It’s the default summer pick on any menu for those trying to keep swimsuit fit: a nice, healthy salad. The very word—“salad”—connotes wellness. But while the lettuce-and-fresh-vegetable fundamentals of a traditional American salad remain ideal parts of a sensible diet, America’s restaurants often bury them beneath loads of diet-sabotaging sustenance.
In many national eateries, fatty meats, cheeses, and sauces overpower the veggies. With the sour cream and fried taco shell that accompanies a Mexican salad or the fried chicken and cheese atop the chicken-tender salad, many choices from the salad side of the menu contain more calories, unhealthy carbs, and artery-clogging saturated fat than the hamburger offerings.
If you think you’re getting a light, healthy bowl of greens when you’re eating out at favorite restaurants like Panera Bread, Quiznos, or Applebee’s, you may want to take a closer look. While many restaurant salads are low in calories and loaded with healthy ingredients, others are diet disasters.
Rad: Panera Bread Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad (pictured)
This bright and colorful salad is filled with phytochemicals thanks to a healthy dose of strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, and pineapple. One bowlful delivers a helping of antioxidants to keep your heart healthy. A serving of chicken makes it super satisfying too—for only 280 calories and 8 grams of fat. Ask for a reduced-fat vinaigrette or dressing on the side. We like their reduced-fat balsamic vinaigrette for just another 60 calories and 5 grams of fat.
Ugly: Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad
While this salad sounds healthy and fresh, the Asiago Croutons jack up the stats to 770 calories, 47 grams of fat, and 1200 milligrams of sodium. Leave off the croutons and you’ll shave 340 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 650 milligrams of sodium.
Rad: P.F. Chang’s Asian Shrimp Salad (pictured)
P.F. Chang’s takes watermelon center stage, pairing it with grilled shrimp and a tangy citrus vinaigrette. The juicy melon keeps you cool on a summer day and is one of nature’s top sources of lycopene, a plant chemical believed to protect against prostate cancer and improve heart health. So go ahead and start munching. While this salad is definitely delicious and light, roughly half of its 425 calories and 33 fat grams come from the citrus dressing. Ask for yours on the side and drizzle on half to slim it down even more. (Note: One salad is two servings.)
PF Chang’s offers only one other salad, Chicken Chopped Salad with Ginger Dressing, that rings in at 365 calories per serving. Make the salad more nutritious by using only a small amount of dressing. (Note: One salad is two servings.)
Rad: Ruby Tuesday Petite Grilled Salmon Salad (pictured)
The smaller version of the traditional grilled salmon salad features heart-healthy salmon as well as a variety of other veggies like peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. The petite version weighs in at 553 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 492 milligrams of sodium. Leave off the croutons and use half the dressing (ask for it on the side) to cut those numbers down even more.
Ugly: Carolina Chicken Salad
Weighing in at 1157 calories, 70 grams of fat, and 2891 milligrams of sodium, fried chicken, bacon, full-fat cheddar cheese, croutons, and honey mustard make this the most caloric salad on the menu. With so many fresh options, either steer clear of this dish or lighten it up by ordering a petite version, subbing grilled chicken for fried, and using vinaigrette dressing instead of honey mustard.
Rad: Quizno’s Pan Asian Chicken Salad (pictured)
Quizno’s touts their Pan Asian Chicken Salad on their “Under 500 Calorie” menu (rings in at 430 calories and 17.5 grams of fat), and we agree that this is a healthier salad pick. If you are watching your sodium, use only half the Pan Asian dressing since a full serving contributes 1260 milligrams of sodium. Leave off the crispy rice noodles to knock the calories down to 370 and request extra veggies for your salad.
Ugly: Chicken Caesar Chopped Salad
It might seem fairly harmless, but this chicken Caesar packs as many calories and more fat than a Big Mac and fries. The reason? A staggering 480 calories worth of peppercorn Caesar dressing which delivers a whopping 50 grams of fat. It’s a sodium minefield too with 2,090 milligrams per serving. One order will set you back 920 calories, 66.5 grams of fat, and 20.5 grams of saturated fat.
California Pizza Kitchen
Thumbs Up: California Pizza Kitchen Half Moroccan Chicken Salad (pictured)
The Moroccan Chicken Salad features spiced chicken breast and tons of fruits and veggies like butternut squash, beets, dates, and avocado. Order the half-size instead of the whole; it’s still generous enough to keep you satisfied at a reasonable 412 calories and 309 milligrams of sodium.
Thumbs Down: Full Waldorf Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
Loaded with greens, grapes, and apples, this Waldorf looks like a healthy pick. In reality, it could be one of the most fattening salads out there. The reason: sheer size. When your salad is as gigantic as this one, it has more of everything – like candied walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and fat-laden blue cheese dressing. That translates to an over-the-top 1,570 calories, 25 grams of saturated fat, and 2,082 milligrams of sodium.
Question of the Day?
What’s your favorite restaurant salad? Do you know how many calories are in it?