NYC has salad bars located on just about every corner. Salads tend to be a big hit for a nutritious lunch. I decided to get a salad from one of the chains and break it down for you to see how much really went into the salad!
Just Salad is a lunch hot spot with five locations offering salads and salad wraps. Chef Laura designed the menu, and as a Registered Dietitian, she added some more unusual, healthy toppings that are not available at your other salad bars. Some of these toppings include: barley, butternut squash, edamame, eggplant, lentils, multigrain croutons, wheat berries, turkey bacon, hummus, and salmon. They also offer a wide variety of dressings that are labeled as: no cholesterol, no sugar, no carbs, low carb, gluten free, low sodium, no dairy, and vegan.
It was evident that the ingredients are very fresh, and the restaurant is spotless. What sets this place apart from others is that the toppings all have proper portioned serving pieces so that the server uses the “right” amount. Then you can go to the Just Salad website to figure out the nutrition information of your salad.
For purpose of experimentation and future comparison with other salad bars, I did not choose their exotic ingredients. Instead, I went with one of my favorite combinations:
- dried cranberries
- goat cheese
- grilled chicken
- low fat balsamic vinaigrette
According to their website my salad (not including the bread) contains:
- 532 calories, 18 grams fat, 8 grams sat fat, 54 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, and 40 grams protein
According to my calculations (I took it apart & weighed each component) the salad contains:
- 656 calories, 17 grams fat, 7 grams sat fat, 100 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams fiber, and 48 grams protein
Hmmm…why do you think the calories are so off? Well, when my server did use the proper portion cups he piled it over the top. And for a few ingredients he used his hands (dried cranberries & chickpeas). You can also tell in the photo that the cheese was wrapped for proper portion control, but it turns out that this was a smaller piece than accounted for in their nutrition count, weighing in at 0.8 oz instead of a full ounce.
It turns out that they added 1/2 cup or 190 calories worth of dried cranberries to my salad!! No wonder the nutritional stats are higher. Most of these salad ingredients are not particularly nutrient dense, so if they use a little more or less it will not affect the calories that much.
The other thing to note is that the small container of salad dressing that I got on the side contains 4 Tablespoons! That is too much for a salad, and if it was filled with regular salad dressing it would probably contain upwards of 300 calories. So even if you get it on the side, choose low fat (not fat free since they are usually loaded with sugar), and use no more than half! If you need more moisture ask for vinegar on the salad.
After weighing my salad, I placed it on a plate for me to eat. I only used 2 TB of the dried cranberries, and about 1/3 of the dressing container. Including the 0.4 oz piece of bread my meal clocked in at a reasonable:
- 505 calories, 13 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 59 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber and 48 grams protein
Just Salad Pros
- Very fresh ingredients
- Clean restaurant
- Great variety of toppings
- Portion controlled serving pieces
- Nutritional Information on website
- Perfectly blanched broccoli
Just Salad Cons
- Servers did not pay attention to portion size serving pieces
- Beets were canned
- Very expensive (this salad was over $11)!
- Chicken was salty
Nutrition Tidbit: Salad Bars
- When choosing calorie dense toppings: cheese, nuts, dried fruits, tortilla strings and croutons tell the server to only use a little. Otherwise they can be very heavy handed and you may be getting more than you bargained for.
- Ask for the dressing on the side, but that doesn’t give you free reign to use it all!