When you're cooking for two, eating healthy can be more challenging than you'd expect. So many recipes call for half of something: half an onion, half a cucumber, half an avocado. And unless you're a meal-planning ninja and you've laid your week out perfectly so that the other halves get used up, chances are that onion will shrivel, that cucumber will wither, and that avocado will turn brown. The solution to the problem of food going bad — at least for my mom — is the salad bar.
It's worth mentioning that my mom's grocery-shopping habits are not really normal, at least not in the United States. She goes to the grocery store — sometimes multiple grocery stores — almost daily. She shops for exactly what she needs for dinner that night and maybe breakfast the next morning. Her refrigerator is full of condiments (mustard, mayonnaise, salsa, blackberry jam) and very little else; her freezer is almost exclusively for ice cream.
My mom grew up in Germany, where this way of shopping was normal. For her, buying more than she can use right away is as strange as going to the store every single day is to many of us. (Although, I have to admit, my refrigerator looks shockingly similar to hers, only with a slightly more international condiment collection.)
When you're shopping for a brood of hungry children, buying what will get eaten immediately and only that isn't hard — at least it wasn't in our house. As a teenager, my brother could easily wolf down a dozen chocolate chip cookies and then ask what was for dinner. My sister and I were also good eaters. My mom used to pack our lunches in the brown paper bags they use at the grocery store — you know the ones I mean ... the really big ones.
These days, however, she's usually cooking for two, not a ravenous family of five. Most nights it's just she and my dad, and the task of shopping for two, while avoiding leftover food that will linger in your fridge, isn't always easy — especially when you're going for healthy. Consider: Do you really need an entire head of lettuce for two? A bunch of carrots? A whole ball of mozzarella?
Still, my mom makes a salad almost every night — and she does so with the help of the salad bar. The beauty of the salad bar is that it allows my mom to get exactly as much as she needs for that day's salad — nothing more, nothing less, and nothing wasted.
She can easily throw together a medley of lettuces (my dad prefers iceberg or romaine, while she goes for something leafier) and add-ins like sliced red onions, cucumbers, and red peppers; cherry tomatoes; and cheese crumbles. Bonus: The salad bar has also made them more adventurous. I recently took a quick peek inside her salad box and saw that, to her very predictable assortment, she had added a small serving of black beans.
Of course, it's also true that, regardless of how many people you're cooking for, the salad bar makes prep and cleanup that much easier. Making a salad from scratch is not only time-consuming, but it's also messy. When that lettuce has been pre-washed, the onions are already sliced, and the green beans have been trimmed, it's that much easier to get dinner on the table and keep your kitchen pristine.
Do you use the salad bar in your everyday cooking? Share in the comments!