A Lesson on Salads


fried chicken cobb saladWhenever I start working with someone on their nutrition, I always ask what a few days of their eating looks like.  Many times people mention they eat salads when they’re “trying to eat healthy”.  However, oftentimes those salads are not necessarily a healthy choice.

Especially at restaurants.

If you’re eating a salad because you’re trying to eat healthy you’ll have to make adjustments (see below), or just go ahead and eat what you really want because it might actually be better for you.

Just because a restaurant labels something a “salad” doesn’t mean it is healthy. You have to really look at what is in it. So here is what you’re looking for.

My homemade Mediterranean Salmon Salad

My homemade Mediterranean Salmon Salad

Anatomy of a Healthy Salad
– mostly vegetables (good carbs)
– a lean meat like chicken or fish (protein)
– a little dressing (fat)

*The calories will be around 400-600, which is what a meal should be.



Anatomy of 99% of Chain Restaurant Salads

– a little lettuce (good carb)
– if you’re lucky, another vegetable (good carb)
– cheese (fat/high calorie, little protein)
– avocado (fat/high cals)
– nuts (fat/high cals, little protein)
– hardboiled egg (protein)
– meat of some kind (protein, sometimes fatty)
– way too much dressing (fat/high cals)
– croutons (not so good carb, fat)

*The calories can be anywhere from 800-1600! For a freaking “salad”!

*An example of this type of salad is the Fried Chicken Cobb Salad at the top of this page.  I know, it looks beautiful, but it isn’t a beautiful example of healthy.

How to Save Your Restaurant Salad
Pick only ONE of these: nuts, cheese, avocado.
All of these are fine in small portions on their own, but all at the same time become a fat and calorie grenade on your salad.

Pick ONE protein.  Chicken/fish/steak or hardboiled egg.
Look for words like grilled, broiled, roasted or poached.
Avoid fried, battered or crusted anything.

Order dressing on the side.
If you don’t want to dip, just pour half of it on the salad to start, it will be enough for flavor, trust me.

*Note: when I say “pour half”, I mean if it comes in a little ramekin.  If you’re at Cheesecake Factory and they give you a boat of dressing on the side, do NOT pour half of that on your salad. Take a tablespoon of the dressing and drizzle it. An additional tablespoon if you like, but not the whole boat of dressing.

Worst Case Scenario Order
Get the house salad, dressing on the side, and a side of chicken breast or lean fish. BAM!

You can even do this at Denny’s.  Just sayin’.

RIP Salad
You may end up not liking salads anymore, and that’s okay.  If you were eating the Cobb Salad thinking they are healthy and I just killed that for you, I’m not sorry.  You needed to know the truth!

Salad Love
If you still love salads I’ve just shed some light for you.

And if you’re trying to GAIN weight, awesome! You’re on the right track with these!

Cheesecake Factory
Small Ceasar Salad with Chicken = 980 calories
Regular size = 1510 effing calories
Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad = 1130

Chili’s “Fresh Take Salads”  (Aaah, Marketing 101 at it’s finest right there)
Quesadilla Explosion Salad = 1400
Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad = 1010

Crispy Chicken Salad with fried chicken = 1390
with grilled chicken = 1280

Bonus Info
You can safely assume that all of these salads have an insane amount of fat as well.  I only mention calories because they matter. While calories aren’t the only way to determine if something is healthy or not, if you don’t pay attention to them you could be packing on pounds or not losing weight when you want to be.

To give a frame of reference here, a 155 pound active female would need to take in 2100 calories a day to maintain her weight.  So eating a 1300 calorie salad in one meal doesn’t leave much for the rest of the day!

A pound is 3500 calories, so if she were to take in an extra 500 calories a day she would gain 1 pound in 1 week.  Similarly, if she wanted to lose 1 pound a week, she could cut or burn 500 calories a day.

So there you have it.  A little salad and calorie education. Choose wisely, but whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it.  If it is not amazing, don’t put it in your precious face.

chop salad

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