Choosing salads when eating out

March 9, 2010 8:44:55 PM PST
Consumer Reports ShopSmart evaluated salads that can stand in for a meal. You know, the ones with added chicken or shrimp. They came from restaurant chains like Chili's, Panera Bread, and Olive Garden, as well as from fast-food joints like Wendy's and McDonald's. The testers rated the salads on their overall nutrition. Then taste testers tried the healthiest ones to see how good they are.

Turns out, a meal-based salad is not always the healthiest choice. For example, Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad packs 1,400 calories and 88 grams of fat. That's almost as many calories as its Classic Bacon burger. And another salad from Chili's has almost as much sodium as the daily-recommended intake.

But Consumer Reports did find some healthy salads that were tasty, even without a lot of dressing.

One of the best was Panera's BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad with Barbecue Sauce. It has 350 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 6 grams of dietary fiber - no dressing needed. Taste testers said the barbecue sauce was plenty. Plus, skipping the dressing saves 140 calories and 11 grams of fat.

Also from Panera, the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad. Testers liked the sweet-and-sour dressing but only used about half of it, saving almost 50 calories and 4 grams of fat.

And On the Border's Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad is still a nutritional winner even with all of its dressing. It has 290 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 11 grams of dietary fiber. And it tastes good, too.

If you're looking for a healthful salad from a fast-food restaurant, Consumer Reports says try Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad. Testers said it was tasty even with just a little dressing, and it also rated good for nutrition.

Other ways to shave off calories from your salads include skipping toppings such as croutons, noodles, or nuts.

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