How to Prepare a Salad to Last All Week for Just a Few Dollars

A Fresh Salad Every Day of the Week With Little Effort

Nothing says fresh and healthy like a salad. But if your life is a little hectic and you find it difficult to find the time to prepare a salad among other items for dinner, you’re not alone. Even if you do have time, how do you keep the salad fresh? You don’t want to deal with soggy lettuce or stop at the store a few times a week just to keep fresh produce on hand, so it’s helpful to know how to prepare a salad in advance so that it won’t lose freshness and keep you from making multiple shopping trips.

So, I’m going to share with you how I prepare salad here at our house. This requires just 5 to 10 minutes of initial prep time, will feed my wife and I all work week, if not longer, and it keeps fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week. Even better, all of this ends up costing less than $5 a week.

The Benefits

One of the main benefits of preparing a salad in advance is that you’re much more likely to eat it. We’re all trying to eat healthy these days, and while we have good intentions, if there is a lack of time or if it requires more work, we’re far more likely to skip the salad and opt for something else, which will probably cost more, and be even worse for you. Being able to just go into the fridge and have a salad in your bowl in 30 seconds is great.

It’s also cheap. For just a few dollars, you can create a first course for each dinner during the week that will allow you to buy fewer more expensive ingredients. Even better, this whole process can be applied when entertaining a crowd. Not only will you be preparing a salad to feed your family for a week, but it can make one big salad that can entertain a crowd.

The Process

Let’s start with what you need. The ingredient list is pretty simple. You can put whatever toppings or dressing on your salad you want, but we’re mainly focused on the greens and how to prepare and store them so they last. This is the cost of the items I picked up earlier this week. Your prices may vary depending on location and the season.

Organic Red Leaf Lettuce: 0.83 lb @ $2.49/lb = $2.07
Organic Romaine Lettuce: 0.81 lb @ $1.99/lb = $1.61

Total = $3.68

Salad Greens

As you can see from the picture above, it’s as simple as buying two average size heads of red leaf and romaine lettuce. Now, you can certainly get cheaper varieties of lettuce such as iceberg, but there’s virtually no nutritional value. You really get the most bang for your buck with dark green leafy varieties.  So, if you’re going to eat a salad, you might as well get as many nutrients as you can out of it. Feel free to substitute, but I’fe found that both romaine and red leaf store pretty well and you should have no problem getting it to last a week.

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Starting with the romaine lettuce, I chop off the bottom. This is another topic of controversy, as some people insist that lettuce will go brown faster if you use a metal knife. Honestly, I’ve been cutting lettuce with a knife for years, and I haven’t noticed any rapid browning. But, if you really want, feel free to tear the lettuce by hand, it’s up to you. But I find the knife is very quick and doesn’t produce any adverse effects.

salad3

After you’ve separated a few of the leaves, give them a good rinse. With the romaine lettuce, I will stack 6 or so leaves on top of each other with the center stalk pointing down. Then, I just cut the leaves in half lenghtwise. It doesn’t matter if you cut directly through the thick stalk or go just to the side since we’re really just looking for smaller pieces to work with.

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Then, I stack all of the pieces on top of each other. From there, it’s just some quick slices across the stack. I usually keep them no more than about one inch wide so they are easy to eat. Once you’re through chopping, throw them into a collandar, or my personal preference, a salad spinner.

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Moving on to the red leaf lettuce, again, just chop the end off. 

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As with any lettuce, you’ll then want to give them a good rinse. Just like the romaine, I start by stacking the leaves on top of each other. 

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Since the red leaf lettuce is a lot wider, I usually make two cuts to separate the leaves into three strips. Depending on the size of your leaves and how small you want your pieces, you may find that you need to cut them into four strips. There’s no right or wrong answer. And again, once you have your strips, go ahead and stack them all on top of each other and cut crosswise into bit sized pieces.

salad6

Above, I mentioned you should place your cut pieces into a collander or a salad spinner, and this is actually one of the most important steps if you want your lettuce to keep in the fridge. Moisture is the enemy in your fight to keep lettuce crisp for more than just a few days. When moisture is trapped against the lettuce while it’s being stored, it will make it wilt and that isn’t something you want to eat. If you don’t have a salad spinner, use the collander to shake any excess water, and then use paper towels to soak up any lingering moisture.

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If you look at the picture above, you’ll see the true benefit of a salad spinner. Even after rinsing the leaves in the sink, I shook off what seemed like all of the excess water before chopping, but as you can see above, after a few quick spins, there is a lot of excess liquid on the leaves still. You might not see it on the leaves, but it’s there, and all of this water spells disaster for long-term freshness. So for me, a salad spinner is the best $20 you’ll spend in your kitchen. 

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Once all of your greens are dry, it’s time to put it all into a big bowl. As you can see, those two heads of lettuce that came in under $4.00 makes a huge bowl of salad. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is enough for my wife and I to eat every day on Monday through Friday, and occasionally into the weekend.  One thing I do before putting the salad in the fridge is grind some fresh black pepper into the mix. A quick 10 to 12 turns from the pepper mill will do just fine, and it makes all the difference in taste.

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Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is storage. So, how do you keep this all fresh? Remember, the key is to keep moisture from resting against the leaves. So, what I do is take a single paper towel and place it on the top of the lettuce, and then cover everything with thin clear plastic cling stuff, but if you have a bowl with a tight fitting lid, that’s just as good. What you’ll notice is the paper towel will slowly absorb some of the moisture, and you’ll probably want to replace it with a fresh one every couple of days.

In addition, each time you take some lettuce out of the bowl, give everything a good shake or stir before putting it back in the fridge. The moisture can also start to collect on the sides of the bowl, and you don’t want everything touching the bowl to go soggy. If you dry your greens thoroughly from the start, place a paper towel in the bowl, and regularly mix things up in the bowl, you should have no trouble keeping this fresh for a week.

Finishing the Salad

The possibilities are endless. For example, my wife likes to top the salad with some dried cranberries and walnuts, while I usually sprinkle some mozzarella cheese and top with tomatoes and croutons. You can top it with leftover grilled chicken and make it a meal, or do whatever you want.  The good news is that this is a very basic mix of greens that can be topped with almost anything so you can mix it up at home. So, experiment with it and find out what you like best.

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Filed Under: Food

About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.

39 comments
Fran
Fran

To keep my vegy's really fresh I use Tupperware's Fridgesmart containers and have not thrown out anything in at least ten years. Saving hundreds of dollars.

sneadly
sneadly

According to something I read somewhere, before knives were made of stainless steel, carbon knives would make cut lettuce brown. Knives are almost all stainless these days.

VeraListerdale
VeraListerdale

That amount of salad I eat in a day, or two days. now 2 people eating this amount the whole week..........I will try it though thank you

ShannonSpicer
ShannonSpicer

I always heard not to cut lettuce, too, but it's just easier, so I've done it for years.  I've always used Romaine, too.  Well, recently I've tried to save a bit and add a little iceberg to my salads.  That is the lettuce you don't want to cut with a knife!  It browns so quickly.  That must be where the wive's tale came from.  :)

jesusphreaq
jesusphreaq

I always refrigerate my salad for the week right in the salad spinner. It already has a lid, and the leaves can't plaster to the sides of the bowl and go bad. It keeps the air flowing :) I also swear by the OXO brand salad spinner--it's expensive but extremely well-made.

dvmclaughlin
dvmclaughlin

It's a misconception that iceberg lettuce as not nutritional value. While it pales in comparison, to some other leafy greens, very fresh and farm grown is actually pretty good. It's just the supermarket cling wrapped iceberg/ or salad bar lettuce, that truly has no value in a salad. Plus an iceberg, tomato, blue cheese, and bacon salad is divine!

danny6114
danny6114

I've seen chefs who, lacking a spinner, used a new white pillowcase to place their rinsed greens in and swung them over their heads and drained the moisture right away with the centrifugal force. 

kcarrucc
kcarrucc

Instead of using a paper towel I use Fenugreen FreshPaper (fenugreen.com) to keep my lettuce fresh.  FreshPaper is infused with organic herb extracts that inhibit enzyme and microbial growth to keep produce fresh.  A single sheet in a bowl of lettuce will keep everything fresh for over 2 weeks!

SusanGenevaBishop
SusanGenevaBishop

The idea that iceberg lettuce is not nutritional is an old myth.  Actually, it is low in Sodium, and very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate and Manganese.  When you consider the extra crispness adding iceberg gives, it makes sense to include it in your salads.  

PeteNikolai
PeteNikolai

Great tip on keeping salad fresh for a week or more. One suggestion: put salad in big plastic storage bowl, put paper towl on top of salad before putting lid on, and store in fridge upsidedown so paper towel is on bottom of salad and can absorb moisture. If paper towel gets damp then replace it. Thanks!

Heidi
Heidi

A tip for those with kids.... While iceberg has very little nutritional value, it is the only green my kids will readily eat with little complaint. So when I make a salad for the family, I mix iceberg with romaine and whatever other green we find that looks good/fresh. Because my kids see the iceberg there, they will readily eat the salad with their favorite toppings, seemingly unaware of the other much more healthy greens in the salad.

jenny
jenny

excellent tip..i am new to salads. in fact i was looking for simple salad recipes and i found this!..very interesting and will try it out today

gas card
gas card

This seems like a healthy (and cheap) way to eat all week! I agree with you about iceberg lettuce, and I am always trying to advise people not to get it, as it is purely empty. Hm interesting, I have never heard that leaves turn brown faster if you use a metal knife... very interesting. I shall have to buy a salad spinner, its worth the money I can see, for longer freshness!

-Randy

Jeremy
Jeremy

Hey thanks, Kate! Glad it's working out. :)

Kate Kashman
Kate Kashman

Jeremy - I just wanted to let you know that this is a tip that I'm still using. I'm eating a scrumptious salad right now, thanks to your excellent advice.

Thank you!

Linda Saull
Linda Saull

My husband always complains about my serving "brown" lettuce - will have to try this!Have spinner. Tip about keeping cukes, carrots, etc. in separate containers to add later is a good one too! We like "big" salads.

Jasileet
Jasileet

-Awesome post.
-Plastic knives don't "rust" lettuce
-OXO (Good Grips) Is possibly the best company to buy a salad spinner from. They're well designed and sturdy. And even when my children figured out how to break mine, the company sent me new parts fast and free. Fantastic!

Abigail
Abigail

I love my salad spinner. It is one of my favorite pieces in the kitchen! Totally worth it!

Jules @ Money Feuds
Jules @ Money Feuds

Thank you for the great tips and photo demonstration! I love salads, but some lunchtimes I feel lazy and don't want to go through all the prep work (especially during the winter), but doing this about once a week, as you mentioned, would ensure that I'd have my daily salad all year long : ).

Bumbles
Bumbles

Thanks for sharing. I stopped making them myself for lunch since I couldn't keep the lettuce fresh and it was a waste of money. I buy a pre-made one every day which is sooo expensive too. I will try your method of putting in the paper towel with the lettuce.

Bernz
Bernz

Hey! these are great tips and the photos are just awesome. I will have to email this link to my wife. We both love salad and we always stock them on the fridge but keep it staying fresh is always an issue.

Kristy @ Master Your Card
Kristy @ Master Your Card

Jeremy, you're a life saver. I've been so frustrated with salads as of late because I can't eat them fast enough before they go bad! It's very depressing, especially since I want to try and eat healthy! Thanks for the breakdown of how you keep your salads fresh! I'll be going to buy a salad spinner tomorrow with my grocery shopping and I'll be giving this method a whirl (no pun intended)! Good stuff!

momstheword
momstheword

Great idea! I like the idea about cutting the lettuce first. I have washed the lettuce, and cut the end off but not cut it up. I just put a little tiny bowl or something in the bottom of a bigger bowl, to keep the lettuce off the bottom of the bowl in case water collects down there. Then I throw a paper towel on top and change it periodically. This makes it last a long time but I like your idea of cutting it up first.

Mike
Mike

This is a great article! It's nice to see the lettuce storage in detail. Something else I also do is chop up any salad toppings like tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, etc. I put them all in separate containers, and when I want my salad, I just throw all the different ingredients on a plate.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Yeah, when we first got it, it went into the dishwasher a few times until it became obvious that was a bad idea. But it's still held up almost 4 years since and still going strong :D

Lady
Lady

Nice post! I've also found that those Debbie Meyer Green Bags actually work (but only if you store your lettuce unwashed and uncut).
BTW, are you putting your spinner in the dishwasher?? Looks like it's splintering - big no no.

Travis @ CMM
Travis @ CMM

My wife always has the hardest time keeping salad fresh. I'm definitely going to show her this post. You've proved it can be done. Thank you.

Lazy Man and Money
Lazy Man and Money

I find that a Foodsaver and a Foodsaver canister work well for a week long salad. We once had lettuce that was find for three weeks.

David
David

Great tip on the paper towel in the bowl, had not ever thought of that. Will try it this week!

Beth
Beth

I read somewhere that tearing lettuce is better than cutting it with a knife. (It will last longer). I've had good luck with that technique.

Jon
Jon

I have a box of the "green bags" from tv. I can keep bananas from turning brown for up to 10 days. I've got a head of lettuce in the fridge that is almost 21 days old and looks like I bought it yesterday. Peppers and onions too. I've got grapes right now in my fridge that I bought almost 2 weeks ago. They are all still fresh.

Caitlin
Caitlin

Great tips! I hate wilted salad, and you're right about often skipping it as too much work.

Interesting that your lettuce is sold by the pound - much of ours is sold by the head here.

Tina
Tina

Wonderful. I hate making salads but this tip might just be the tip I need to get me back on the diet track.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Oh, great tip about the water, Matt. I never thought of that. No wonder they turn those stupid sprayers on every 10 minutes. You're probably paying for a lot of water. I never even thought of that or took extra care to shake out any excess water. Every little bit of savings count!

StupidCents
StupidCents

My wife and I actually do the same thing! We usually alternate different types of lettuce (and I noticed ours is cheaper per lb.) to give our lunches a little variety week by week.

Sometimes we'll grill up some chicken for a topper and it turns into a very satisfying lunch!

The salad spinner is very worth it!

Also a quick tip before you purchase the lettuce: make sure you ring out the water because sometimes they are so saturated from the sprayres in the produce section they will weigh quite a bit more! No need to pay for that water too!

Stupidly Yours,

Matt

Jen
Jen

This is great! The main reason I don't eat salad is I couldn't keep it fresh. Thanks!!

Jennifer
Jennifer

This is a great tip. I like to bring salads to work with me for lunch, but I've been struggling with keeping them fresh for the entire week. I don't have a problem with the veggies I put on top as I seal those in vacuum seal bags that are intended for the freezer, but by Thursday/Friday I tend to have pretty wilted looking lettuce.

Adam
Adam

Great tips Jeremy! I think I am going to give this a shot. I am trying to cut back on junk and I think this may be the trick. I agree with you on the salad spinner. We have one and I makes all of the difference. Thanks again for the advice!

MalibuGilkerson
MalibuGilkerson

 I personally love Iceberg lettuce, and I do not like the other types of lettuce.  It is very difficult today to actually go anywhere and get a salad with just Iceberg lettuce anymore, so thank you for saying what you did about it's nutritional value, I really appreciate it.

MalibuGilkerson
MalibuGilkerson

The idea that iceberg lettuce is not nutritional is an old myth.  Actually, it is low in Sodium, and very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate and Manganese.  When you consider the extra crispness adding iceberg gives, it makes sense to include it in your salads.

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