Health Tips > Nutrition Bites > How to Identify and Avoid the Sneaky, High-Calorie Fast Food Salad

How to Identify and Avoid the Sneaky, High-Calorie Fast Food Salad

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When you decide to decrease calories in your diet in order to lose weight or eat “healthier”, what is the first food that comes to mind that will be a staple in your meal plan? Salads, right? Most of us think salads are automatically a safe diet food. They are a great way to pack more veggies into your diet, but they can also start to show up on the scale if you are not careful. Ordering a fast food salad can equate in calories and fat to a Quarter Pounder with cheese (740 calories and 42 grams of fat). Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services offers her healthy advice when it comes to salads.

Three key ingredients can make or break your salad: chicken (specifically whether you choose “grilled” or “crispy” style), cheese (2 ounces of cubed or shredded cheese adds up to 200 calories), and salad dressing (one-quarter cup of dressing could add up to 300 calories). For example, a serving of bleu cheese dressing from Chili’s for adds 240 calories and 25 grams fat to your salad.

Listed below are some popular fast food salads that are among the highest in calorie and saturated fat intake.

  1. Taco Bell Chicken Ranch Taco Salad:  910 calories and 10 grams saturated fat.

  2. Jack in the Box Chicken Club Salad (with Bacon Ranch dressing):  770 calories and 12 grams saturated fat.

  3. Wendy’s Chicken BLT Cobb Salad (with Avocado Ranch dressing):  670 calories and 15 grams saturated fat.

  4. KFC Crispy Chicken Caesar Salad (with Creamy Parmesan Caesar Dressing and Croutons):  630 calories and 10 grams saturated fat.

  5. Chick-fil-A Chick-n-Strips Salad (with Buttermilk Ranch dressing):  630 calories and 8.5 grams saturated fat.

With the hot summer weather calling for lighter meals, salads CAN make a light but satisfying main dish. Salads are a great way to add volume to your meal without adding many extra calories. Choosing the correct ingredients is important in making or breaking your salad. The foundation to your salad should be vegetables. Veggies are some of the healthiest foods you can eat, along with making you look and feel great. They are one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A daily serving of vegetables is 3 or more cups. You should eat “buckets” of vegetables everyday! A serving of raw vegetables yields about 25 calories and 3 grams fiber for a full cup. The high fiber content in vegetables helps to fill you up for a minimal calorie cost. 

Add the delicious flavor and sweetness of fruit to your salad. This burst of sweet can help you cut back on, or eliminate high-calorie salad dressings. A half cup of apple slices has 30 calories and a half cup of berries has about 40 calories. 

When making your salad a meal, add some healthy protein sources like grilled chicken breast, tuna, salmon, shrimp, or lean red meat. Choose a lean protein source that is low in saturated fat. Measure the protein prior to adding to salad to track total calories. A half cup of cubed grilled chicken will add 150 calories. 

A salad is also a great place to obtain heart healthy fats – unsaturated fats that target lowering the LDL cholesterol. Sprinkle a few nuts on the top of your salad for a nice crunch. Be careful to measure the nuts – about one-eighth cup of nuts adds approximately 90 calories. 

Add one to two tablespoons of dressing which will add 100 – 150 calories to your salad. A large salad may tempt you to use much more dressing, but keep in mind the high content of calories that dressings can yield. Try using freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice for no additional calories or salsa for minimal calories. 

Listed below are some of the best fast food salads containing less than 400 calories and less than 4 grams of saturated fat.

  1. Jack in the Box Grilled Chicken Salad (with Low Fat Balsamic dressing, no cheese):  225 calories and 1 gram saturated fat.

  2. Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Premium Garden Salad (with Fat Free Honey Mustard):  240 calories and 3.5 grams saturated fat.

  3. KFC Grilled Chicken BLT Salad (with Fat Free Ranch dressing):  265 calories and 2.5 grams saturated fat.

  4. Taco Bell Chicken Ranch Taco Salad (Fresco Style, Fiesta Salsa as dressing):  291 calories and 1 gram saturated fat.

  5. McDonald’s Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (with Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing):  360 calories and 3 grams saturated fat.

A salad can make a healthy, low-calorie meal. Use lots of vegetables and add fruit, nuts, and lean meats. Change the ingredients each time you make a salad to keep it interesting and a go-to for a great low-calorie, highly nutritious meal. 

For more information about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, click here or call 972.560.2655.