How Can I Order the Best Salad at a Restaurant?

Q: I’ve heard that salads are sometimes the worst thing on the menu even though they have such healthy ingredients.  How can I order the best salad at a restaurant to get the nutrition without too many calories?

Loaded with greens and fresh, crispy, vitamin-packed veggies, salads may seem like a given as the best choice on the menu, but that’s not always the case.  As more restaurants add calorie and nutrition information to menus, you may be surprised at what you see when it comes to calories, saturated fat, sodium and carbohydrates.  Salads can really be as healthy or as decadent as you choose. 

Here are some ways to order the best salad at a restaurant to get the most health benefits without added calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium:

  • Start with a vibrant green base – Look for choices that include dark leafy greens such as Romaine lettuce, spinach, spring mix, kale, arugula and similar to get a wealth of vitamins and minerals along with your fiber.  For fans of iceberg lettuce, opt for a mix of iceberg and darker greens for added nutrition without depriving yourself of your favorite crispy lettuce.
  • Add energizing protein – Order salads that include lean proteins like grilled chicken, salmon, shrimp, or vegetarian sources such as beans and lentils. These proteins satisfy!
  • Load up on fresh fruits and veggies – Tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, broccoli, bell peppers, jicama, onions, corn, apples, pears, berries, etc., add flavor and nutrition with few added calories and little fat. Watch the amount of avocados on your salad.  While they can be a nutritious addition, they are high in calories.
  • Sample whole grains – Many restaurants are now serving a variety of salads that include whole grains such as quinoa, farro and barley.  Whole grains can add heartier texture and deep flavor with the benefit of added vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • Limit or skip the high calorie additions – With cheese, bacon, fried chicken, tortilla strips, and croutons, some salads clock in at more than 1000 calories. 
  • Choose dressing wisely – Request salad dressing on the side and add it yourself, as needed.  Ask about lower calorie and fat options or even oil and vinegar or lemon juice for an added dose of flavor.

    Take the work out of ordering the best salad with dietitian-recommended menu choices like these at participating Healthy Dining restaurants.