How to eat healthy at the salad bar

Jun 19, 2008 at 9:35 a.m. ET

Just because you are chowing down on a large salad everyday for lunch, does not mean it is healthy or beneficial for your diet. Salad bar salads can be a good for you option, but only if you are salad bar savvy. Here are some salad bar strategies to ensure the salad you toss is diet-friendly.

Salad Bar

Choose dark greens

Start your salad off right by going for a base of dark leafy greens, such as spinach or romaine leaves. One packed cup will give you more than half of the recommended daily value of vitamin A as well as nearly 100 percent for vitamin K. Leafy greens also supply vitamin C, folate and fiber. Lighter greens such as iceberg do not offer nearly the same nutritional value and are mostly made of water.

Include colorful veggies

Add one cup of the most colorful and brightest fresh vegetables in the salad bar. Carrots, broccoli, beets, bright red tomatoes, and red, yellow, and green peppers add more fiber and vitamins when compared to pale colored vegetables like cucumbers or celery. Steer clear of vegetables soaked with mayonnaise or creamy dressings – they will only add saturated fat and calories to your meal.

Choose lean proteins

Chickpeas and kidney beans are one of the best sources of protein on the salad bar. Add one-half cup of beans to your greens for a protein and fiber rich meal. Grilled chicken breast is another option, as is plain tuna (packed in water, not oil). Hard-cooked eggs are an excellent protein option – opt for more white than yolk to cut fat and calories. Cottage cheese is another option but limit your serving to one-half cup. Stay away from mayonnaise- or oil-based tuna, chicken, crab, ham, and bean salads made with mayonnaise.

Mix it up with crunch and zest

Adding walnuts, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds will give you extra crunch without the added saturated (and possibly trans) fat of croutons and crunchy Asian noodles. Add one heaping tablespoon for a healthy dose of heart healthy nutrients and fats. For an extra tang, add one tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese. A little Parmesan goes a long way in flavor as compared to other shredded cheeses, such as cheddar or mozzarella.

Extra garnishes

Adding fresh fruit to your salad is a healthy sweet option, but only add about one-half cup because the sugar can still add up. Avoid canned fruits that come in thick syrups like mandarin oranges or peaches and opt for grapes, orange slices, chunks of watermelon or other melon, and fresh berries.

Final dressing

One of the most crucial ingredients of your salad is the dressing. Avoid creamy mayonnaise-based dressings because they are high in fat and calories. Even low-fat or fat-free salad dressings are loaded with sodium, sugar, and saturated fats. The healthiest option is to dress your salad with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper, using only enough to lightly coat your greens. Add a little, toss your salad to ensure even distribution, add a little more, if needed.

The next time you crave a salad, let these salad bar strategies ensure you get a truly healthy meal.

For information on serving sizes, visit

And for more healthy salad ideas, be sure to read:

How to mix up a fresh, creative salad

Simple summer salad recipes

Oven-free cooking to keep you cool