Top 5 Healthy Salads at Sit-Down Chain Restaurants

True or false: Salads are the healthiest item on a restaurant menu. Before you go right for true, keep in mind that chefs are aiming to make their food flavorful and exciting, not necessarily low in calories or fat. You’d be shocked to learn how quickly you can pack on the pounds after eating a few salads. Some contain well over 1,000 calories! But we’ve got your back — here are some healthy options at the nation’s most popular sit-down restaurants, as well as some tips on how to order a slender salad wherever you go.

California Pizza Kitchen

Don’t let the name mislead you into thinking it’s all about the carbs. You can choose from many delicious salads at CPK as well. Check out their new Roasted Vegetable Salad with roasted artichoke hearts, asparagus, eggplant and sun-dried tomatoes. Since it’s not organic, order it without the peppers and corn to keep it lower in pesticides. A half salad without chicken or seafood contains less than 300 calories (fat content not disclosed).

Olive Garden

Skip the pasta (no matter how tempting) and enjoy a Garden-Fresh Salad with only 350 calories and 26 grams of fat. Order it sans croutons and it drops down to 260/20. Best part? There are unlimited refills on this salad, so you can get more if you’re not not satisfied by the time you reach the bottom of the plate.

P.F. Chang’s

It might not have occurred to you to get a salad at this Asian chain, but next time you go, give the Asian Shrimp Salad a try (order without shrimp if you’re vegetarian). It contains refreshing bites of watermelon and has 425 calories and 33 grams of fat when all the dressing is on (keep in mind one salad is two servings).

Outback Steakhouse

Unfortunately you’ll have a tough time staying slender if you eat here too often, but your best bet is surprisingly the Shrimp Caesar Salad, ringing in at 564 calories and 41 grams of fat. Skip the croutons and ask for the dressing on the side to reduce the count even further.

Cheesecake Factory

You may be disturbed to hear that Men’s Health once called this establishment the “Worst Restaurant in America” due to their lack of healthy options. Perhaps that explains why the Factory just added a new section to their menu called SkinnyLicious, which includes 40 items under 600 calories such as Fresh Vegetable Salad, Pear & Endive Salad and Factory Chopped Salad. However, they’re still hiding the nutrition facts on their website…

How to make any salad healthy at any restaurant:

  • Choose a light or fat-free dressing like a vinaigrette. Dairy-free options tend to be lower in calories and contain no cholesterol, where as ranch, blue cheese, caesar, french and thousand island dressings can be quite destructive.
  • Ask for the dressing on the side and only add enough to flavor your salad (don’t drown it!).
  • Skip the cheese and egg toppings.
  • Nuts and avocado are healthy but calorie dense, so have them in moderation. Sunflower seeds are a nice alternative.
  • Chickpeas are an excellent source of plant-based protein and are delicious in salads.
  • If you want to top a salad with meat or seafood, look for lean and grilled or baked options, not fried or breaded. Keep in mind this choice will add at least 100 calories.
  • Of course, opt for organic vegetables whenever available. Lettuce, kale, spinach and bell peppers can retain a lot of pesticides. Veggie salad toppings that are generally safer to eat conventional include cabbage, avocado, mushrooms, onions and mango.
  • At a salad bar? Here are some ways to ensure you’re putting together a delicious and nutritious salad.

Image credit: Whitney Lauritsen