Strategies for Salad Bar Survival

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 two tablespoons of a low-calorie or light salad dressing, OR only one 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.

Salad Bar Guide

Use the following guide to chart your course while maneuvering through your next salad bar excursion: 
Food Amount Calories Fat Grams
Artichoke Hearts 1/4 Cup 20 Trace
Avocado 1/4 Cup 75 8
Bean Sprouts 1/4 Cup 8 Trace
Beets 1/4 Cup 15 0
Bell Pepper 2 Tbsp 3 Trace
Broccoli 1/4 Cup 6 Trace
Carrot, shredded 1/4 Cup 15 Trace
Cauliflower 1/4 Cup 6 Trace
Cucumber 1/4 Cup 4 Trace
Green Peas 2 Tbsp 30 Trace
Lettuce 1 Cup 10 Trace
Mushrooms 1/4 Cup 5 Trace
Olives, ripe 2 Tbsp 30 4
Radishes 2 Tbsp 2 Trace
Spinach 1 Cup 10 Trace
Tomato 1/4 Cup 15 Trace
Fruit Cocktail, canned in juice 1/4 Cup 35 0
Mandarin Oranges, in juice 1/4 Cup 25 0
Melon, fresh 1/4 Cup 15 0
Peaches, canned in juice 1/4 Cup 25 0
Pineapple, canned in juice 1/4 Cup 35 0
Raisins 2 Tbsp 60 0
Strawberries, fresh 1/4 Cup 10 0
Beans, Nuts, Seeds
Chickpeas 1/4 Cup 40 < 1
Kidney Beans 1/4 Cup 55 Trace
Sunflower Seeds 1 Tbsp 80 7
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs
Eggs, chopped 2 Tbsp 25 2
Ham, chopped 1 oz 35 1
Shrimp 1 oz 30 < 1
Turkey 1 oz 35 < 1
Tuna, canned in water 1 oz 35 < 1
Cheese, Dairy
Cottage Cheese, creamed 1/4 Cup 60 3
Cottage Cheese, 1% low fat 1/4 Cup 40 < 1
Cheddar Cheese 2 Tbsp 55 5
Mozzarella Cheese 2 Tbsp 40 4
Parmesan Cheese 2 Tbsp 45 3
Chow Mein Noodles 1 Tbsp 15 <1
Croutons 1/4 Cup 27 4
Bacon Bits 1 Tbsp 25 2
Mixed Salads
Cole Slaw 1/4 Cup 45 5
Macaroni Salad 1/4 Cup 100 10
Potato Salad 1/4 Cup 100 10
Tuna Salad 1/4 Cup 190 10
Three Bean Salad 1/4 Cup 60 0
Blue Cheese 2 Tbsp 155 15
Italian 2 Tbsp 160 15
French 2 Tbsp 135 15
Italian, low calorie 2 Tbsp 15 0
Lemon Juice 2 Tbsp 8 0
Oil and Vinegar 2 Tbsp 100 8
1000 Island 2 Tbsp 120 10
Vinegar 2 Tbsp 4 0
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Member Comments

Thank you Report
Can be used anywhere!!!!!!! Report
My favorite meal and I may never see another salad bar in my lifetime.. sigh. Report
thank you Report
This article is over 15 years old! Salad bars are a thing of the past since COVID-19
Who uses one teaspoon of bacon bits ? When I wasn't paying attention to what I ate, I would pile a salad with bacon bits, croutons and shredded cheese. I had no idea that I was eating 50 calories of veggies and 500 calories of bacon bits !

I wont eat bacon bits anymore, not because of the high calorie count. but because they aren't really made from bacon. Report
Reasonable Report
Thanks Report
Won't be seeing a salad bar for a while with Covid Report
This os great info! Report
Thank You helps to know Report


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.