Diet Detective’s Guide to Fast-Food Salads

by Charles Platkin, PhD

You think salad, you think . Right? Well, in many instances are the healthier choice. However, you need to pay attention to a few things, such as the sodium level, especially if you’re salt sensitive and/or have high blood pressure. Also, watch the dressings; they can sabotage any salad. If you can’t live without the high-calorie dressing, try to use half the amount you normally would. Here are the salads from several fast- restaurants. Make sure to check on the Web, though, because their offerings change frequently.

McDonald’s offers a few very tasty salads that are not too high in calories. However, it’s the dressing and the “extras” that cause calorie creep. The best salad choice is the Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken
. It’s only 290 calories (without dressing) and has 7 grams of fiber and 27 grams of protein. The best dressings are Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette at only 35 calories, and Newman’s Own Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing at 50 calories. The most expensive, calorie-wise, are the ranch at 170 and the creamy Caesar at 190.

  •          Premium Bacon Ranch Salad (without chicken)                          140 calories
  •          Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken                     390 calories
  •          Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken                    230 calories
  •          Premium Caesar Salad (without chicken)                                      90 calories
  •          Premium Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken                               350 calories
  •          Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken                               190 calories
  •          Premium Southwest Salad (without chicken)                               140 calories
  •          Premium Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken                          450 calories
  •          Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken                          290 calories
  •          Side Salad                                                                                        20 calories
  •          Snack Size Fruit & Walnuts                                                          210 calories
  •          Newman’s Own® Creamy Southwest Dressing                            100 calories
  •          Newman’s Own® Creamy Caesar Dressing                                  190 calories
  •          Newman’s Own® Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette                            35 calories
  •          Newman’s Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing            50 calories
  •          Newman’s Own® Ranch Dressing                                                 170 calories
  •          Newman’s Own® Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing                       90 calories

The best bet is the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad at 560 calories, 6 grams fiber and 36 grams protein. I like the fact that it has roasted pecans. Also, you’re not using too many calories on dressing; the pomegranate vinaigrette dressing is 120 calories. Just be sure you use only one package. The worst of the salads are the Baja and the Spicy Chicken. The good news is that the Baja at least has heart-healthy guacamole.

  •          BLT Cobb Salad                                                      650 calories
  •          Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad                                    770 calories
  •          Apple Pecan Chicken Salad                                     560 calories
  •          Baja Salad                                                                730 calories
  •          Seasoned Tortilla Strips                                             80 calories

Calories include dressings

Your best bet is the Tendergrill for 290 calories along with the light Italian dressing (120 calories) or the fat-free ranch (60 calories).


  •          TENDERGRILL™ Chicken Garden Salad                        290 calories
  •          TENDERCRISP® Chicken Garden Salad                         470 calories
  •          Garden Salad (no chicken)                                                 130 calories
  •          Side Salad                                                                            40 calories
  •          KEN’S® Light Italian Dressing (2 ounces)                         20 calories
  •          KEN’S® Ranch Dressing (2 ounces)                                  190 calories
  •          KEN’S® Creamy Caesar Dressing (2 ounces)                    210 calories
  •          KEN’S® Fat Free Ranch Dressing (2 ounces)                      60 calories
  •          KEN’S® Honey Mustard Dressing (2 ounces)                   270 calories
  •          Garlic Parmesan Croutons                                                    60 calories

The Roasted Caesar Salad with one of the low-calorie dressings either the ranch or the Italian is the best choice, but I guess when you use a different dressing it’s no longer a Caesar. Also, the Roasted Caesar is not available at every location. Another option would be to get a side salad with a side of grilled chicken and make your own.

  •          Crispy Chicken Caesar Salad without Dressing & Croutons                         313 calories
  •          Caesar Side Salad without Dressing & Croutons                                             40 calories
  •          Roasted Caesar Salad                                                                                      190 calories
  •          Crispy Chicken BLT Salad without Dressing                                                 360 calories
  •          House Side Salad without Dressing                                                                  15 calories
  •          Heinz Buttermilk Ranch Dressing                                                                  160 calories
  •          Hidden Valley® The Original Ranch® Fat Free Dressing                               35 calories
  •          Marzetti Light Italian Dressing                                                                         15 calories
  •          KFC® Creamy Parmesan Caesar Dressing                                                    260 calories
  •          Parmesan Garlic Croutons Pouch                                                                     70 calories

The Roast Chopped Farmhouse salad is clearly the best choice, along with the light Italian dressing or the balsamic vinaigrette.

  • Chopped Farmhouse Chicken Salad                                 430 calories
  •          Roast Chopped Farmhouse Chicken Salad                        250 calories
  •          Chopped Side Salad                                                             80 calories
  •          Light Italian Dressing                                                          20 calories
  •          Dijon Honey Mustard Dressing                                         180 calories
  •          Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing                                           130 calories
  •          Buttermilk Ranch Dressing                                                210 calories

Jack in-the-Box
The grilled chicken salad is the best choice, with either the balsamic vinaigrette or the light ranch dressing. Avoid the croutons. The Southwest salad with grilled chicken can also be a good choice; however, if you toss in the Southwest dressing and the spicy corn sticks it can be a high-calorie choice.

  •         Chicken Club Salad with Grilled Chicken Strips                               366 calories
  •          Chicken Club Salad with Crispy Chicken Strips                               513 calories
  •          Grilled Chicken Salad                                                                        246 calories
  •          Southwest Chicken Salad with Crispy Chicken Strips                      497 calories
  •          Southwest Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken Strips                     350 calories
  •          Side Salad                                                                                           20 calories
  •          Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette                                                            35 calories
  •          Lite Ranch Dressing                                                                          150 calories
  •          Bacon Ranch Dressing                                                                      260 calories
  •          Creamy Southwest Dressing                                                             220 calories
  •          Gourmet Seasoned Croutons                                                            100 calories
  •          Spicy Corn Sticks                                                                             140 calories

The taco salad is served in a taco shell that’s where most of the calories come from. If you do want the salad, avoid the shell (or order it without the shell).

  •          Express Taco Salad with Chips                                                   580 calories
  •          Fiesta Taco Salad-Beef                                                                770 calories
  •          Fiesta Taco Salad- Chicken                                                         730 calories
  •          Fiesta Taco Salad- Steak                                                              710 calories

All salads come with cornbread, which means you have to tack on another 180 calories. Ask the person taking your order to leave it off your salad, because if it’s there you will eat it. Boston Market also lets you order a half salad, and it’s NOT served with cornbread.

  •          Mediterranean Salad –                                                                          640 calories
  •          Southwest Santa Fe Salad –                                                                  740 calories
  •          Caesar Salad –                                                                                       660 calories
  •          Caesar Half Salad without Dressing, Croutons or Chicken                  70 calories

Chick-fil-A has a variety of salad choices. I really like the Chargrilled & Fruit Salad with the berry balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Just skip the granola. Also, make sure to skip the croutons and use one of the healthier dressing choices.

  •          Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad                                  180 calories
  •          Chargrilled & Fruit Salad                                                220 calories
  •          Harvest Nut Granola                                                         60 calories
  •          Chick-n-Strips Salad                                                       460 calories
  •          Southwest Chargrilled Salad                                           240 calories
  •          Tortilla Strips                                                                    80 calories
  •          Garlic and Butter Croutons                                              60 calories
  •          Blue Cheese Dressing                                                     160 calories
  •          Buttermilk Ranch Dressing                                             160 calories
  •          Caesar Dressing                                                               160 calories
  •          Light Italian Dressing                                                       15 calories
  •          Fat Free Honey Mustard Dressing                                    60 calories
  •          Reduced Fat Berry Balsamic Vinaigrette                         70 calories
  •          Spicy Dressing                                                                 140 calories
  •          Thousand Island Dressing                                                150 calories

As you might have thought, Subway has several low-calorie salad choices. In fact, you can make any regular sub into a salad. All the ones listed below are lower calorie choices than a traditional salad; however, you need to watch the extras, such as cheese, bacon, pepperoni and, of course, the dressing.

  •          Turkey Breast & Ham Salad                                                    110 calories
  •          Roast Beef                                                                                140 calories
  •          Subway Club                                                                            140 calories
  •          Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki                                                200 calories
  •          Veggie Delite                                                                            50 calories
  •          Turkey Breast Salad                                                                 110 calories
  •          Oven Roasted Chicken Breast                                                  130 calories
  •          Black Forest Ham Salad                                                           110 calories
  •          Grilled Chicken & Baby Spinach                                             130 calories
  •          Ranch Dressing (2 ounces)                                                       320 calories
  •          Fat Free Italian Dressing (2 ounces)                                         35 calories
  •          Red Wine Vinaigrette, Fat Free (1 ounce)                                30 calories

Skip the chips and cookie combo and go for the soup and salad combo. Just keep the soup under 100 calories. Your best salad bet is the Grilled Chicken Caesar with fat-free Italian or light Italian dressing.

  •          Antipasto                                                                                 250 calories
  •          Buffalo Chicken-regular                                                          220 calories
  •          Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad                                                  190 calories
  •          Garden Salad                                                                            30 calories
  •          Ultimate Club Salad                                                                 270 calories
  •          Blue Cheese Dressing (1.5 ounces)                                          230 calories
  •          Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (1 ounce)                                      150 calories
  •          Creamy Caesar Dressing (1.5 ounces)                                      210 calories
  •          Creamy Italian Dressing (1.5 ounces)                                      180 calories
  •          Dijon Honey Mustard Dressing (1.5 ounces)                           180 calories
  •          Fat-Free Italian Dressing (1.5 ounces)                                      25 calories
  •          Light Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (1.5 ounces)                        70 calories
  •          Light Italian Dressing (1.5 ounces)                                           20 calories
  •          Thousand Island Dressing (1.5 ounces)                                    210 calories
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