Finding the Best Fast Food and Restaurant Salads
As a food-lover, there can be no worse feeling than wondering about the meal that could have been. Which is why I rarely order a salad at a fast casual restaurant rather than going for a tried-and-trusted carb bomb of a meal. Nothing is worse than the taste of bitterness and regret that you get when you order salad and get an old mushy mess. So I set out to discover which restaurants have the best fresh salads.
It’s a new year, many of you are trying to eat a little healthier. I figured I’d put out a survey to see what salads y’all are digging.
Which fast food restaurant has the best salad?
The overwhelming favorite in the fast food category is Chik-fil-A. And if I had to choose between the three salads they offer, it seems that the Grilled Market Salad makes the most sense. I mean, it has grilled chicken, granola, nuts, strawberries and blueberries, apples and blue cheese… with the apple cider vinaigrette the stats are 550 cals, 34g fat, 40g carbs, 6g fiber, 28g protein. 230 of those calories are from the dressing, and the nuts and granola dressing are adding fat. So you can remix the ingredients if you need to hit certain macros.
Second place for fast-food salads was Wendy’s. But not by a wide margin. I can personally vouch for the fact that Wendy’s Baja Chili salad is an abomination. When I ordered it I was filled with that bitter regret, but I did manage to eat all the guacamole. But do not pour that watery soup they call chili on anything, it will melt your healthy resolve. Maybe the BLT Chicken Cobb will be better, with a whopping 45g protein in the full size. It’s 590 calories with an avocado ranch dressing. The half size is 300 cals with 23g protein, 8g carbs, and even 60% of your Vitamin A. The Apple Pecan Chicken salad has a lot more carbs (28g) and is 340 cals in the half-size version, which includes the dressing.
Which fast-casual restaurant has the best salad?
Panera Bread takes it by a wide margin. Panera has many popular salads that eaters continuously rave over, including the Greek Salad and the Fuji Apple and Chicken salad. But I was gazing at the Mediterranean Shrimp Couscous salad. All-in at 360 cals, 14g fat, 32g carbs, 7g dietary fiber, 30g protein and 130% Vit A, 50% Vit C. Overall, I’m happy with the transparent way Panera makes it easy to learn the calories in their foods, it’s printed right on the menu board. And they have so many options for healthy salads and also soups that you healthy eaters will be in heaven.
Chipotle and Jason’s Deli trail behind, but get honorable mentions. Chipotle has a really nice nutrition calculator for deciding what you want on your salad. I personally would skip the vinaigrette and top my salad with a roasted corn salsa, cheese and guacamole. With chicken, that puts the salad at 540 cals, 32 g fat, 27 g carbs, 22.5 g fiber, and 44 g protein. To slim it down more, pick a different salsa and drop the guacamole and dressing. That’s where most of the fat is coming from. Chicken beats out the other meats for highest protein in this case. Carnitas has the most fat and calories, at 230 calories per serving versus 180 calories for chicken.
Moe’s is one of my favorites for their closetalker salad, which actually offers a tofu option as your protein (although I always get steak or ground beef, myself). If you are judicious with the amount of dressing, your salad is pretty healthy when you get it without the shell, and pile on healthy toppings like cilantro, cucumber, pico, etc. I include black beans and cheese with my steak and it hits at 442 calories, 36 g protein and only 8 g fat.
Jason’s Deli is a tricky place. They bill themselves as a healthy option, but almost all of the menu options have astronomical calories due to the large portion sizes. But they have a “lighter portion” option for the salads, which I recommend you get. The Nutty Mixed-up Salad is 320 cals, 7 g fat, 49g carbs, 4 g fiber, and 18g protein. The full sized chef salad is 440 cals, 24g fat, 14g carbs, 3g fiber and a full 46g protein. Both of these totals exclude the dressing, which you’ll be best-advised to go light on.
Which restaurant has the best salad buffet?
The top option for a salad buffet is Whole Foods. Eating at the Whole Foods salad bar has even become somewhat of an art form. Kirk at kaleandcigarettes.com has a great article on how to beat the Whole Foods salad bar, which I highly recommend if you don’t want to spend $11+ on your salad. He suggests focusing on the lettuce and veg at the salad bar and then rounding out with brown rice and avocado from the produce aisle.
Jason’s Deli and Ruby Tuesday just about tie for second place. With these salad options, you don’t have to pay by the pound, but you will have to pay extra to get some meat proteins other than egg to add to your salad. At Jason’s, try not to go crazy on the ice cream, since it is high in calories and pretty low in protein. (Stop kidding yourself!)
Honorable Mention Salads
- McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad – 290 cals, 8g fat, 27g protein, 28g carbs, 7g dietary fiber
- Iron Hill Brewery Grilled Ahi Tuna Salad – 500 cals, 28g fat, 38g protein (Philly-area)
- Trader Joe’s Prepackaged Salads
- Nantucket Grill Blackened Salmon Salad – no nutrition data available (NC only)
- Angus Barn Spinach Salad – no nutrition data available (NC only)
- Trader Joe’s Champagne Pear Vinaigrette
- Trader Joe’s Green Goddess
I hope you’ve learned something today. Hopefully I’ve helped you navigate the slippery slope that is healthy-salad-eating, to avoid the soggy and tasteless veggies in favor of a crunchy, fresh, delicious salad that won’t fill you with the bitter pangs of regret and hunger.