Ordering a salad always feels so virtuous, right? After all, when faced with a menu full of rich, fattening pastas, burgers and entrées — you chose the healthy option. What could possible go wrong? Well, apparently, a lot. Just because there are veggies on your plate, doesn’t mean that the cheese, fried chicken or creamy dressing accompanying your carrots got any better for you.
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So if your lettuce is served up with a hefty dose of not-so-healthy add-ons (we’re looking at you, tortilla chip toppings), you might be in trouble. We found nine salads on the menus of your favorite chain restaurants that all contain more than 1,000 calories. Yes, you read that right. Even scarier, some of these options look pretty healthy at first glance.
Get a load of these calorie catastrophes — and the healthier homemade options we found to replace them.
9 Shocking Salads (and Healthy Salad Recipes to Use Instead)
1. Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,430 calories, 96 g fat (28 g saturated fat), 17 g sugar and 64 g protein.
We hate to say it, but if your salad comes topped with a quesadilla, you might as well not be ordering a salad at all. Sure, the chicken is grilled, but the three-cheese quesadilla, crispy tortilla strips and creamy ancho chile ranch sauce aren’t doing you any favors. You might as well be eating eight orders of small French Fries from McDonald’s — because that’s how many grams of fat you’ll be consuming.
Make It Healthier: Blue Apron’s Two-Cheese Chicken Quesadillas with Chive-Sour Cream and Spinach Apple Salad don’t exactly qualify as diet food. But with half the calories of the Chili’s option, this dish is still a healthier bet. You’ll get your fix of cheesy goodness, but the simple salad will spare you from a multitude of foods sins.
2. IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad w/Grilled Chicken
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,130 calories, 89 g fat, 27 g saturated fat, 5 g sugar and 70 g protein.
Beware the Cobb salad. Stuffed with bacon, blue cheese and slathered in ranch dressing, this dish can be calorically dangerous. Even made with grilled chicken, this salad is still a big no-no. So don’t think you can nab a get-out-of-jail free card just for foregoing the fried version of this IHOP dish.
Make It Healthier: Turkey bacon and low-calorie blue cheese or ranch dressing helps make this Skinny Cobb Salad less calorically horrifying. You’ll get your fix of veggies from the cucumber and tomato, plus a dose of healthy fats from the ripe avocado you’ll add into the mix.
3. Friendly’s Crispy Chicken Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,020 calories, 69 g fat (16 g saturated fat), 22 g sugar and 39 g protein.
If you hoped ordering a salad would allow you to enjoy Friendly’s signature ice cream dishes with less guilt, this is going to disappoint you. The restaurant’s “country-breaded” chicken is combined with two types of cheese and tortilla trips. But here’s where things really get crazy: Without the dressing, this salad is a more respectable 650 calories. Drizzling on the honey-mustard mix adds a whopping 370 calories.
Make It Healthier: The oven-fried chicken in this Coconut Chicken Salad with Warm Honey Mustard Vinaigrette gets its crunchy coating from a mouthwatering combo of breadcrumbs, cornflakes and coconut. Simple salad ingredients like shredded carrots, tomato and cucumber help you avoid extra calories. And the honey mustard vinaigrette is a straightforward mix of oil, honey, vinegar and mustard.
4. Applebee’s Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad with Dressing
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,290 calories, 81 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 64 g sugar and 56 g protein.
Holy sugar rush. This entrée seems simple enough: Fried chicken, toasted almonds, crispy noodles and “Oriental” vinaigrette. But somewhere along the way, this dish picked up a whopping 64 grams of sugar. That’s about as much as if you were to chow down on 2.5 full size Hershey’s bars in one sitting.
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Make It Healthier: Enjoy this super low-cal Asian Cabbage Mango Slaw as a side dish to your next meal (or add some chicken to make it an entree). The combo of shredded cabbage, carrots, mango and scallions, with a light sauce, makes this dish a flavor win — in addition to being gluten-free, low-carb, dairy-free, vegan and egg-free.
5. California Pizza Kitchen’s Caramelized Peach Salad with Sautéed Salmon
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,220 calories, 88 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 51 g sugar and 42 g protein.
The health benefits of ordering this salad with sautéed salmon might go out the window, thanks to the other ingredients on your plate. Caramelized peaches and cranberries up the sugar content, while a hefty dose of Gorgonzola cheese is responsible for loading each bite with extra calories and fat.
Make It Healthier: By switching to reduced-fat feta cheese, and stripping the sugar-sweetened fruit from this Pan Seared Salmon Citrus Salad, you’ll bid adieu to many of the calorie bombs above. Craving something crunchy? Add a crumble of PopChips on top to make each forkful more satisfying.
6. Qdoba Crunch Flour Tortilla Salad Bowl with Grilled Steak & All the Fixings
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,120 calories, 66 g fat (18.5 g saturated fat), 10 g sugar and 49 g protein.
The crunchy flour tortilla bowl is to your salad what a bread bowl is to soup —an unnecessary blast of calories in an otherwise okay dish. Plus, classic taco toppings like sour cream, guacamole and shredded cheese simply contain way too many calories when combined.
Make It Healthier: Ditch the bowl made of chips, and your taco salad just got a whole lot healthier. Lean ground beef and low-fat Mexican blend cheese help slash the fat in this Quick and Easy Taco Salad Recipe. And you can still crumble a cup of tortilla chips on top, as long as they’re baked!
7. Texas Roadhouse’s Chicken Caesar Salad
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,030 calories. Fat, saturated fat, sugar and protein counts not available.
Don’t be fooled by the grilled chicken, and minimalist ingredients in this Caesar salad. A combo of cheese, croutons and creamy, rich dressing — with zero veggies aside from lettuce — make this a nutritional miss.
Make It Healthier: Get a blast of nutrients by swapping out romaine or iceberg for vitamin-packed kale in our Kale Chicken Caesar Salad Recipe. By replacing croutons with roasted chickpeas, you’ll the crunch you desire without all the carbs. Add a Greek yogurt based dressing, and you’re home free.
8. Ruby Tuesday’s Carolina Chicken Salad
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,117 calories, 68 g fat, 60 g protein. Grams of sugar and saturated fat not available.
Chicken tenders, cheddar cheese, bacon, croutons and nuts create the perfect caloric storm in this southern-fried creation. While this salad does feature an array of veggies, including peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots, it’s not enough to make up for the aforementioned issues.
Make It Healthier: Pick your poison when it comes to adding fatty things to your salad — and if bacon’s your go-to, this healthier version will get you your fix. Turkey bacon, combined with broccoli, onion, cranberries and jicama, makes Broccoli and Bacon Salad a savory, yet still low-guilt, choice.
9. Cheesecake Factory’s Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad
Nutrition Facts: One salad contains 1,620 calories and 108 g. Saturated fat, sugar and protein counts not available.
Fried tortillas and toppings of avocado cream, salsa and sour cream make this pick a no-go (the supersized servings don’t help, either). Heck, you could eat two slices of the Cheesecake Factory’s Low Carb Cheesecake for about the same amount of calories. In a pinch, order the chain’s Skinnylicious Mexican Tortilla salad, for only 550 calories — or whip up your own version, below.
Make It Healthier: Get the same south-of-the-border taste by prepping this Corn, Black Bean and Quinoa Salad Recipe. The quinoa serves up some extra protein, and a can of black beans makes this dish one that will keep you full ‘til your next meal. You could even add an avocado on top, if you are craving a hit of something creamy.