Salad seems to be the perfect lunch: light, healthy, not too expensive.
For around $10, salad deilvers a complete meal without the highly caloric bread found in its chief rival, sandwiches. Plus, salad is easy to eat at work and is packed with the fresh vegetables, hearty whole grains and clean protein needed to fuel the secret gym warrior hidden deep inside all of us.
But what if salad is a big fat lie — literally? As we found while looking at the most popular menu items at five of the nation’s favorite salad spots, plenty of these seemingly innocent lunches are bloated in both price and calories.
Here is exactly what we found:
Chop’t is the most recognizable name on our list, and for good reason. First on the salad scene, they pitch themselves as “Farm-to-Fast Food™,” offer up an ungodly number of options, and are seemingly everywhere. Despite their Starbucks-of-the-salad-world status, however, Chop’t still has some skeletons in their closet of 50 salad add-ons.
For example, it costs $2.99 to add healthy grilled chicken to your salad, while their Wisconsin blue cheese (99 cents) is packed with 130 calories. Their popular Cobb salad offering looks like a safe, healthy choice, but in reality that bowl rocks 800 calories. (We used the midpoint of the calorie range for that vinaigrette in our calculations, to be safe.)
To burn off the calories in this innocent-to-the-eye salad, you’d need to do 2 hours and 13 minutes of Pilates, spend an hour and 13 minutes on the elliptical machine or an hour and 40 minutes chopping wood.
2. Just Salad
Just Salad is Chop’t’s low-key and more accessible little sibling who is just obsessed with the gym. In fact, they’re so obsessed with working out and staying thin that each store is assigned a Fitness Ambassador and Nutrition Ambassador to “help bring a healthy and active lifestyle to our already health-conscious customers.” Given their focus on fitness, it is not surprising that the vegetarian Mediterranean Mix is one of their most popular salads.
However, within the veggie-loaded salad lurk calorie-bomb add-ins like the 190-calorie scoop of kalamata olives and 110 calories worth of feta cheese. To burn this “light” lunch off, you’d have to do an hour and 9 minutes of Zumba, an hour and 3 minutes of high-intensity P90X, or an hour and 55 minutes of Pilates.
3. Fresh & Co
Unlike Chop’t and Just Salad, Fresh & Co presents itself as the no-nonsense salad destination for people who just want to grab a healthy salad and go. Sure, they spout the ubiquitous foodie jargon about freshness, seasonality and personal trainer-friendly food, but really, Fresh & Co is all about speed and efficiency.
But if you slow down, take a deep breath and look a little deeper, you’ll find out that Fresh & Co’s sales pitch is pure nonsense. Take, for instance, the “Chef Designed” South Beach Salad. What do blue cheese, craisins and walnuts have to do with Miami? Why does honey balsamic dressing (250 calories) “perfectly pair” with those ingredients? And finally, who in their right mind would eat this 900-calorie monstrosity in the bikini capital of the United States?!
You’d need more exercise than just a walk on the beach to burn off this salad: An hour and 40 minutes of spin class should do the trick, or you could opt for 2 hours and 9 minutes of strenuous hiking or an hour and 20 minutes on the elliptical.
Unlike the other entries on our list, Bareburger doesn’t bill itself as a salad restaurant, but that is precisely the point. The terrible glory of salad’s seductive scheme is on full display when it is sitting on a menu next to a list of artery-clogging burgers. After all, a salad has to be better for you than a cheeseburger, right? Wrong.
In fact, an entree-size portion of the adorably named Berry Blue packs in more calories than every single signature burger on the Bareburger menu. So the next time you’re in the mood for the Supreme burger, skip the guilt and dive right in. It might be covered in cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings, chopped fries and special sauce, but at 1,160 calories, it is still less caloric overall than the Berry Blue and its 560-calorie apple cider vinaigrette. To negate the calories of the Berry Blue, you’d need to spend an hour and 51 minutes grunting away in a Crossfit box, 2 hours and 2 minutes jogging or 5 hours and 5 minutes tucking away at barre class.
Head to Sweetgreen during lunch and prepare to hate the world. It’s filled to the brim with models, wanna-be models, and people who are so good-looking that they don’t feel bad eating next to models. With its glistening white walls, grainy wood tables and shiny metal appliances, the restaurant is a temple for those who want to look damn good while eating damn good-looking food. It is all set up, therefore, to be the ultimate example of salad’s false promise — except it’s not.
The salads at Sweetgreen actually are healthy. They actually are full of great pre- and post-workout foods like steelhead salmon, avocado and seaweed. The only knock, if there is a knock, is that they’re expensive, but not that much more expensive than the other salads on our list. So suck it up, swallow your pride, cozy up next to a model and grab a salad like the OMG Omega at Sweetgreen. At 555 calories, with healthy fats like avocado and protein-filled toppers like steelhead, you’ll actually be the better for it. Plan on a leisurely 50 minutes of yoga, an hour and 1 minute of spin or an hour and 51 minutes of sex to burn off this true power lunch.
(A quick note on our methodology: For each restaurant, we examined the salads that they singled out on their menus as being the most popular, used each restaurant’s own recommendation for dressing, and utilized the nutrition information they provided. Pricing and nutrition info were taken from the locations of the restaurants located closest to Union Square in New York City. We used information from both myfitnesspal.com and healthstatus.com to calculate the number of calories burned per minute of exercise and based the calculations on the average American woman, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 166 pounds.)