Have you ever been out for lunch or dinner and had trouble choosing a healthy restaurant salad? Here is the common scenario – Someone is out for lunch with a friend and really wants to make a healthy choice, so they fight the incredible urge to order a burger and fries by order a salad off the menu. Later on they check the calorie content of that salad they just devoured and realize it was actually not that much healthier than the burger! How annoying is that??? lol
The last thing I want any of our loyal readers to give up a yummy burger and fries for a salad that is actually more of a calorie bomb than the burger! If we have the willpower and focus to give up the burger then I want all of you to make it count!
I could go on forever about how to decide if a salad is actually a healthy option or not, but I figured I would just break it down to 3 main things to look for – this will keep it simple and less confusing next time you are at a restaurant.
Many restaurants salads are straight up HUGE! It can be deceiving because while you are eating it, you just think well it’s a salad so I can eat the whole thing no problem. WRONG! Most of the time entree size salads at restaurants are between 2 to 4 portions of the recommended portion size of a meal.
There are a few ways to get around this problem, you can either ask the waitress how big the salad is and ask for a half order (also cheaper!) or you can just split the salad in half when it comes and ask the waitress to pack it up for you immediately. This will decrease the temptation to eat the whole thing because it will no longer be in front of you and added bonus, you will have a meal for later or the next day!
Quite often a salad from a restaurant will come doused with a high calorie dressing, which is normally much more than you would actually need to flavour your salad. To solve this problem you should first always look at what type of dressing the salad comes with. Watch out for thick, creamy dressings as this usually means they are higher in calories and try to choose vinaigrettes. Often if you see a salad dressing anywhere on the menu a restaurant will have no problem with you not only asking for a dressing on the side, but also asking for a different dressing with your salad than what the menu says it comes with.
Asking for a dressing on the side and then just dipping your fork in the dressing before you stab the salad and pop it in your mouth will actually save a lot of calories!
Below is an example of the difference in the nutrition outline of the Raincoast Salad from Cactus Club when ordered without dressing (or on the side). The difference from 920 calories to 670 calories! This is a full salad order also, which is much bigger than what one should eat in one sitting. Half that salad and put the dressing on the side and boom you have about a 350 calorie salad, which is a great. If you feel that won’t fill you up, just ask for extra protein!
One last thing to watch for when choosing a healthy restaurant salad is higher fat proteins and a bunch of higher calorie fats all thrown into one salad. Sure I’m all about the benefits of fats and that we do need them in our diets, but sometimes a salad can be loaded with many different types of fats that aren’t quite as good for you such as cheese, bacon, fried tortilla strips, onion rings, sour cream, and croutons. Keep your fat portion to nuts, avocado, and/or a little bit of cheese to keep the calorie count down.
As for proteins, yes protein is great; however, if you see the word “crispy” or “fried” in front of the protein name, this is not healthy. Look for proteins such as chicken, shrimp, or fish that is grilled instead of fried. You should also try to avoid higher calorie proteins such as sausages or cold cuts as these are also loaded with preservatives and higher in sodium.
When choosing an entree salad or a side salad at a restaurant follow the simple tips listed above and you will be sure you are making the the right choice. Watch for key words that could indicate that it is not the healthy restaurant salad you desire such as: candied, fried, crunchy, or cream dressings in order to ensure you don’t destroy all of your hard work in the gym from eating a salad.