When you’re scanning a restaurant menu and see “salad,” you usually think “healthy eating.” A big bed of greens topped with colorful peppers, tomatoes, carrots—of course salads are healthy. But when you toss in cheese, creamy dressings, crunchy bits of bread, and bacon, that so-called healthy restaurant meal can easily become the calorie, fat, and sodium equivalent of a deluxe fast food burger.
That doesn’t mean you have to forego making a meal of salad when you’re eating out—you just need to be aware of the ingredients going into your garden-based meal. As long as you choose appropriately, your salad can be all the things you want it to be: rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and lean protein, without high levels of calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
Helpful hints. Keep the following tips in mind and reap all the benefits you desire when choosing a salad over an artery-clogging fast food burger.
- Less is best. When it comes to dressing, that is. Just one packet of creamy dressing at a restaurant can easily add more than 150 calories, 15 grams fat, and 500 milligrams sodium. Your best bet is to choose vinegar and oil-based dressings. And keep them on the side, dipping your salad bites into the dressing rather than slathering it over the salad.
- Downsize. Many restaurants offer their salads in both whole and half sizes. The petite portion is a great option to let you enjoy a salad and stick to your healthy eating guidelines. Another strategy is to eat half and take the other half home for another meal.
- Balance. While choosing a salad made completely of leafy greens and veggies may provide a good amount of vitamins and minerals, it may be lacking whole grains and protein. For a balanced meal top your greens with lean protein, such as cottage cheese, beans, or shrimp, and consider adding whole grains crackers and fresh fruit on the side.
—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD