I heard a news story come on the other day that caught my attention. The announcer was rattling off “come back and see how salad bars can be diet sabotage.”
My first thought was… “Seriously? everyone knows what a nutritional trap those are” but then it was followed by the thought that, no, not everyone who is in the world is aware that salad bars can be the total downfall for their nutritional goals.
People with the best of intentions wanting to make better nutritional choices fall into a quagmire at the salad bar.
But first, let us also establish this. Straight up… not all salad bars are created equal. If all you’re offering me is iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, shaved carrots, some mushy looking tomatoes, with dessert offerings of bland chocolate and vanilla pudding, I’m totally passing it by.
You know what I’m talking about… you’ve seen those too 😉
I remember a couple years ago being with my husband at a popular deli restaurant which also happened to have an amazing salad bar. At this point in my health and fitness journey I had already figured out what to leave behind and what to load on my plate. A woman walked by our table with, I think? a salad, I couldn’t be sure it was covered in a sea of creamy white dressing . I could see no visible vegetables.
I wanted to jump up and yell “Salad intervention!!” so very bad but my husbands restraining hand kept me in my chair. ( Nah, not really. I can honestly behave when I have to 😉
I did want to tell her… “do you know how many calories and fat you have on that plate in just dressing alone??” or that you could’ve made a much better choice having a sandwich with lean meats and veggies, and probably even some chips for less calories?
First lesson in salad bar strategies: Watching out for those dressings. Ranch which is one of the most popular has 73 calories per tablespoon with 94% of those calories being fat calories.
Let that breathe over you for a second….
1 tablespoon. Have you measured out 1 tablespoon? it’s nothing. Yet most people use far more than that . All those calories for dressing.
And not just Ranch, dressings in general are a nightmare. Opt for light vinaigrette, oil and vinegar or even dressings that might be more reduced fat ( although I think those are gross and would rather do without) if you really want Ranch, portion into a small container and dip your fork in the dressing before you grab some salad.
Second Lesson: Avoid all those pre-made salads. You know, the kinds made with mayo or unidentifiable oils? This loads up the calories.
Third Lesson: Beware of toppings. Croutons, bacon bits ( which most of the time aren’t even real bacon), and other assorted items people pile on, again, not realizing a tablespoon or two is a lot of calories.
Fourth Lesson: Beware hidden sugars. Fruit served on salad bars is often served in heavy sugary syrup. Also watch for dried fruits which although not overall bad pack lots of calories. Always look for fruit served in it’s more natural form.
So you’re reading this thinking… “Well, super awesome! What exactly CAN I have??”
I’ll tell you. Let’s build it from the bottom up so that your salad bar trip really is good for you.
Grab your plate and layer it with lettuce. And by that I mean, the dark green leafy kind. If you know anything about me then you might know I have little use for Iceberg lettuce. It’s just so…boring… and has virtually no nutritional value compared to the darker kinds.
However, if that’s all that’s offered then you don’t have a choice. Even better? If they have fresh spinach, mix some of that with your lettuce. For me now days, spinach has become my lettuce for salads.
So once you get your lettuce/spinach in place, feel free to add any colorful veggies onto your plate. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, broccoli… you get it. Whatever fresh colorful veggies are offered, take them.
Veggies are your friend 😉
Once you get that built, you want to consider whatever lean protein is available. Select enough that is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Hard boiled eggs can also be included with meat.
Then you look for “healthy” fats… avocado, nuts, cheese, olives etc. Select these sparingly, like golf ball size amount.
If you want a few “extras” on top, croutons or seeds or whatever floats your boat, do it mindfully.
Finally, when you have your colorful, fresh looking salad prepared, if you want some type of dressing, assess that carefully. As mentioned earlier, a single tablespoon full can pack a whopping amount of calories and fat to your healthy built salad.
Consider servings of dressings in marble sizes. Meaning, go sparingly.
Following a few simple tricks, and knowing what to avoid, will let you have a healthy, satisfying and nutrient dense meal without piling on tons of empty calories 🙂
Tell me, do you have any healthy tricks or tips you use at the salad bar?