During the hotter months of summer, salad is a popular choice for both main and side dishes. This can either be a huge money-saving opportunity or an opportunity to run your weekly grocery budget off the rails. Many people think that in order to serve a salad, they have to include every ingredient under the sun. That’s fine for a special event, but really isn’t necessary in most instances. You can still serve something stylish and filling, while keeping your ingredient count in check. Below are several solutions for making this popular meal choice slide easily into your budget. All of them are easily eyeballed with no restrictions on ingredient amount, making them easily scalable to suit any number of guests.

Dilled Kidney Bean and Scallion Side Salad

You can really use any canned bean for this, but I think the red kidney beans contrast well with the chopped scallions and make for a more colorful presentation. This is one of those recipes that’s easily increased or decreased depending on the number of people you are feeding. Simply toss a can of drained and rinsed kidney beans with half a bunch of thinly-sliced scallions and two or three sprigs of freshly-chopped dill. Dress with either a lemon vinaigrette or plain lemon juice with salt and pepper if you are trying to cut down on fat.

Use more of each ingredient if you are serving a larger crowd, and chill if desired. This is an easy alternative to having to use your oven for a hot bean dish, and goes perfectly well with grilled potatoes, veggie burgers or steamed rice and sautéed kale.

Peanut Lime Coleslaw

Most of the ingredients in this tasty recipe are extremely cost effective, making it a family favorite at my house and a go-to dish when we want something low stress. Start with a base of thinly-sliced green cabbage and add chopped red bell pepper, minced jalapeno and freshly-snipped cilantro. Just prior to serving, toss in the desired amount of dry-roasted peanuts and dress with squeezed lime.

The salty-tart flavor pairs really well with anything from pork chops and grilled fish to barbecued pineapple steaks. It’s also enough on its own if you go a little heavier on the peanuts. Salt leaches the moisture and crispness out of cabbage quickly, so it’s important not to add the peanuts and lime until just prior to serving, giving it only a minute or two for the flavors to blend.

Pasta Pepperoni Main Dish Salad

Who has the time to put together a twelve-ingredient pasta salad during the busy summer season? Simply toss some cooked spiral noodles with lightly-steamed broccoli florets, sliced black olives and your pepperoni of choice. You can go with a vegan substitute, or zest it up with turkey pepperoni. Then dress the entire thing with a bottle of your favorite low-calorie Italian dressing. This is one of our favorites to make ahead during the summer, and have on hand for lunch throughout the week. It’s also a great addition to any barbecue and easily modified for vegetarian and vegan guests.

Grilled Steak Salad

Looking for a way to feed four to six people on a single piece of meat? Look no further. You can offer an impressive dinner salad with thin, diagonally-cut slices of grilled steak on a bed of mixed spring greens or spinach, home-grown grape tomatoes, sliced onions, and pan roasted corn salsa.  Close the top of the grill and toss in a foil-covered garlic bread from the grocery store to cook along with the steak. Dress it up with a berry vinaigrette and a bottle of your favorite red wine. Sexy. Simple. Affordable. And perfect for a date or getting together with another couple for a grown up evening.

Clearly, salad doesn’t have to include every vegetable under the sun. The point is to create a simple, cool menu item that allows the cook to actually relax and enjoy the meal as well.

Myscha Theriault

Myscha Theriault

A lifelong money cruncher who can squeeze a nickel ‘til it cries, Myscha is a syndicated columnist, best-selling author, and founder of Trek Hound and We Be Sharin’.