Food Delivery Makeover: How to Order Restaurant Salads that Are Actually Good for You (and Which Ones to Avoid Entirely)

Posted by on Thursday, June 12th, 2014 with 8 Comments

When you order takeout or food delivery for a working lunch, picking a salad off the menu often feels like the easiest way to eat healthy at the office. But many, many restaurants make their salads more mass-appealing by adding less-than-low-cal ingredients… and after a little bacon and a lot of cheese, that “healthy” salad ends up being just as packed with fat, salt, and calories as a triple-decker club or even a burger.

Sadly, several of the most popular restaurant salads often fall right into that category. To help keep your food delivery orders on track, here’s our take on which salads should be skipped, which can be salvaged, and how to make it happen:

greek salad

A Greek salad can be a fantastic food delivery option.
Image source: Flickr user leigh wolf

Greek salad

Tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, olives: there’s a lot to like about a good Greek salad, which is traditionally packed with vitamin and antioxidant-rich vegetables. Make sure your restaurant order stays healthy by ordering a traditional vinaigrette on the side, instead of a creamy “Greek” dressing poured over the top. And if you’re watching your calorie intake, ask for just half of the usual feta cheese (with flavorful cheeses like feta, a little goes a long way).

Wedge salad 

Crisp iceberg lettuce, savory bacon, creamy blue cheese, sweet tomatoes — the wedge salad hits all the right notes when it comes to taste and texture. Unfortunately, it misses the mark on nutrition. Iceberg lettuce makes for about the least nutritious salad green out there, and the calorie-laden toppings load this salad with excess fat and salt. At one nationwide chain, you’ll consume 59 grams of fat and 600 calories when you order the wedge — and it’s classified as a side salad. Consider this a very occasional treat, not a healthy everyday lunch.

cobb salad

A few adjustments can make a Cobb salad a smart lunch choice.
Image source: Flickr user jodimichelle

Cobb salad

There’s no doubt that this is a hearty salad, with grilled chicken, hardboiled egg, bacon, blue cheese, and, oh yeah, some vegetables underneath. While the calories and fat grams can add up with all that bacon and blue cheese, it is possible to modify your way to a healthy Cobb salad: swap in heart-healthier avocado for bacon, and again, ask for just half the amount of blue cheese. With a vinaigrette dressing, it will be a very satisfying and fairly healthy lunch with plenty of protein and vitamins… just be careful not to overeat when you order a gigantic restaurant portion.

Caesar salad

This classic has a few nutrient-packed positives: romaine lettuce is a great source of vitamins A and K, and anchovies are packed with omega-3 fatty acids (although many chain restaurant varieties leave out the traditional chopped fish). However, those are drowned out — literally — by a sea of creamy dressing, Parmesan cheese, and crunchy croutons. At one Southwestern chain, a chicken Caesar salad has 44 grams of fat… almost as much as a lunch order of their signature baby-back ribs. Given the simplicity of the ingredients, it’s hard to make substitutions without ruining the salad completely… so you’re better off skipping Caesar altogether.

chili's quesadilla salad

Not so much: this southwestern salad is packed with fat and calories.
Image source: Flickr user tisay

Southwestern chicken salad

Shredded romaine piled with chicken, black beans, corn, peppers, and tortilla strips: we all know this ubiquitous restaurant salad, although it goes by many names (yes, the counterintuitive “quesadilla salad” being one of them). And it’s this-close to being an awesome lunch choice, since it has all the hallmarks of a satisfying salad (fiber from beans, protein from chicken, and vitamins/minerals from the greens and veggies)… but when it’s piled with crispy tortillas, breaded chicken, and a creamy ranch dressing, it becomes another fat-and-calorie bomb. Luckily, by ordering grilled chicken, a vinaigrette-style dressing, and skipping the tortilla strips, you’ll end up with a very well-balanced salad.

There’s a pattern here to making sure your restaurant salad is a healthy one: choose grilled instead of fried when it comes to your protein (whether chicken or shrimp), ask for a vinaigrette dressing instead of a creamy one, and hold the empty-calorie extras like croutons or tortilla strips. And if you can’t do without a little indulgence in your salad, just choose one: pick bacon OR blue cheese, not both. You’ll still be way better off than if you’d gone right for the burger or burrito, while still enjoying a flavorful and satisfying lunch.

Choosing the right salad is much simpler when you have plenty of restaurant menus at your disposal… just one of the reasons why is your greatest ally when it comes to ordering healthy food delivery!

When it comes to feeding employees and coworkers, make your company's food program really count! If your workplace dining plan needs to take it up a notch — or if you don't have one at all — is here to help. From Virtual Cafeteria Service to diverse menus to local takeout & offers customizable dining solutions for every business and budget. Contact us today to get started!

8 responses to “Food Delivery Makeover: How to Order Restaurant Salads that Are Actually Good for You (and Which Ones to Avoid Entirely)”

  1. Angie says:

    These tips are really great. I’m always amazed at how one small change, like getting the vinaigrette or just asking for no croutons can take hundreds of calorie off a meal. I’m always a suckers for the fruit salads with a good cheese, I just always ask for half the cheese. I also think that there are places you can go that offer more healthy options. A restaurant like Panera offers a great range of amazing salads and they post nutrition information on the menu board. That sort of transparency makes it so much easier to make better, healthier decisions. I doesn’t always work, but when I have to go to work lunches I try to convince everyone to go where I know there will be a mix of great healthy options and the not so healthy stuff for people who aren’t concerned about it. Another great resource to use is You can look up calories and track what you’ve had. They have information on most chain restaurants. Great App!

    • Sara says:

      Thanks Angie! Information is definitely power when it comes to health and nutrition. I’ll have to check out – sounds like it could be incredibly useful!

  2. Jamseon says:

    I have always found it fascinating that, just because something has the word “salad” after it, most people automatically assume that it is healthy. When ordering like this, it is vital that we take the healthfulness of each item that we order into account. This article does a great job of identifying things to be on the lookout for when considering what to order for functions and events.

    Personally, I have always been excited when I have the opportunity to get a healthy meal through corporate dining events or at other functions. To me, it shows that the company truly cares about their customers or attendees and are being mindful of those in attendance. I think the key, though, is to provide enough variety so people aren’t too alienated. By offering different dressings/toppings/proteins, you can be sure that everyone in attendance is having a healthy and tasty meal that suits their preferences.

    • Sara says:

      Good thoughts, Jameson! Variety is key: it allows everyone to find something they enjoy, and keeps the hum-drum nature of predictable catering at bay.

  3. kelly says:

    I have found this article to be very true when following my own diet I noticed that even when I ate salad at times the scale would not budge or even go up a pound. Low and behold I am guilty of the salad stacking where I put cheese bacon croutons and loads of dressing on on my salad for me to be able to even eat this type of food. I had to make some changes in order to lose the weight I wanted too but I still do like to enjoy a fully loaded salad every now and then still I am just more aware of the impact on my waist line now. Great article !!

    • Sara says:

      There’s nothing wrong with a cheesy, bacony, crouton-y salad every now and then… but you’re right, it’s important to know the potential impact fully-loaded salads will have on your weight loss (or lack thereof!).

  4. Michelle says:

    In recent years, I have noticed that many fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s have been called out for the amount of sugar and fat in their salads, but this isn’t just happening at places that we consider unhealthy anyway. Thank you for pointing out that unhealthy salads can be found in many of the restaurants that we tend to frequent! I know that every now and then, I tend to go for the salad at my favorite sit down places When my friends give me the side eye for not getting the burger, I like to point out that we’re probably eating the same amount of fat and calories!

    This was a great read. Sometimes these types of articles try to scare people into not ordering out, or to opt to make their lunch at home instead. I like that this one encourages healthy ordering as opposed to eliminating food prepared outside of the home altogether. I think you’re right–customizing your take out salad and being conscious of where your nutrients are coming from is the right way to do it!

    • Sara says:

      Thanks Michelle. I think it’s pointless to discourage ordering out altogether — it’s convenient and downright unavoidable in today’s workplace! Instead, a little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to choosing healthy foods, no matter what kind of restaurant menu you have in front of you. Thanks for sharing your perspective!