Surviving the Salad Bar: 5 Practical Tips

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook adores a salad bar, but does not adore the typically gloppy dressing choices at the end of it. My work salad bar is fantastic: beautiful greens, interesting options, rotating items. However, they have the thickest dressings known to mankind at the finish.

The Practical Salad

The Practical Salad

For real, do not bother eating a salad if you put the equivalent of a Big Mac on top. Just eat the Big Mac and be happy about it! So what’s a Gentle Reader to do? Read on.

The Practical Cook’s Top 5 Tips to Surviving the Salad Bar

1. Use oil and vinegar if you can at all tolerate them. Learn to love balsamic vinegar, it is the get out of jail free pass of the salad bar. I like to douse with a healthy dose of chopped egg (not so much cheese, which I’m finicky about on salads), a splash of olive oil, and a goodly amount of vinegar. You don’t want the salad to be fat-free, or you’ll starve, but do you really love ranch that much?

Better to top your salad with a little barbecue than a lot of ranch.

Better to top your salad with a little barbecue than a lot of ranch.

2. If you love ranch that much, thin it. Fine, I know many a ranch lover out there, including Complicated Veggie Medium and The Youngest Practical Cook Junior. Most ranch dressings are super thick on the bar, but you can thin with either lemon juice (often available) or one of the lighter vinegars. Consider putting your dressing on the side. Bonus, less dressing equals a cheaper salad.

Eat the rainbow (salad)!

Eat the rainbow (salad)!

3. Fill your bowl 2/3 full of greens at the start. This is key, go heavy on the greens at the beginning, and you’ll not have as much room for the less than ideal toppings. Again, I am not vetoing egg, cheese, nuts, avocado, etc., but keep your ratios in check.

Quinoa and tofu add substance to this Whole Foods salad. I thinned the Thai dressing with lemon juice.

Quinoa and tofu add substance to this Whole Foods salad. I thinned the Thai dressing with lemon juice.

4. Eat the rainbow. Even if you put just one of each color of thing you see on your salad, you’ll be surprised how quickly and colorfully it adds up. A simple rule of childhood works wonders here.

This salad is overdressed. I usually ask for 1/3 as much dressing as they want to add. High lettuce content is good, though!

This salad is overdressed. I usually ask for 1/3 as much dressing as they want to add. High lettuce content is good, though!

5. Pack a snack. I love salads, really I do. I eat them most days at the office paired with soup, but I almost always have a trail mix snack in the wings. Salads for lunch keep you from having a serious heavy meal crash, but they will not keep you going through drive-time traffic, in my experience. If you don’t want to gnaw off your arm on the way home, plan ahead.

Trail Mix

Trail Mix

Are you a lunch salad fan? What are your tricks for avoiding paying a mortgage at the salad bar?  Post your comment below! Inquiring minds want to know.

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Up next, On the Road to One Pull-up: The First Challenge.



Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, On the Table

6 responses to “Surviving the Salad Bar: 5 Practical Tips

  1. Grocery store salad bars are my fast food go-to with the beasties. I focus on food cost. This means refusing to pay $8/ pound for boiled eggs and getting a really steep angle when I shake dried cranberries out of an open necked dressing bottle at the end. I am blind to bottled dressings. If there is a fat vacuum, there are usually some nuts and or bleu cheese crumbles to step in. The local Harris Teeter salad bar has the best selections nearby and, as a bonus, is on the upper level of the store with a live show of watching all the other shoppers below. Ruby Tuesday has also always been cool with me ordering a $3 supplementary salad bar plate for each beastie and feeding them from that, rather than the kid’s menu. Healthy, with a bonus of instant gratification.

    • The Practical Cook

      I love your suggestions here. And I kind of want video of you battling the open-ended jars of heavy (aka expensive) toppings. 🙂

  2. I don’t really have anything to add except that I’d love to live where there is a two-story Harris Teeter!

  3. Great post. Here are a few of the things I do.

    Go to Wendy’s. Apple Pecan Chicken salad WITHOUT the candied pecans is fantastic. Price is pretty good as well.

    If I’m going to use salad dressing, which is seldom, I typically place an ounce or two in a small side container and dip my fork in before grabbing a bite. You get the taste without committing to so much dressing”

    If I’m doing a salad bar that goes by weight and I’m looking to cut down on cost I go for the following:
    – Spinach instead of Iceberg – most nutrient for the buck
    – Minimize tomatoes, they are dense
    – Sunflower seeds and crutons for crunch
    – Peppers (Green/Red/Yellow) Crisp, flavorful, and relatively light
    – Grated parmesan cheese is lighter and still cheesy
    – I’m torn about broccoli but generally end up grabbing it.

    I usually try to add chicken to get a little protein and it’s always great to have some raisins, craisins, or dried cranberries.

    • The Practical Cook

      Fantastic suggestions, and I love your breakdown on the weight vs nutrition scale! Winning at the salad bar checkout is always a satisfying victory.

      Second on the Wendy’s. I don’t do a lot of fast food, but I respect their salads and the options they provide. It is a good value.

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