Salad Bar Strategies for a Balanced Plate
By Carolyn Richardson
The salad bar seems a safe place for calorie counting, but it can be a minefield of unseen high calorie, processed foods. Before you drag your empty plate enthusiastically across the beautiful array of what I call the fruit and vegetables buffet, consider this: some of the most fattening foods can add more grams of fat than a strawberry shake. While salad greens, vegetables, and fruit are a surefire way to have a nutritious meal, adding too many of the other fare could pack on more calories than you intend.
Controlling portions at a salad bar may be as easy as grabbing a soup bowl. Usually the soup bowls are about 8 or 12 ounces. Unless it's salad greens, more than 1/2 cup may be more than you need of any one item because the fun of salads is variety. If no salad bowl is around, try picturing portions with this chart. You might also consider two spoonfuls as a good gauge for fresh fruit and vegetables, while any processed foods such as croutons, pasta or potato salads or dressing should be kept to one spoonful at most. If the ladle or serving spoon is larger than you'd like, use the small 2 oz. cups to control your portions of higher calorie items.
A well-built salad can be as satiating as a meat-and-potatoes dinner, so don’t think that the salad bar means you’ll leave the restaurant hungry. The key is to pack on protein and fiber, both of which will help you feel full longer. Kidney beans, peas, and garbanzo beans are great picks for adding lots of fiber and adding texture to a salad. A ½ cup can add about 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. Know that peas will be roughly half the amount of calories than the same amount of beans. Of course salad greens, vegetables, and fruit have tons of fiber as well.
Despite the healthfulness of the majority of foods served at a salad bar, there are some foods that will break your calorie bank fairly easily. Cheeses, pasta salads, and bacon bits can add over 100 calories per ounce. You might also go light on dried fruit, such as raisins or cherries, as well as sunflower seeds. These two can also pack on another 80 to 100 calories an ounce. Last but not least, watch for fruit that's not fresh. You've seen the peaches in "light" syrup or the mandarin oranges floating in "juice". You could have twice the amount of fresh peaches than if you added this to your plate, which could add 130 calories in just one cup.
Besides these pitfalls, having lots of salad greens should help you stay full and keep your salad from packing on too many calories. Mix greens like arugula, spinach, and romaine lettuce as opposed to the iceberg lettuce which isn't as nutritious. If you forgo meat, hard-boiled eggs are a great way to add protein. Last, but not least, choose the dressing wisely. Two tablespoons is plenty of a creamy dressing like ranch or french, adding almost 150 calories and almost 16 grams of fat. On the other hand, a flavored oil-based vinaigrette is only about 60 calories and about 3 grams of fat for the same amount.
What items do you go for or avoid at the salad bar?