet, and each family member gets to customize his or her own meal. After the ingredients are ready, family members get their plates and begin their own creations.

Most super salad buffets include the basics: lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers. Fresh vegetables should be the base of the salad. Try romaine or red leaf lettuce for some variety from the usual iceberg lettuce. If the kids in the family steer clear of lettuce and other leafy greens, encourage them to make a base of the other vegetables by loading their plate with cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, baby carrots and celery sticks.

In addition to the fresh veggies, provide your family with other salad toppers. Open a can of chickpeas; they are wonderfully earthy tasting and the mellow texture goes well with the crunchy vegetables. Consider tangy items such as pickle spears, pineapple chunks, or pickled beets. Just a few of these items add definite zip to the salad’s flavor.

Generally there’s a protein food added to the buffet. Good options that require minimal effort include water-packed tuna from the pouch or can, chopped eggs, shredded cheese, chopped deli meats, or low-fat cottage cheese. Chick peas and other types of starchy canned beans fall into the protein category as well.

Then there’s the “goodies.” Nuts and seeds like peanuts or sunflower seeds are excellent toppers. Croutons are also tasty. A sprinkling of raisins adds a touch of sweetness that works well with most salads. Other dried fruit possibilities include banana chips, dried cherries, or even dried cranberries, which are sometimes marketed as “craisins.”

Offer some whole grain crackers on the side. Apple slices, canned pears or peaches, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, or even watermelon chunks are welcome additions, too.

At the end of the super salad buffet, offer a few choices of salad dressings. Ranch, the perennial favorite, is usually in most refrigerators, along with honey mustard and thousand island. If you don’t have some on hand, honey mustard can be stirred together by combining lite mayonnaise and mustard with just a little honey. Thousand island can be made by combining lite mayo with chili sauce or ketchup and adding sweet pickle relish.

Any time kids are allowed to serve themselves, they should be given some guidelines. The super salad buffet, like any other food, can quickly be turned into a nutritional nightmare if your child reaches the end of the line and has a plate full of pickles, peanuts and croutons swimming in salad dressing. So, moms and dads should set a few limits on what should be included in the salad (lots of veggies and fruits) and what to go easy on (high sodium, high fat items.) With a little guidance and encouragement, even the pickiest kids will grow to enjoy the idea of the super salad buffet.

And, the best news of all, mom and dad can make a lunch for the next day from the leftover buffet. The only things remaining at the end of a super salad meal are stomachs full of wholesome salads, lunch for the next day, and an untouched stove. What parent wouldn’t appreciate that combination?

For more information about nutrition and food safety, call your local office of Clemson Extension or visit the Home & Garden Information Center website at http://hgic.clemson.edu.

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