Nutrition Articles

Strategies for Salad Bar Survival

Not Every Salad is Diet-Friendly

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The infamous salad bar, available everywhere from work cafeterias to family restaurants, can round out a meal with a wholesome side dish, or be a meal all by itself. What could be more healthy and nutritious? Those vegetables and fruits can be loaded with a variety of nutrients, including beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid and fiber.

However, the salad bar can also be filled with dangerous landmines, ready to blow your calorie intake to smithereens! In fact, if you’re not careful, you can innocently fill that salad plate with items that add up to over 1,000 calories—more than a burger and fries or a steak and potato dinner!

Take the safe path and apply these strategies to avoid salad bar traps:
  • Use a smaller plate; limit the number of trips you make.
  • Start with the nutrient-rich dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine, and endive.
  • Fill up your plate with vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli and tomatoes.
  • Power on the protein with legumes, beans, lean meat, turkey, and crabmeat.
  • Take only a small taste of the high-fat food items such as pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and coleslaw.
  • Go easy on extras like croutons, chow mein noodles, crackers, nuts, seeds, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheeses.
  • Dress your salad for success with 2 tablespoons of a low-calorie or light salad dressing, OR only 1 tablespoon of regular salad dressing. For a new taste twist try a splash of flavored vinegar.
  • If the salad bar contains soups, go for a broth-based version over a cream-style selection.
  • Allow only a small taste of the whipped topping-jello-fruit combinations.
  • For dessert, return to the salad bar for a small plate of fruit topped with a little yogurt or cottage cheese.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thank you for this article. I enjoy going to restaurants that offer a salad bar. I skip the croutons, cheese and other unhealthy choices. I also when available I chose oil and vinegar versus thousand island or ranch. - 9/8/2015 1:40:07 PM
  • The chart is very helpful but I wish it included sodium content. - 8/11/2012 8:19:45 AM
    Thanks for this article. It is extremely helpful. - 1/5/2012 2:49:07 PM
  • I thank you for this article,lord knows it is going to help me and my mom. Thanks - 1/26/2011 11:00:15 PM
  • This is really helpful. When I do clinicals in the hospital for school it's very easy to think you're being healthy with a salad... but you can go way over board with the higher fat items if you're not paying attention. - 1/26/2011 7:51:45 PM
  • This is very helpful. I printed it off to make copies for my weight loss group. - 1/26/2011 2:31:48 PM
    Thank you for the article it is very helpful!!! - 1/26/2011 10:10:51 AM
    Doesn't this rather take the fun away from eating out, though? I can make a plain green salad at home, and do it more cheaply, too. I don't make the fancier ones, because my husband is watching his weight and it isn't worth making. potato salad or rice salad for one person. On the rare occasions we have a meal outside our own home I prefer to eat something I CAN'T easily make at home. - 1/26/2011 9:58:13 AM
  • Nothing is as gross than salad bars with all those awful mayonnaise-based offerings. Yuk. I hate mayonnaise. I hate sour cream. I hate all cheeses. I hate any potato salad that I did not make myself. At salad bars I like to make myself a chopped veggie salad and maybe top it with a slight slash of italian dressing or just some vinegar and oil, salt and pepper. I don't understand how people have trouble with this, those salads are just so GROSS. Just imagine all those mayo-based salads bubbling with botulism....I'll take a DRY salad any day!!!!. - 1/26/2011 9:47:59 AM
  • Of course if temptation is too much ask for a served salad! - 1/26/2011 9:18:49 AM
  • MARYK2000
    Thanks! I think this is something we all know but need to see for reinforcement.
    Great article! - 1/26/2011 3:47:16 AM
  • Very clear and easy to follow. Thanks! - 1/5/2011 2:20:20 PM
  • Very clear and easy to follow. Thanks! - 1/5/2011 2:20:20 PM
  • Thank you for making this printer friendly! I can take this to a restaurant and use it to make better choices. It may not be all-inclusive, but it's a great start that will help me when I am trying to make smart choices. - 7/6/2010 11:22:56 AM
  • Going to use this when I go out and eat at a salad bar. - 1/3/2010 8:38:04 PM

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