Ever since I was young, fruit salads were my favorite part of any barbecue or backyard bash. A huge bowl of fruit? Sign me up—no burgers needed here. As I’ve gotten older and become more conscious of making sure my diet stays balanced, fruit salads have remained a firm favorite, but now I try to think about ways to elevate the simple mix. By adding only one or two ingredients more than just fruit, you can take this classic side and turn it into a more complete dish.
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As someone who follows a primarily plant-based diet, protein is one of the macronutrients I’ve been taught to think about constantly—so that was the first thing I thought to add to my favorite one-note dish. Luckily, there are plenty of protein sources in the plant world—here are some of my favorites for upgrading a simple bowl of fruit to something centerpiece-worthy:
Sure, you could go with any kind of nut, but pistachios are great because they’re a complete protein. What does that mean? Simply that they contain significant levels of all nine essential amino acids. You’re probably used to adding them to more savory salads or earthy desserts—which means they work perfectly atop fresh fruit, too. Other crunchy options like pumpkin seeds work as well but aren’t quite as protein-forward.
There are a few cheeses out there that pair well with fruit, but feta is a personal favorite—especially with watermelon. Because it’s one of the healthier cheese options, you only need a little bit of feta for a big impact. Its salty, briny flavor plays perfectly with fresh fruit, and it offers 4 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving. It’s also getting easier and easier to find vegan cheeses, and feta-style options are pretty top-notch.
Just 1 cup of this gluten-free ancient grain contains 8 grams of complete protein. It’s also a nice neutral base for a fun salad like this one, which adds a grain to the classic mostly fruit option. You could also try using barley, teff, or millet, but quinoa’s nutty flavor works particularly well.
No, I’m not suggesting you serve your fruit salad atop a plain dollop of yogurt like you might at breakfast. Instead, take your cues from savory salad and loosen up some Greek or plant-based yogurt for a delicious dressing. It’s a trick I learned from nutritionist and mbg Functional Nutrition Program instructor Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, who uses “plain yogurt thinned out with water with different spices mixed in” as a dressing for lunches. For fruit salad, try adding a little citrus zest or spices that pair with fruit.
Getting creative with simple favorites can turn them into something new to love, and it’s particularly fun when you can take a childhood favorite and transform it into something extra nutritious. And since we may actually be hosting or heading to get-togethers this summer, that’s all the more reason to try out a new recipe.