Salad-Bar Savvy

Learn how to create a healthy, well-balanced meal with our interactive salad bar.
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It's just lettuce and some vegetables, right? Wrong. Some of today's salad bars are minibuffets, dishing out everything from fried chicken strips to macaroni salad to mozzarella balls marinated in flavored oil. If you're not careful with your pickings, what could be a healthy, fresh, flavorful meal can turn into a nightmare high in PointsPlus® values — and we haven't even talked about dressings yet!

Topping Measurement PointsPlus Value
Grilled, skinless chicken 1/2 cup 3
Seasoned croutons 1/2 cup 2
Raw broccoli florets 1/2 cup 0
Chopped bacon 3 slices 4
Sliced avocado 1/4 cup 3
Canned chickpeas 1/2 cup 3
Cherry tomatoes 1/2 cup 0
Shredded cheddar cheese 1/4 cup 3
Creamy white dressing 2 Tbsp 4
Balsamic vinegar 2 Tbsp 0

We all know that fast food ranks low when it comes to nutritious eating. But how many of us know that some salads can be worse for them than a burger and fries? There are wise salad choices. Use the information below to see how salad-bar items measure up and to learn how to keep your bowl on the light side.

What's in yours?
Here are the PointsPlus values for seven pre-made salads often doled out by the scoopful:

½ cup of… PointsPlus Value
Shrimp salad 3
Three-bean salad 5
Potato salad 8
Macaroni salad 7
Chicken salad 7
Tuna salad 8
Egg salad 8

And some ready-made entrée-size salads:

Cups of… PointsPlus Value
Chef's salad, with dressing: 4 cups 8
Caesar salad, with dressing: 4 cups 9
Greek salad, with dressing: 3 cups 10
Spinach salad, with dressing: 2 cups 7

Dressings are often where the calories add up:

2 tablespoons of… PointsPlus Value
Balsamic or red wine vinegar 0
Fat-free Italian salad dressing 1
Fat-free salad dressing (not Italian) 1
Reduced-calorie Italian dressing 1
Reduced-calorie dressing 3
Creamy salad dressing 4
Italian-type salad dressing 2

When you're in a rut, give your salad a boost with a small amount of crunchy or highly flavored items:

For a PointsPlus value of 1, you can have… Amount
Sesame seeds 1 Tbsp
Dried cranberries 2 Tbsp
Chopped avocado 2 Tbsp
Fried noodles 2 Tbsp
Crumbled feta cheese 2 Tbsp
Imitation bacon bits 1½ Tbsp
Olives 10 large

And don't forget that most fresh vegetables have a PointsPlus value of 0 per serving. They're loaded with fiber, which can help you feel full, and packed with nutrients. And make sure to include some fat in your salad since you need fat to absorb any of the fat-soluble vitamins the vegetables may contain.

Salad bar strategies

Look for beads of oil
If the container of peppers or chickpeas has oil droplets floating on the top, you know they've been marinated in something fattening. Each teaspoon of oil has a PointsPlus value of 1, which can add up quickly. Look for fresh or raw items instead. Or take a small spoonful of the marinated item and mix it in with the rest of your salad, using the oil as dressing.

Pay attention to shape
Small pieces of foods can be mixed into a salad much more easily than items that are whole or in big strips. You can get more flavor with each bite while using a lesser amount of fattening foods. Look for shredded cheese, not cubes; sliced or slivered almonds, not whole ones; and crumbled bacon, not roughly broken slices.

Make tasty compromises
Looking for crunch? Swap chopped apples for croutons. Want something more exciting than plain, grilled chicken? Opt for barbecued strips, not fried ones. Hate the store's lowfat or fat-free dressings? Keep flavored vinegar or your favorite dressing low in PointsPlus values at your office. Love cheese? Go for soft varieties like crumbled feta and goat cheese, since ounce for ounce, they're lower in calories than hard cheeses like Swiss and Cheddar.

Get dressing on the side
This way, you control how much you eat. Some of the ladles used to portion out dressing can hold as much as 1/4 cup. That's 4 tablespoons — the equivalent of a PointsPlus value of 9 if it's a creamy dressing.

Eat more filling items
A little protein and fat can do wonders for appetite control, so make sure your bowl contains more than just lettuce and fat-free dressing. Plus, items like beans and lean animal protein are nutrition powerhouses. For 2 to 3 PointsPlus values, you can have:

  • 1/2 cup of shelled edamame
  • 1/2 cup of chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup of teriyaki tofu
  • 3 ounces of shrimp
  • 3 ounces of skinless chicken breast
  • 1 large egg

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