Lettuce Alternatives: 7 No Lettuce ‘Salad’ Ideas to Pack for Work

Are you tired of your salads wilting away in your lunchbox by the time noon rolls around? Does fussing around with those little salad dressing containers irritate you for some reason? Do you like to have salads for lunch, but find you’ve run out of lettuce, or that it has gone bad? If so, it’s time to explore lettuce alternatives that can withstand the test of time and keep your salads fresh and crunchy. Whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, this post has got you covered with these 7 protein-packed salad ideas that are sure to satisfy your taste buds and keep you energized throughout the day.



a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients.

We don’t need lettuce to enjoy the conglomeration or confluence of plant based or omnivorous elements that create a ‘salad’. While I do recommend keeping a few things in mind, lettuce does not have to be one of them. What to keep in mind?

  • Choose a variety of colors of fruits, vegetables, and even grains:
    • Eat the rainbow. The different colors are a reflection of the different varieties of antioxidants, vitamins, and phytochemicals a food has. By mixing up the colors, you get more variety in your diet. You also get a more visually appealing dish.
  • Include some high fiber carbs:
    • We always think of the different colors of fruits and vegetables, but even grains or other high fiber, higher carb foods can vary in color. Think of black rice, black beans, red kidney beans, or purple potatoes. These will give you energy without spiking your blood sugar, especially because you are eating them with lots of non-starchy vegetables and protein.
  • Protein:
    • This can be beans (especially when combined with grains) or nuts, if you are not eating animal products. It can be leftover chicken, canned tuna or salmon, or other meat you may have leftover from dinner. Having protein on your salad can help you stay full longer. But if the salad is on the lower protein side, sometimes I like to pair it with a protein shake.
  • Choose anti-inflammatory oils:
    • Store bought dressings are notoriously made with more inflammatory oils like soybean oil. It is more unusual to find one made with extra virgin/cold pressed olive oil. For more information about oils and choosing what suits what you are preparing, check out the post “Choosing the Best Cooking Oil: Anti-Inflammatory Diet Essentials.”
    • Keep it simple with vinegar and oil, or mix up batches of your own dressing to have on hand.

  1. Kale Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken
    • Swap out traditional lettuce for sturdier, nutrient-rich kale.
    • Top it with grilled chicken for a protein boost.
    • Vegan option: Substitute chicken with marinated tofu, tempeh, cannellini beans or chickpeas.
  2. Chickpea and Quinoa Salad
    • Go for a grain salad instead of lettuce with garbanzo beans, complete protein quinoa, and for a dash of green – parsley.
    • Cooked quinoa fills you with protein and fiber. Quinoa is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. This makes it a valuable source of protein, especially for vegetarians and vegans who may have difficulty obtaining all essential amino acids from plant-based sources.
    • You can drizzle this with olive oil and vinegar ahead of time. No worries about wiltage here!
  3. Cabbage and Edamame Slaw
    • Use shredded cabbage as your base.
    • Toss in edamame for plant-based protein.
    • Grated carrot, sesame seeds, and a drizzle of sesame oil and rice vinegar give this hearty twist on slaw flavor!
    • Add tofu for an extra protein boost.
    • Vegan-friendly!
  4. Greek Salad with Lentils
    • Ditch the lettuce and combine the rest of your Mediterranean line up: cucumber, tomato, olives, red onion.
    • Mix in cooked lentils for a hearty protein source.
    • Dress with olive oil and red wine or balsamic vinegar.
    • Pack a pita to stuff it in and you have a complete protein!
    • Vegan-friendly!
    • If vegan isn’t your thing, pairs well with feta. Feta makes it beta if you ask me!
  5. Broccoli and Bacon Salad (a.k.a. Brother Bart’s Broccoli Salad)
    • Replace lettuce with fresh broccoli florets.
    • Crisp bacon adds a savory protein element.
    • Vegan option: Try coconut bacon or smoked tofu.
    • Other ingredients to make the salad: Red onion, sunflower seeds, raisins, mayo or olive oil (whatever is your jam), apple cider vinegar, salt, freshly ground black pepper
    • broccoli salad with red onion, bacon, sunflower seeds
    • This version also has poppy seeds!
  6. Caprese Avocado Salad
    • Skip the lettuce and go for avocado slices.
    • Layer with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
    • Add a drizzle of balsamic glaze for flavor.
    • Need more calories? Place it on a baguette
  7. Zucchini Noodle Salad with Pesto
    • Replace lettuce with spiralized zucchini noodles.
    • Coat them with homemade or store bought basil pesto.
    • Add grilled chicken or tofu as desired.
    • Add pine nuts if you just got paid 😁

Who needs lettuce when you have these fantastic lettuce alternatives that offer both crunch and protein? Whether you’re a meat-lover, vegetarian, or vegan, these salad ideas will help you create a lunch that stays fresh and delicious. Say goodbye to wilted salads and hello to a more satisfying and energizing midday meal!

These were just 7 ideas. If you prefer recipes, I have 21 more no lettuce salads for you in a beautiful PDF instant download with photos, directions, and nutrition information. In the 21 No Lettuce Salads PDF, you will find recipes including:

  • BBQ Farmer’s Market Salad with Sunbutter Dressing
  • Mango, Edamame & Cabbage Salad with Peanut Sauce
  • Curried Chickpea Salad
  • Quinoa Tabbouleh
  • Carrot & Mixed Bean Salad with Tahini Dressing
  • Artichoke & Chickpea Salad
  • Roasted Cauliflower, Squash & Apple Salad
  • Cranberry Tahini Coleslaw
  • and more!

The 21 No Lettuce Salads PDF is just $3.69, so don’t miss out on these nutritious, fun, and delicious ‘salad’ recipes that change how you think about what a salad is, and what it can be 😋

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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