|When the temperature starts to soar, a cool crisp salad seems like the ideal meal. But if you think you’re getting a light, healthy bowl of greens when you're eating out at favorite restaurants like Romano's Macaroni Grill, California Pizza Kitchen, or Applebee's, you may want to take a closer look. |
|While many restaurant salads are low in calories and loaded with healthy ingredients, others are diet disasters packed with calorific ingredients like fried chicken, full-fat cheese, and creamy dressings that are overflowing with hidden fat, calories, and sodium. (Photo: Dan Dalton/Digital Vision/Getty Images , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)|
|Thumbs Up: Panera Bread Strawberry Poppyseed and Chicken Salad (pictured) |
This bright and colorful salad is filled with phytochemicals thanks to a healthy dose of strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, and pineapple. One bowlful delivers a helping of antioxidants to keep your heart healthy. A serving of chicken makes it super satisfying too—for only 280 calories and 8 grams of fat. Ask for a reduced-fat vinaigrette or dressing on the side. We like their reduced-fat balsamic vinaigrette for just another 60 calories and 5 grams of fat.
|Thumb's Down: Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad |
While this salad sounds healthy and fresh, the Asiago Croutons jack up the stats to 770 calories, 47 grams of fat, and 1200 milligrams of sodium. Leave off the croutons and you'll shave 340 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 650 milligrams of sodium. (Photo: Courtesy of Panera Bread , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Baja Fresh Charbroiled Chicken Baja Ensalada® with Fat Free Salsa Verde(pictured) |
Unlike many Mexican salads that are drowned in fatty ground meat and cheese, the Chicken Baja Ensalada® is, surprisingly, well, fresh. It’s big on greens, tomatoes, and charbroiled chicken with just a tad of Cotija cheese and a few tortilla strips for flavor. Skip the full-fat dressing and opt for the fat-free salsa verde and you’ll walk away with only 325 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat.
|Thumb's Down: Tostada Salad with Charbroiled Steak |
Filling a crispy tortilla shell with steak, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream sends the nutritionals for this salad sky high. Reduce the 1230 calories, 63 grams of fat, and over 2300 milligrams of sodium by ditching the shell, skipping the meat, and choosing just one creamy topping. (Photo Courtesy of Baja Fresh , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: P.F. Chang’s Asian Shrimp Salad(pictured) |
P.F. Chang’s takes watermelon center stage, pairing it with grilled shrimp and a tangy citrus vinaigrette. The juicy melon keeps you cool on a summer day and is one of nature's top sources of lycopene, a plant chemical believed to protect against prostate cancer and improve heart health. So go ahead and start munching. While this salad is definitely delicious and light, roughly half of its 425 calories and 33 fat grams come from the citrus dressing. Ask for yours on the side and drizzle on half to slim it down even more.
|Thumb's Down: Nothing! |
PF Chang's offers only one other salad, Chicken Chopped Salad with Ginger Dressing, that rings in at 365 calories. Make the salad more nutritious by using only a small amount of dressing. (Photo Courtesy of P.F. Chang’s , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Applebee’s Paradise Chicken Salad(pictured) |
As part of their partnership with Weight Watchers®, Applebee's offers many healthy meals like the Paradise Chicken Salad which weighs in at 340 calories, 6 grams of fiber, and 45 grams of lean protein. Pineapple, mandarin oranges, and fresh apple top the salad along with a blackened grilled chicken breast for a fiber- and nutrient-rich meal.
|Thumb's Down: Oriental Chicken Salad |
Like many restaurant salads this one’s simply too big. And it doesn’t help that it’s topped with fried chicken tenders and crispy noodles. The result: a jaw-dropping 93 grams of fat and 1310 calories. And don’t think the Oriental Grilled Chicken Salad is much better. Also oversized, it clocks in close behind with a gargantuan 1,240 calories. (Photo Courtesy of Applebee’s , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: California Pizza Kitchen Half Moroccan Chicken Salad(pictured) |
The Moroccan Chicken Salad features spiced chicken breast and tons of fruits and veggies like butternut squash, beets, dates, and avocado. Order the half-size instead of the whole; it's still generous enough to keep you satisfied at a reasonable 412 calories and 309 milligrams of sodium.
|Thumb's Down: Full Waldorf Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing |
Loaded with greens, grapes, and apples, this Waldorf looks like a healthy pick. In reality, it could be one of the most fattening salads out there. The reason: sheer size. When your salad is as gigantic as this one, it has more of everything - like candied walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and fat-laden blue cheese dressing. That translates to an over-the-top 1,570 calories, 25 grams of saturated fat, and 2,082 milligrams of sodium. (Photo Courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Outback Steakhouse Shrimp Caesar Salad |
While it’s not exactly diet food, the Shrimp Caesar Salad provides 712 calories and 53 fat grams, slightly better than our Thumbs Down choice. Ask for a side of tomatoes to bulk up the veggies. By requesting your dressing on the side and using only a small amount, you’ll lighten it up even more.
|Thumb's Down: Queensland Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing |
Think salad is a healthy alternative to steak? Not when it’s weighed down with bacon, eggs, croutons, chicken salad, and two different kinds of cheese. The Queensland Salad sports a staggering 1,116 calories and more total and saturated fat than most of us need in an entire day. (Photo Courtesy of Outback Steakhouse , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Così Lighter Side Così Signature Salad(pictured) |
Così slimmed down its signature salad – with impressive results. Mixed greens tossed with grapes, pears, dried cranberries, and pistachios mean serious flavor. Half the amount of Gorgonzola cheese and reduced-fat sherry shallot vinaigrette means a lot less fat and calories. Order one for only 371 calories and 19 grams of fat and you’ll also get 5 grams of fiber, 20 percent of your day’s calcium, and half your vitamins A and C to boot.
|Thumb's Down: Così Cobb Salad |
Bacon and gorgonzola cheese bump up the calories, fat, and sodium significantly making this one of their least nutritious salads. Order the Così Cobb Light to reduce the calories by almost 200. (Photo Courtesy of Cosi , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Quizno's Pan Asian Chicken Salad(pictured) |
Quizno's touts their Pan Asian Chicken Salad on their "Under 500 Calorie" menu (rings in at 430 calories and 17.5 grams of fat), and we agree that this is a healthier salad pick. If you are watching your sodium, use only half the Pan Asian dressing since a full serving contributes 1260 milligrams of sodium. Leave off the crispy rice noodles to knock the calories down to 370 and request extra veggies for your salad.
|Thumb's Down: Chicken Caesar Chopped Salad |
It might seem fairly harmless, but this chicken Caesar packs as many calories and more fat than a Big Mac and fries. The reason? A staggering 480 calories worth of peppercorn Caesar dressing which delivers a whopping 50 grams of fat. It’s a sodium minefield too with 2,090 milligrams per serving. One order will set you back 920 calories, 66.5 grams of fat, and 20.5 grams of saturated fat. (Photo Courtesy of Quizno's , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Romano’s Macaroni Grill Scallops and Spinach Salad |
It may sound decadent, but this mix of spinach, prosciutto, roasted garlic, seared scallops, and extra virgin olive oil is the ultimate heart-healthy lunch. Scallops provide omega-3 fats shown to prevent blood clots and keep your heartbeat regular. Low in saturated fat (only 4 grams per serving) and packed with 8 grams of fiber, one serving provides a respectable 330 calories.
|Thumb's Down: Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Salad |
While this salad is a meal in one, the crispy chicken, cheese, and prosciutto all contribute to the 870 calories and 1180 milligrams of sodium. Ask for grilled chicken instead of fried to reduce the total calories and fat. (Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)
|Thumbs Up: Ruby Tuesday Petite Grilled Salmon Salad(pictured) |
The smaller version of the traditional grilled salmon salad features heart-healthy salmon as well as a variety of other veggies like peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. The petite version weighs in at 553 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 492 milligrams of sodium. Leave off the croutons and use half the dressing (ask for it on the side) to cut those numbers down even more.
|Thumb's Down: Carolina Chicken Salad |
Weighing in at 1157 calories, 70 grams of fat, and 2891 milligrams of sodium, fried chicken, bacon, full-fat cheddar cheese, croutons, and honey mustard make this the most caloric salad on the menu. With so many fresh options, either steer clear of this dish or lighten it up by ordering a petite version, subbing grilled chicken for fried, and using vinaigrette dressing instead of honey mustard. (Text: Photo Courtesy of Ruby Tuesday , Text: Holley Grainger, MS, RD)