When I was in junior high and high school, my mother and I often shared Saturday shopping excursions. We’d shop all morning, looking for the perfect purse for her and the softest slippers for me.
At noon, we’d pride ourselves on being healthy by heading for a restaurant famed for its salad bar. Our reward for that virtue? A shared hot fudge sundae, complete with mountains of whipped cream.
My mother and I also shared similar tastes in salads: a bed of iceberg lettuce, a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, a spoonful of potato salad, a side of coleslaw, more shredded cheese, a couple of cherry tomatoes, several generous spoonfuls of rich, creamy bleu cheese dressing, and lots of buttery croutons. Sometimes, for “extra protein,” as my mother always said, we’d add on a spoonful of mayonnaise-heavy tuna salad.
The problem with that salad: too much saturated fat, an abundance of sodium, and way too many calories. On reflection, in fact, enjoying half of a hot fudge sundae added up to fewer calories than those fattening salads!
What’s Wrong with Most Salad Bars
The typical salad bar contains bowl after bowl of mayonnaise-heavy choices: coleslaw, macaroni salad, potato salad, tuna fish salad, raisin and shredded carrot salad, and sometimes even that peculiar all-American concoction of mayonnaise and lime gelatin. Just one tablespoon of mayo typically contains 100 to 120 calories. Mixing it with shredded cabbage to make coleslaw, for example, turns a healthy vegetable into a saturated-fat-and-caloric bombshell.
Another problem: the risk of food poisoning. Leaving mayonnaise out in the open hour after hour can expose you to a nasty case of food poisoning. The same risk is poised with those creamy salad dressings such as the bleu cheese concoction my mom and I adored.
How to Build a Better Salad Bowl
Suppose you still want that salad? Use these guidelines to create a healthier concoction:
1. Start with a dark green base of lettuce. Look for romaine lettuce, for example, and sprinkle with shredded purple cabbage (no dressing on it, please) if it’s offered. If only iceberg lettuce is offered, be a vocal advocate for your health and ask the manager for healthier options.
2. Steer clear of any choices that include mayonnaise and/or cheese. Try green and red peppers, for example; tiny cherry tomatoes, sliced purple onions, sliced jicama, and other fresh, plain vegetables.
3. Rather than a pre-mixed salad dressing, ask for plain balsamic vinegar. In addition, request mixed Italian herbs without salt to sprinkle on your salad.
4. Skip the croutons, and for crunch, sprinkle on a few sunflower seeds.
Other Healthy Restaurant Choices
If you prefer a sandwich, go for it, with these tips:
1. Ask for whole wheat bread rather than white for healthy fiber.
2. Request no mayonnaise and ask for mustard instead.
3. For the filling, select sliced white turkey or sliced chicken breast without skin.
4. Ask for extra romaine lettuce, tomato slices, and onions on your salad.
5. Say “no thanks” to chips, and “yes please” to a large glass of water with a twist of lemon or lime.
And one final note: about dessert – make it healthy and sweet with fresh fruit!