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Salad Shocker: The Surprising Amount of Calories in Restaurant Salads

By Amber Cranfield, RD


Salad is a very common food item on nearly every restaurant menu nowadays. But most people who eat salad don’t realize how many calories they’re consuming. Given the amount of times you’re likely to eat salad in a month, it’s best to be salad-aware.


There’s no denying that salad can be a fantastic choice for anyone who is watching their weight. It provides a large volume of food for a small amount of calories, when prepared properly. For instance, to equal the calories in a small order of French fries you would need to eat more than 40 cups of lettuce. In addition to being low in calories, dark varieties can provide many vitamins, minerals and fiber, depending on the ingredients you choose.


But even this seemingly healthy slim-down staple can also pack huge calorie counts. It’s the other ingredients in a salad (other than the lettuce) that can make them real diet busters. In fact, some salads have more fat and calories than a fast-food sandwich and fries combined. Quite often, it is the salad dressing kicking up the fat and calories since they are mostly oil. And that’s just the beginning. Along with the dressing, you also want to look out for ingredients like bacon, cheese, fried or pecan-crusted chicken, candied or sugared nuts and croutons, crispy noodles or tortilla strips. These may seem healthy when surrounded by leafy greens, but they really tack on the calories.


So what can you do to keep your salad on the list of healthy options? Here are some easy workarounds that will really cut back on the calories in your salad.

  • Choose foods rich in lean protein such as grilled chicken, fish or shrimp, edamame, beans or tofu.
  • Ask for the dressing to be served on the side and keep it on the side. Try dipping your fork into the dressing before you get your next bite of salad instead of dipping the entire bite. This ensures every forkful has flavor and you will be shocked at how little salad dressing you end up using.
  • Skip the bacon, candied nuts, dried fruit and croutons –and request the cheese to be served on the side so you can control the portion.
  • Ask for extra veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, onions or fresh herbs like basil or parsley to add a punch of flavor.  Fresh fruits such as strawberries may be available and can be a great addition as well.


These simple suggestions keep you from getting 'salad fatigue' – vary the protein, veggies, dressings and even fruit. The options are endless!