5 Protein-Rich Salad Toppers That Aren’t Chicken or Tuna

One of the most common suggestions I make to my clients is to swap sandwiches and wraps for salad. It’s a great way to instantly up your veggie intake. But most people have the same concern: They quickly tire of chicken and tuna, the go-to toppers for many salad eaters. If you’re bored with your protein choices too, try these alternatives for a whole new range of flavors. I predict you’ll end up with some serious salad cravings.

1. Canned sardines

These tiny fish are nutrient powerhouses. A full can packed in spring water provides 17 grams of protein, and a quarter of your daily calcium needs. Not to mention, they’re a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to heart and brain health, anti-inflammatory benefits, glowing skin, and shiny hair. While sardines are flavorful on their own, you can chop them and toss with a little sundried tomato pesto for some extra pizazz. Or if you’re not a fan of serving these fish straight from the can, grill or oven roast them before adding to your salad.

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2. Lentils

Just half a cup of this hearty pulse provides 10 grams of protein and six grams of filling fiber, along with ample vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—making it the ideal plant-based, protein-packed topper. For a low-maintinence way to add this pulse to your lunch salad, opt for vacuum sealed, canned (drained and rinsed), or even frozen pre-cookedthey’re all healthy options. To give your lentils a flavor boost, toss them in some olive tapenade, or try out this tasty mixture:

  • 1 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp. of minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. dried Italian herb seasoning

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3. Hard-boiled eggs

One large egg packs about six grams of protein—or 3.5 grams if you use only the whites. For a unique salad topper, create a healthy egg salad by finely chopping the hard-boiled eggs and mixing with either hummus, guacamole, or seasoned tahini. Or simply slice them and sprinkle on top of a salad.

4. Frozen shrimp

Keeping a bag of frozen, pre-cooked, cleaned shrimp in the freezer can be another quick and easy substitute for the canned tuna in your pantry. Three ounces contains only 70 calories but provides 17 grams of protein, along with a healthy dose of key nutrients like selenium, vitamin B12, choline, copper, and zinc.

Simply rinse your shrimp under cold water and serve heated or chilled, whichever you prefer. Either way, here’s the recipe for my go-to sauce to dress shrimp:

  • 1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed citrus juice (orange, blood orange, tangerine, or lime)
  • ½ tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • A few slices of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 chopped chile pepper or a dash of crushed red pepper

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5. Extra-lean ground turkey

Most people think of ground turkey for burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, or stuffed peppers. But it’s also a great salad topping, hot or chilled. Four ounces of raw 93% lean turkey meat becomes about three ounces when cooked, which provides 15 grams of protein. In my newest book, Slim Down Now ($16, amazon.com), I suggest combining this portion of browned extra-lean ground turkey with a tasty avocado sauce. To try it yourself, puree a quarter of an avocado with these ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped basil
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper

If you’d rather keep your avocado intact, serve slices over ground turkey that’s been sautéed with the seasonings above and a quarter cup of low-sodium veggie broth.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.