What to Avoid at the Salad Bar:
Dressings like Blue Cheese or Ranch (my personal favorite) can be tempting, however just this one addition can double the fat and calories of your entire salad. Just two tablespoons of Ranch Dressing has 145 calories, 15g of fat and over 300mg of sodium.
Instead – try 1 tsp of olive oil and balsamic dressing. The health benefits of olive oil are best at room temperature and you will get about 1/3 of the calories. I also find that adding a few fresh berries adds to the moisture and flavor of the salad so you don’t need to rely as heavily on dressing.
Bacon is far from a health food, but a lot of what you will find in the salad bar doesn’t even have real bacon in it. It’s an artificial version made with preservatives and artificial ingredients. Oh, and a LOT of sodium. Just one tablespoon can contain 220mg!
Instead – if you are craving that smoky taste add a little smoked paprika to your salad or top your salad with grilled vegetables. I know it’s not a perfect substitute, but it’s a start!
Nuts & Seeds
When it comes to nuts and seeds, it’s more of a portion issue. Nuts and seeds have wonderful healthy fats and can be a boost of protein to your salad. However, we tend to go overboard with the portions. Although this varies, ¼ cup (or the amount that fits in the palm of your hand) of most nuts or seeds is ~200 calories. Again, these are healthy calories but just a few sprinkles on your salad can really add up!
Instead – Be very mindful of the portions and stick to ~1 tbsp. Also, opt for unflavored sliced or crushed nuts so that their flavor can be more easily distributed throughout your salad.
As with nuts, shredded cheese is more of a portion issue. It can certainly be a good source of protein and flavor but we almost always go overboard with the serving. Shredded cheddar cheese gets over 70% of its calories from fat alone!
Instead – Choose stronger tasting cheeses like feta or goat and use a very small amount. You will still get the delicious flavor with a much smaller serving.
Croutons can be fairly benign when it comes to calories and fat, however they are often loaded with artificial flavors and sodium.
Instead – If you are looking for some extra crunch you may have to get creative! Toasted chickpeas, kale chips and jicama are great alternatives if they are available.
My advice when it comes to navigating the salad bar would be to take a quick lap and see what it has to offer. Then, if it is going to really make your salad, choose one of the more indulgent toppings and use it sparingly. Oftentimes we load up on toppings not because we need them, but because we get excited and haven’t thought ahead. The point isn’t to deprive you of taste and pleasure, but rather to make sure you are taking just what you need so you can enjoy your meal and not sabotage your health goals.