You never know if she's going to be nice or a nightmare when she walks into a room. And when it comes to nutrition, fast-foods salads are just as unpredictable. Though a bed of greens topped with veggies and chicken seems innocent enough, it's hard to say at first glance if your meal of choice will help you lose weight or blow your diet with its sky-high calorie and fat counts.
But thanks to Eat This, Not That!, you’ll no longer be caught off guard when you order a salad from your favorite fast-food joint. Next time you find yourself eating on the go or craving a salad, refer to this trusty guide. Our fast-food salad picks are all under 500 calories and won’t make your blood pressure soar with pools of salt—a truly rare combination of attributes in the fast-food world. Read on to find out exactly what you should order and why. They are ranked from most caloric to least.
8. Panera Full Asian Sesame Chicken Salad with Asian Sesame Vinaigrette
490 calories, 28 g fat, 4.5 g sat fat, 710 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 31 g protein
Panera’s entire salad selection is pretty solid nutritionally, but their sweet and tangy Asian Sesame Chicken salad is one of the most waist-friendly picks, making it a must-try for those on a diet. The restaurant combines chicken, romaine, cilantro, almonds, sesame seeds and crispy wonton strips to create their flavorful, high-protein dish. Even topped with dressing, Panera manages to keep the sodium count impressively low.
7. Burger King’s Chicken, Apple and Cranberry Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
480 calories, 26 g fat, 7 g sat fat, 480 mg sodium, 34 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 34 g sugar, 28 g protein
Take a break from salad boredom with BK’s Chicken, Apple and Cranberry Salad. The sweet and savory combination of lettuce, chicken, apples, dried cranberries and crumbly blue cheese is sure to tantalize your taste buds and fill you up without filling you out. In fact, it’s one of the [11 diet expert-approved menu picks. To slash 21 grams of sugar and 100 calories, simply nix the sweetened cranberries.
6. Chipotle Salad with Chicken, Black Beans, Cheese, and Fresh Tomato Salsa
420 calories, 15.5 g fat, 8 g saturated, 970 mg sodium, 28 g carbs, 13.5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 46 g protein
If you’re a big Chipotle fan, you likely saw reports earlier this year claiming that a typical order carries about 1,070 calories. Luckily, you won’t get anywhere near that number if you stick with this salad. As you make your way down the line, ask your server to throw chicken, black beans (their phytochemicals lower risk of heart disease), calcium-packed cheese and fresh tomato salsa atop a bed of romaine. You’ll get a whopping 46 grams of muscle-building protein for a mere 420 calories.
5. Cosi Smart Fit Salad with Chipotle Lime Dressing
380 calories, 15 g fat, 2 g fat, 489 mg sodium, 57 g carbs, 10.3 g fiber, N/A sugar, 10 g protein
Compared to the industry status quo, most of Cosi’s salads are relatively light, especially in sodium. But their Smart Fit salad is a true nutritional superstar that stands out above the rest, packing an impressive lineup of produce: kale, romaine, avocado, carrots, corn, black beans, red peppers (one of the best veggies for weight loss), scallions and sweet potatoes. The orange spud is rich in vitamin A, a nutrient that aids immune function, vision and cellular communication.
4. McDonald's Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken and Newman's Own Low Ranch Dressing (1/3 Packet)
366 calories, 19.6 g fat, 6.8 g saturated fat, 1,276 mg sodium, 12.6 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 5.2 g sugar, 37 g protein
With over 36,000 locations nationwide, McDonald's has one of the easiest to find salads on our list—consider it your go-to safe bet for long road trips. While in theory you can’t go wrong with grilled chicken, a little bit of bacon and veggies, the packet of ranch dressing it comes with carries 200 calories and 17 grams of artery-clogging fat. Cut yourself off after you’ve drizzled on one-third of the packet to cut 11 grams of fat and 134 excess calories from your meal. If you prefer to use more dressing, opt for the low-fat balsamic instead of the ranch. Half a packet is just 17.5 calories.
3. Subway Double Chicken Chopped Salad with Subway Vinaigrette
360 calories, 19 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 940 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 36 g protein
Remember that Jared guy? The face of Subway’s now-famous ads claims he’s kept the weight off for 15 years eating at the chain. If that’s true, he has probably ordered the Double Chicken Chopped Salad quite a few times. This 360-calorie salad is one of the most protein-packed meals on this list, which means it’s super satiating and can help preserve your hard-earned muscle mass. If you’re a fan of chicken, turkey, roast beef and veggies, you’re sure to enjoy this waist-friendly creation.
2. Steak ‘n Shake Grilled Chicken Salad with Reduced Fat Berry Balsamic Vinaigrette
320 calories, 11.5 g fat, 3.5 g saturated, 1,020 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 26 protein, 13 g sugar
For a chain named after two of the most calorie-packed foods on the planet, Steak ’n Shake could be far more dangerous for your waistline. Earning second place on our list is its Grilled Chicken Salad with Reduced-Fat Berry Balsamic Vinaigrette. It’s hard to go wrong—taste or nutrition wise—with juicy grilled chicken breast served over fresh lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, tomatoes, cheese and croutons.
1. Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad with Light Italian Dressing
225 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 1,040 mg sodium, 20 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 23 g protein
Coming in at just 290 calories, Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Market Salad is the best bang for your nutritional buck in the fast-food salad world. And we can’t say we’re surprised. Chick-fil-A ranks among the best of the country’s major fast-food establishments in terms of overall healthfulness of the menu. This seriously healthy salad is made with berries, apples, red cabbage and carrots, all on top of a bed of mixed greens. The grilled chicken and sprinkling of blue cheese loads you up with 23 grams of protein for a mere 5 grams of fat. We couldn't have designed a better muscle-up, slim-down food ourselves.