Salad on the Same Plate as Dinner

There are three kinds of people in this world: people who eat salad before dinner, people who eat salad after dinner (aka: the French) and the strangest group of all, people who eat salad on the same plate as dinner.

I grew up in a “salad before dinner” family. On those rare occasions when we’d eat at home, mom would toss together some iceberg lettuce, sliced red onion, and cucumbers with Seven Seasons red wine vinaigrette and serve it up in white bowls. There was a ritual to all this, a sense of structure that echoed the structure we’d find when we went out to dinner. The Olive Garden did it this way. So did T.G.I. Friday’s.

As for salad after dinner, I’ve had a few experiences with this. I suppose it makes sense: after all the heavy stuff, you want something light and grassy to push it all through? (Sorry to be graphic, but I imagine that’s why it’s done. Also why frisse exists, to sweep it all down.)

But I can’t wrap my head around salad on the same plate as dinner. I understand many people grew up eating salad this way, as a side dish rather than as an appetizer, but here’s the thing: salad is cold food. It tastes better served on a cold plate. Dinner is almost always hot food. It would taste better served on a hot plate. Salad is often dressed in a dressing that’s tart from something acidic (lemon juice, vinegar). There are a few occasions where that might complement the entree you’re enjoying (a chicken breast, perhaps) but most of the time, you don’t want dressing mingling with your Fettuccine Alfredo or, as in the picture above, your Chicken Parmesan.

I ate that Chicken Parm at, well, Parm on the Lower East Side. I ordered it as a platter so both things came on the same plate. As a throwback, it was cute, it reminded me of going over a friend’s house growing up and having the mom serve up lasagna and salad side-by-side. It’s how a lot of people experience salad in their lives.

But that red sauce did not make the salad taste better. It was something hot and mushy underneath something cold and crunchy. Inversely, the salad didn’t do much for the Chicken Parmesan. The heat from the chicken wilted a few stray lettuce leaves which lay there sadly on my fork as I cut my way through the cheese and the breading. All in all, this dinner would’ve been better if the chicken had been served on a hot plate and the salad on a cold plate.

Which is why I’m writing this post. It’s not like the most important thing in the world–it’s probably one of the least important things in the world, as a matter of fact–but we’re here talking about food and, well, this is a food-related rant. Salad needs to be served on a separate, preferably cold, plate. Keep it away from your dinner.

57 thoughts on “Salad on the Same Plate as Dinner”

  1. In the Italian tradition, I have always heard that salad is eaten last because it always has vinegar, and vinegar is both a palette cleanser and killer. It’s also a mild digestive aid (at least, that is what I have been told). Eating salad (i.e., vinegar) before or during the meal desensitizes the palette to other flavors.

    1. In Italy we usually have salad as a side to second (and last) course, which is meat or fish. It is served in one big bowl and everyone gets some on his plate (I’m talking about meals at home, of course). The dressing doesn’t really mix with anything because we don’t actually use creamy dressings, it’s usually just olive oil and salt (+ pepper/vinegar/lemon juice) on greens, so yes quite a palate cleanser. If it’s a heartier salad (with more veggies, or cheese, tuna, eggs, croutons, avocado etc., for example), on the other side, it’s considered a complete meal – usually lunch, and that’s it. Never seen anyone eating pasta and salad at the same time… or pasta and any other side at the same time, for that matter: pasta is considered a standalone dish, as opposed to a meat or fish dish that calls for a veggie side. I’ve also rarely seen salad eaten as an appetizer, unless someone is on a diet and wants to fill up first.

      1. I’ve always thought of pasta (I mean plain pasta, not anything with a separately made sauce or added hickory-bobs or some such) as a side dish.

        But pasta and salad together (except past salad) does just seem weird to me as well xP

  2. To be fair, the photograph of your meal looks just awful! Too much food served on a small plate. Now, if you serve less food on a large platter, then the salad need not touch the main and your plate can be room temperature. :)

  3. I grew up eating salad on the same plate. There was no particular reason for it, except probably to save dishes (we had no dishwasher and my father usually ended up both cooking the meal and cleaning up after it and was damned if he was going to wash more than he had to). I have to say, if nobody in your house is a particularly excellent cook and the meal is my childhood’s standard (brown rice, plain, and a broiled chicken breast), eh. Who cares. None of the food is interesting enough to matter– you’re not savoring it, you’re eating it as fast as you can so you can go back to your room and read without your embarrassing parents there. But I wouldn’t want to get it that way at a restaurant.

  4. Over here in Germany salad is usually served as a side dish on its own small plate or in small bowls.

    Also, at least when I was little, dinner at home was not a warm meal but bread with different kinds of cheese, ham, and cold sausages. So the salad might end up on the same plate as your dinner none the worse for wear. ;-)

    Nowadays I switch between the various ways of serving salad based on whim, weather (salad can BE dinner, especially in summer!), and the kind of dish and salad on the menu.

  5. And just like that, I know what I’m making for dinner tonight. Chicken parm and a big salad. Not, of course, on the same plate.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly! Salad has it’s place with every meal, it just shouldn’t be sharing plate space with it. Great to be with you on the PH panel last night. You have a new fan….

  7. I am actually one of the weirdos who LOVES salad (in a vinagrette or a caesar dressing) on the same plate as a red-sauce italian dish, particularly one like lasagna that’s kind of soft. And I like it when it wilts a little also!

  8. Although we always had salad in a separate bowl (seriously, so much easier to eat salad out of than a plate!), my mother has the tendency to stab some of her salad with her fork and THEN scoop up some of her pasta from her separate plate and eat them together. This makes me crazy every time she does it! Then again, I am one of those people who CANNOT have their foods touching each other on their plate. Yes, I need one of those children’s plates with the separate food compartments and all would be right with the world.

  9. I’m totally on the salad on the same plate camp. I like hot and cold together and crisp and mushy…texture! Plus, DISHES, who needs more dirty ones?

  10. I may be the strangest of all, but my favorite way to do it is to eat my Italian red sauce dish, and then eat the salad in the same bowl, getting some red sauce in every bite. I’ve just always done it that way, and I love it!

  11. I eat salad on the same plate and grew up that way. The only exception is if the salad doesn’t match the dinner at all or dinner is very saucy then it goes on the side. I try to match flavor profile of the meal with the salad so an asian salad goes with dumplings and a chopped salad goes with meatloaf etc. My husband is from the separate plate camp and he either gets himself another plate or eats a dinner serving, then salad off the same plate and then another dinner serving if he’s still hungry.

  12. My mom would always serve a “Caesar salad” (just iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, store-bought croutons and ‘Caesar dressing’ that was clear, not creamy) in a bowl alongside our main dish on a plate. So, separate serving dish, but at the same time. Does that blow your mind?? (FWIW, now, I am lazy and serve a little bit of salad on the main plate with the entree and a veg or starch. I am terrible at making salads, anyway.)

  13. I eat salad in a bowl at the same time as everything else, usually. But sometimes on the same plate, depending on what the entree is. I just don’t really mind if my food touches or mixes.

  14. I often serve salad on the same plate, because when you are the dish-doer you don’t want to have twice as many dishes to do. :) but I agree, they SHOULD be served separately. but when it’s just the boyfriend and I it’s usually side-by-side

    1. my thoughts exactly LOL – plus my kids like a full big plate – by serving salad on it I can make it work as a visual of how portions should be – of course nothing’s allowed to touch ;p

  15. So I guess you have a lot of “strange” salad with dinner people who read your blog. I am one of them as well. If I’m really hungry sometimes a salad before seems so unappealing. I usually serve with, separate bowl usually. I like the combo of the cool greens and acidity (or in some cases creamy ranch or caesar) with a hearty dish. My parents always eat the salad first, I like to go back and forth.

  16. We always had dinner and salad served at the same time just on different plates. My mother made beef patties once a week (hamburgers were the devil as far as she was concerned, but beef patties were ok…..hmmm) Anyway, I would always eat a piece of beef patty with some salad attached. If the starch of the meal were potatoes those would be added to the fork as well. Burger and fries. Yessssss!

    One of my favorite use for leftovers is pasta and leftover salad nuked (don’t judge me!) for 3 minutes taken out and add grated Parm.

    1. My mother was the same way with the beef patties vs hamburgers! I was just thinking about that the other day and finding it perplexing.

  17. I actually ate salad (kale) on the same plate as dinner (lasagna) last night. I usually keep the two courses separate, but I sometimes like to have one less dirty dish. I liked the bites of salad mixed with a little lasagna, to cut the richness. It also made my plate seem fuller, so I didn’t try to fill it (and my belly) with too much lasagna.

  18. YES! I cannot STAND salad on the same plate as dinner. I don’t like my foods touching and I especially don’t want that tangy dressing messing up my meatloaf.

  19. Good lord – does no one have dishwashers! I’m in the separate bowl, same time as entree camp. But don’t care if my food touches – all OK.

  20. And then there are those of us who eat salad for dinner… the strangest group of all.
    {I prefer my salad after the main course but normally eat it first since it fills me up.}

  21. I grew up in a “salad on the same plate” household, but I think my Mom has abandoned it by now. We are definitely in the camp of salad on a separate plate, and after the main course, not before. The only downside is that I’m sometimes not interested in food anymore by then, but it does encourage you to eat less so that you can have the salad, too. There was a restaurant in the Marina area of San Francisco, now gone, that served a portion of lasagna on top of a very tart, vinegary salad, and I have to say that it was so good that it haunts me – every bit had the hot, tomato-y and spicy lasagne, and the cold, vinegary salad.

  22. My issue is more with timing than anything else. If I am getting dinner on the table, eating salad first means that has to be assembled and we are eating it at the table. When we move to the main course, I would have to clear the table, perhaps finish the main dish, and serve it with new dishes. Of course, for some dishes that would be delicious, if they were made to sit for a bit. But some things are made to be eaten right away and I dislike lukewarm food.

    I think the practice of serving a salad first, followed by a main, makes a great deal of sense if you have the the resources and timing that a restaurant cook has. But if you are a home cook, it isn’t as practical to pull off.

  23. I think a salad after dinner and before dessert is the best way to serve it. Especially if I’m staging a dinner party that I want to enjoy myself. Serving nibbles, snacks, canapés, etc. with drinks before dinner instead of a sit-down first course (which, if I’m going to bother, better be really interesting, which salad isn’t) allows for temporal and spatial fluidity and allows me to focus on the main course. And unless the main course is really messy, a bowl of lightly dressed greens passed around afterwards is a really nice and easy way to extend the dining experience.

  24. Kathleen Neumark

    I completely agree! For me, worrying about trying to keep food from falling off of my plate takes away from my enjoyment of the meal. Both salad and anything covered in sauce and cheese take some space to eat. And yes, the salad will be wilted by being near the hot entree, especially at a restaurant where they often use warmed plates or plates from the dishwasher. I personally love my salad in a bowl before my dinner, almost every night.

  25. I was raised with a Greek household where we always had a leafy green salad at the table with the meal. My father would generally use the big salad bowl as his own and, as I got older and more grossed out by the practice, I started serving myself on my own plate before anyone else. The exception to this is the classic tomato salad with lots of dressing for dipping bread. I love salad and am known throughout the family and friends for my salad making skills. Now that I have a family of my own, I make sure the little ones get their greens and I do serve salads on the same plate as dinner. I do try, however not to comingle foods, which I know my 3yr old greatly appreciates. My hubby and in-laws however like to just pile everything in the middle of the plate, which I personally find equal parts annoying and disgusting. I like to taste my food and generally don’t think a messy pile of salad, starch, veg, entree to be appetizing and it also is hard to actually taste the food you are eating. Some battles you just can’t win, though. Mostly I just leave it alone and make sure my own plate looks the way I want it to. Live and let live, even if it means the salad is a bit wilted and saucy.

  26. Oh, but IT IS the most important thing in the world. The first world, anyway. This, the demise of the butler’s pantry, and tomato aspic molds. All things to be legitimately concerned about.

  27. I put my salad on the same plate whenenver I can, because doing dishes is the pits. If not, though, I eat it after. It’s supposed to be better for digestion or something!

  28. I actually enjoy eating salad at the same time as dinner precisely for what you mentioned- contrast! It’s nice to take a bite of cold, crisp, tart salad and then a bite of warm, soft and cheesy pasta (or your entree of choice). Although I prefer my salad on a separate plate, putting them on the same plate is just a practical thing (fewer dishes).

  29. I also grew up in Oceanside and that meal could have been served at our house as well, including the same Seven Seas salad dressing. It was probably on sale at Waldbaums.

  30. I love warm salad. Either tender greens like mache with a warm vinaigrette poured over the top (so good with sauteed shallots and chicken livers) or I’ll rinse the leaves, usually romaine, in warm water to take the chill off. The British each braised romaine hearts, though that’s a little too cooked for me.

    In any case, I would never eat salad from a chilled plate – it’s too cold. I prefer to pretend my lettuce has just come from a sun-warmed garden – directly to my plate!

    1. I do agree, however, that the salad in the photo is the type that should be served on it’s own plate – it just doesn’t go with that particular entree.

  31. I absolutely love this article! I think for me, if the plate is heated – salad goes on the side. But for a room temperature plate with hot food on it – it depends on the meal &/or the salad itself. Chicken, a starch & salad, or a nice piece of lasagna with some Caesar salad on the side… Those kinds of meals I can do. However, everyone has to draw the line somewhere… For example, if it was more of a specialty salad with nuts & fruit or something, I’d definitely have it on the side. For me it’s more about ingredients and flavours than anything.

  32. Wow–I’m stunned. I thought the reason salad plates were invented was so that you had your whole meal served at once. You put yours in a bowl and eat it first?

  33. My mother’s famous saying was “it all goes down the same shoot, so just eat it!” New to this blog and love it already. I look forward to following along!

  34. I like to eat my salad at the end. It is a palate cleanser. BTW have you seen lorraine Wallace’s cookbook called Mr Sundays soups. She puts salad on top of her soup!

    Love your blog especially since I lived in NY years ago, and you mention some great restaurants in NYC. I just bought a ceramic flat cooktop stove and am researching cookware for it. Could you comment or give info on healthy not Teflon non stick ceramic cookware. Pans have to be flat bottomed so they don’t move around and scratch the stovetop. Please what are your thoughts and ideas on healthy non stick cookware. What cookware do you use or recommend? Thanks for your help.

    1. HI Mariah,
      Thanks for chiming in about salad… glad you’re enjoying the blog! I don’t know much about Teflon non-stick ceramic cookware. I use two All-Clad non-stick skillets which are pretty good; and, when I can, a cast iron skillet which is my fave. If you maintain it and season it often, it’ll be naturally non stick; plus you can heat it up without any fat in it and not worry about giving off carcinogens. Good luck!

      1. Adam,
        Thanks for your prompt answer. The thing is I dont want Teflon, but am looking at ceramic non stick pans like Scan pan, Greenpan, tramontina
        Etc because they are made without Teflon or dangerous toxins. I heard cast iron is heavy and could scratch my new ceramic stove. Can’t slide it from burner to burner, of course.
        Also have you ever used a slow cooker and do you have any recipes that would Adapt for use in a slow cooker? How about vegetarian recipes for two? Sometimes I like a big creative salad as my main course….
        Thanks for your blog…it’s informative, but fun and witty, never boring. Lol.

  35. But have you ever had a wilted spinach salad with warm balsamic vinaigrette, bacon pieces, and goat cheese? There’s certainly something to be said about warm salads.

  36. Salad on the same plate is absurd to me as a Macdonald as a food source.
    I find it absurd to dump food together like inmates plate.
    I grown up with salad on the side dish accompany our courses , and highlight the dish served with.
    We ate fruit or cheeses after main courses.

    Mixing up cold and liquid , and savory sound worse then I can imagine …
    Finded unimaginable … Neanderthal table manner

  37. Any way it looks delicious… I am in that group of people who like to have their food with salad in the same plate.

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