“Salads are seldom the healthy choice on restaurant menus,” says Julie Enga, a registered dietitian at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Most restaurant salads are packed with more calories and fat than other menu items. You may be better off ordering a 4-ounce cheeseburger.”
In other words, if the salad is doused in dressing, topped with fried chicken or loaded with cheese, your good intentions just flew out the door.
You might think you’re better off at the salad bar. However, many of today’s salad bars stretch longer than a city block. By the time you reach the end, you end up with more on your plate than you intended. The words “all you can eat” only make matters worse, sending us back for more.
“An average plate from a salad bar can easily top 1,000 calories,” says Enga.
Before going out to your favorite restaurant, Enga stresses the importance of checking out the menu and nutritional facts online when possible.
“Salads are reported to be the main source of dietary fat for women,” she says.
“Eat a salad if that is what you really want, but don’t assume it is the healthier choice.”
› Get more green. When ordering a salad, ask the wait staff to “green it up.” Request a salad that is heavy on veggies, light on cheese and croutons. At the salad bar, choose leafy greens such as spinach and romaine.
› Go for color. At the salad bar, load your plate with lots of colorful vegetables, which provide you with more nutrients.
› Go easy. Steer clear of the mayonnaise-based salads, cheese and bacon.
› Balance is crucial. To help you make it through the day, choose protein sources like lean turkey, ham, tuna, cottage cheese, eggs and beans.
› Go light. Choose low-fat or fat-free dressings when possible. Order salad dressing on the side to control calories and fat. “Just one ladle of dressing, on average, adds an additional 150 calories and more than 10 grams of fat,” says Enga.
› Go ahead — try it! The salad bar is a place to discover and try something new, such as artichokes, beets, lentils or mushrooms. Find new, healthy items you may like.
Homemade salad dressings are surprisingly simple to make. Plus, they taste so much better than the processed variety you’ll find in the grocery aisle. Visit our recipe section for homemade salad dressing recipes.