Healthiest salads at your favorite restaurants

March 19, 2010 8:54:42 PM PDT
You may think ordering a salad off the menu is the healthiest option, but that is not always case.

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 and Burger King. 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, three good options include: McDonald's Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken. Without dressing, it has 320 calories and 9 grams of fat. Adding the Southwest creamy dressing will add 100 calories and 6 more grams of fat.

Burger King's Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad without dressing is 270 calories and 9 grams of fat. Adding the ranch dressing adds 120 calories and 10 more grams of fat.

Wendy's has two good options- the Mandarin Chicken Salad and the Chicken Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken Fillet. The latter has 240 calories and 7 grams of fat without any dressing. If you use two packets of dressing, that jumps up to 490 calories and 32 grams of fat.

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