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Salad Bar Savvy: How to Make a Healthy Salad

Salad bars make it easy and tasty to meet your vegetable quota, but even a salad can ruin your diabetes meal plan. Our tips will help you fill your salad plate the smart way.
  • Size Up Salad Bar Serving Spoons

    Most spoons and tongs in salad bar ingredient containers hold 2 tablespoons, so you can count as you dish them up. Smaller spoons found in toppings such as nuts and sunflower seeds hold about 1-1/2 teaspoons, which is enough to add crunch without excess calories.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Sugar snap peas cost 50 percent less on a salad bar than regular retail. Eating these veggies raw, rather than cooked, preserves their abundant vitamin C and B vitamins.

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  • Fill Up on Dark Leafy Greens

    The bottom half of a standard salad bar carryout container holds 4 cups of salad greens (loosely packed). A cup of lettuce or spinach has just 1-2 grams of carbohydrate and fewer than 10 calories, yet its bulk helps fill you up. Go with the darker greens -- they're more nutritious.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Pumpkin seeds cost 27 percent less on a salad bar than regular retail. Just 1/4 cup packs 10 grams of protein and 25 percent of daily iron needs.

  • Limit Dressing to 1 Tablespoon per 2 Cups Salad

    Most salad dressing ladles hold 1-2 tablespoons. Spoon dressing into a small paper condiment cup, which typically holds 2 tablespoons. Beware of salad dressing ramekins and disposable dressing containers, which may hold as much as 4-8 tablespoons (1/4 to 1/2 cup).

    *Salad Bar Extra: Seek alternatives to prepared salad dressing. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a few splashes of vinegar are two dressing alternatives that are very low in calories and sodium. Many salad bars also offer olive oil, so you can mix a bit of it with vinegar to make your own vinaigrette. Just know that every teaspoon of oil you use contains 40 calories.

  • Include a High-Protein Topping

    Salad will satisfy hunger longer if it includes a good source of protein, such as grilled chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, beans, or shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese. Tuna salad, ham, or cottage cheese will add protein as well, but plan for the extra fat and sodium if you choose any of these options.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Rather than piling on every ingredient at the salad bar, choose a theme based on the ingredients at hand. On the following slides are five ideas with a mix of flavors, colors, and textures -- plus good nutrition!

  • Strawberry Spinach Salad

    Enjoy sweet, juicy strawberries paired with nutrient-dense mushrooms and tangy tuna salad. This is the ultimate salad to keep you feeling full. It boasts 20 grams of protein and 10.5 grams of fiber -- both nutrients known to satiate hunger.

    Price: $6.59** including side of fruit salad
    Make It: 4 cups baby spinach, 1/3 cup tuna salad, 1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/4 cup sliced red onion, 2 tablespoons chopped celery, 1-1/2 tablespoons slivered almonds, 1 tablespoon lemon juice (from 2 wedges). Side of 1/2 cup mixed fresh fruit and yogurt.
    Nutrition: 346 cal., 12 g total fat (2 g sat. fat), 9 mg chol., 454 mg sodium, 40 g carb. (10.5 g fiber, 17.5 g sugars), 20 g pro.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Baby spinach costs 55 percent less on a salad bar than regular retail. This dark leafy green also provides fiber and a super dose of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E to support heart health.

    **Prices based on average salad bar cost of $5.99 per pound or 37 cents per ounce.

  • Sweet Beet Salad

    Beets, raspberry vinaigrette, and apples make this salad the perfect answer to a sweet craving. This salad has just 343 calories, plus, thanks to its main ingredient -- beets -- you get a forkful of potassium and folate.

    Price: $4.43 including crackers
    Make It: 4 cups mesclun, 1/3 cup crumbled hard-boiled egg, 3 sliced baby beets, 1/2 cup apple slices, 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, 1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon sliced green onion, 2 tablespoons bottled fat-free raspberry balsamic vinaigrette, sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. Side of 2 honey graham cracker squares.
    Nutrition: 343 cal., 11 g total fat (3 g sat. fat), 194 mg chol., 339 mg sodium, 43.5 g carb. (8.5 g fiber, 25 g sugars), 13 g pro.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Slivered almonds cost 45 percent less on a salad bar than regular retail. A recent study suggests eating 1 ounce of almonds as part of a meal may help reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes in people with type 2 diabetes.

  • Asian Tofu Salad

    Craving crunch? Bite into this salad loaded with crisp red cabbage, edamame, bamboo shoots, and chow mein noodles. This salad is slightly sweetened with baked tofu, mandarin oranges, and Asian sesame vinaigrette.

    Price: $6.10
    Make It: 4 cups mesclun, 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage, 3 ounces baked tofu cubes, 1/2 cup grated carrots, 1/2 cup edamame, 1/4 cup mandarin oranges, 1 tablespoon golden raisins, 1/2 cup bamboo shoots, 2 tablespoons chow mein noodles, 2 tablespoons bottled reduced-sugar Asian sesame vinaigrette.
    Nutrition: 368 cal., 11.5 g total fat (0.5 g sat. fat), 0 mg chol., 469 mg sodium, 43.5 g carb. (11.5 g fiber, 19 g sugars), 19.5 g pro.

  • Tex-Mex Salad

    Get all the protein -- 17 grams -- you need without the fat and cholesterol. Loaded with fiber-filled beans, sweet corn, crunchy sweet pepper, smooth avocado, and spicy pico de gallo, this bold salad will satisfy your taste buds and appetite.

    Price: $7.55
    Make It: 4 cups romaine lettuce, 1/3 cup black beans, 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup corn, 1/4 cup sliced red onion, 1/4 of an avocado, 5 green sweet pepper strips, 5 red sweet pepper strips, 1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup pico de gallo (fresh salsa).
    Nutrition: 346 cal., 11.5 g total fat (4 g sat. fat), 18 mg chol., 603 mg sodium, 42.5 g carb. (15 g fiber, 10 g sugars), 17 g pro.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese costs 12 percent less on a salad bar than regular retail. Just 1/4 cup has 7 grams of protein and 20 percent of daily calcium needs.

  • Greek Chicken Salad

    Packed with seven kinds of veggies, this salad will make a dent in your daily vitamin recommendations. Top your veggies with lean juicy chicken, tangy feta, and roasted red pepper hummus.

    Price: $7.48 including hummus and breadsticks
    Make It: 4 cups romaine lettuce, 2/3 cup (3 ounces) grilled chicken breast strips, 1/4 cup sliced red onion, 1/2 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup cauliflower, 1 pepperoncini pepper, 1/2 cup cucumber slices, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 1 tablespoon feta cheese, 1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Side of 2 tablespoons roasted red pepper hummus and 2 breadsticks.
    Nutrition: 400 cal., 10 g total fat (1.5 g sat. fat), 79 mg chol., 585 mg sodium, 37.5 g carb. (9 g fiber, 10.5 g sugars), 35 g pro.

    *Salad Bar Extra: Grilled chicken breast costs 53 percent less on a salad bar than regular retail. It's also an excellent source of hunger-satisfying protein and niacin, a B vitamin that supports healthy cholesterol levels.

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