The Healthiest Fast Food Salads in Canada
The healthiest salads to get at your favourite fast food spots—plus tips to eat smarter when you’re on the go.
Fast food salads: Diet friend or foe?
In a best case scenario, you would have made your own salad for lunch, packed with good-for-you ingredients that will keep you full and focused for the rest of the day. For those busy weeks? Not likely. Which is why even the best of us need to pick up a quick lunch to go at the closest fast food joint. But, just because you’re opting for a salad over a burger doesn’t mean that your meal is suddenly healthy. (Although you might want to know what happens to your body after you eat that burger.) Salads—especially fast food or store-bought ones—have plenty of hidden sugar, fat and sodium that could be holding you back from a healthful meal. We asked the experts for advice on what goes into a good salad. Plus, we pick the top six salads for a healthier fast food lunch.
Pay attention to dressing
The sad truth is that salad dressings are full of hidden health sacrifices. According to Jenna Hope, a registered nutritionist, your best bet is to “avoid creamy, sugary sauces or dressings.” That means you’re better off skipping fan faves like Caesar, ranch and honey dijon. For the truly health conscious, a homemade salad dressing (a mix of olive oil and lemon works with pretty much any salad) is best, but if you do need to grab dressing with your salad remember to keep it simple and not-creamy. “Dressings are usually where you get the added sugar, salt and preservatives,” says Sarah Goldstein, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist. “Opt for an olive oil, balsamic dressing if possible.”
Our Pick: Burger King BLT Garden Fresh Salad
This is a simple yet flavourful salad with lettuce, tomatoes and BLT-inspired toppings. Add grilled chicken to make it more of a meal and opt for Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing (over Caesar or Ranch) to keep it as healthy as possible.
Burger King BLT Garden Fresh Salad = 230 calories, 16 g fat, 18 g protein, 180 mg sodium
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Look for colour and variety
Having a salad with variety is a must, especially if you’re looking for a full range of nutrients. According to Goldstein this means “trying to get as many different colours as possible.” Consider veggies that are red (tomatoes), orange (carrots), purple (cabbage and beets) and dark green (kale and spinach). By including a wide range of colourful veggies you’re getting essential nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium and calcium.
Our Pick: Starbucks Rice and Veggie Salad Bowl
This well-rounded salad bowl includes butternut squash, beets, cabbage, broccoli and tomatoes.
Starbucks Rice and Veggie Salad Bowl = 420 calories, 23 g fat, 10 g protein, 600 mg sodium, 9 g fibre
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Ditch toppings you know aren’t healthy
Plenty of fast food salads have toppings that you can add though they are usually packed full of sugar or sodium. “Opt out of fried toppings, dried fruit and sweet dressings or sauces,” says Goldstein. Deciding to forgo candied nuts or salty croutons can actually cut down quite a bit of the unhealthy factor of a fast food salad.
Our Pick: Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
The good thing about fast food salads is that they often come deconstructed so you can easily pick and choose which toppings to use. This one features red and green apples, crumbled blue cheese, sweet cranberries, roasted pecans and grilled chicken. Ditch the sweet cranberries and roasted pecans that this salad comes with and you’re still left with a satisfying sweet and savoury meal.
Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad = 570 calories, 26 g fat, 33 g protein, 7 g fibre *Nutritional info includes all toppings
Consider your base
Your base is what makes up most of your salad, so you want to make sure you’re choosing something healthy. “Opt for veggies as the base,” says Goldstein, “and opt for the darker green veggies.” This means leafy greens like kale and spinach trump iceberg lettuce—or even worse—options like potato or pasta. If your options are limited (which they usually are at fast-food spots) opting for romaine or green leaf lettuce salads is a good start.
Our Pick: McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad
McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad has a mixed-green and baby kale base with couscous. Ditch the seasoned pita-crisps and opt for grilled chicken (over fried) to make the most of this Greek-inspired salad.
McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad = 310 calories, 10 g fat, 33 g protein, 720 mg sodium
Add healthy fats
It’s always a good idea to add healthy fats to your salads to help you stay full longer. These can include things like eggs, avocado and nuts. In some cases, cheese is also a good pick and options like chia seeds or fish can definitely help keep you feeling full without too much guilt.
Our Pick: Wendy’s Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad
This salad has a healthy balance of protein (grilled chicken) and fats (avocado and cheese), all served up on a bed of greens with tomato. The bacon is a nice treat every once in a while but hold the creamy ranch dressing. Instead, try a bit of olive oil – or simply mix in the avocado, which can serve as a healthier creamy dressing.
Wendy’s Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad = 600 calories, 41 g fat, 40 g protein, 7 g fibre
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Don’t shun carbs or protein
Though many restrictive diets call for less carbs and protein, you don’t need to ditch them altogether even if you’re making an effort to eat healthy. Just remember to make smart carb choices. “Make sure your source of carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates,” says Hope. For example, sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa or beans are all good options. Goldstein also recommends that you “always add a source of protein, which can be chicken, fish or beans, and a healthy fat like avocado.” These are the best sources of protein, according to the new Canada’s Food Guide.
Our Pick: Starbuck’s Black Bean Salad Bowl
This salad bowl is packed with protein in the form of quinoa, black beans and grilled chicken. Other toppings include roasted corn, jicama, tomatoes, and feta served on spring greens. A side of mild chili vinaigrette allows you to control how much dressing you add.
Starbuck’s Black Bean Salad Bowl = 370 calories, 15 g fat, 14 g protein, 850 mg sodium, 8 g fibre