Fast food with good salad you know that feeling when you’re about to step into a fast food restaurant, but you’re trying to be healthy and eat something other than a greasy burger?
You know the one: you walk in, the grease-laden air hits your face, and your whole body is overcome by temptation. You start thinking to yourself, “whoever made this place knew exactly what they were doing—they’ve got me trapped! I can’t leave now. They’ve already won.”
If there’s anything we’ve learned from our years of experience in the fast food industry, it’s that salad isn’t always an option. But should it be? We think so! And that’s why we started this blog.
Fast Food With Good Salad
Salads can be a smart and satisfying fast-food meal option, but just because they have lettuce and veggies, doesn’t necessarily make them all healthy.
“Many fast food companies are catching on to the fact that Americans are getting tired of being unhealthy,” Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of “The Candida Diet,” told TODAY. “This has led to the development of many healthy menu items and in some cases even menus dedicated to nutrient-dense and low calorie food items.”
But to make these salads more appealing to more people, many often come with less-than-healthful extras. “When it comes to eating a fast-food salad, there are certain nutrition guidelines to follow to avoid eating hidden calories,” said Richards.
Avoid fried proteins and opt for grilled versions instead. “Grilled or smoked chicken provides lean protein without the excess calories and fat from frying and breading,” said Richards. “Steak can be a decent protein, but you’ll want a leaner cut of beef.”
Fried onions and croutons are two toppings that quickly add empty calories, carbs and fat to any meal. “Look for salads that are packed with nutrient-dense toppings like black beans, avocado, tomato, cucumber, low-fat cheese, corn, peppers and other fruits and vegetables,” she advised. And when it comes to dressing, check the label for added sugars.
Roast Chicken Entrée Salad, Arby’s
While this salad sounds like an indulgence, with roast chicken and crispy bacon, it’s actually a surprisingly healthy choice. “The beauty of this quick and easy pick from Arby’s is that it packs up to 25 grams of protein, primarily from the roast (vs. crispy!) chicken. And it’s the prep that makes all the difference here: “Roasting vs. battering and deep-frying saves calories from saturated fat without losing out on the flavor of the chicken itself,” Jaclyn London, RD, CDN, head of nutrition and wellness at WW (formerly Weight Watchers), told TODAY. “At just 250 calories, I’d recommend adding this one to your order as a tasty light lunch or on-the-go snack,” said London. At 250 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 25 grams protein per serving, this is not a bad salad to enjoy while having a quick lunch on the go, and it’s rather satisfying!
Apple Harvest Salad, Quiznos
This salad is made with romaine lettuce, diced chicken, pumpkin seeds, sweetened cranberries, apples, tomatoes, cucumbers and an apple cider vinaigrette. The large salad clocks in around 520 calories, but it’s also available in a smaller size, which has 350 calories, 22 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein. “Pumpkin seeds are full of nutrients and have been linked to improved heart, bladder and prostate health,” said Richards. “There’s a good variety of produce in this recipe — greens, nuts, fruit and vegetables.” Ask for the dressing on the side so you can control how much you add to the salad.
Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad, Wendy’s
Wendy’s Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad is packed with flavor and has a blend of lettuces (including romaine and spinach), pepper jack cheese, diced tomatoes, avocado, applewood smoked bacon and grilled chicken breast. It comes with the chain’s Southwest Ranch Dressing and a half portion of this salad comes in at 300 calories, with 21 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein. “It’s full of fiber from all the vegetables and avocado, is high in protein with chicken and bacon, and comes with a delicious southwest salad dressing!” Megan Byrd, RD told TODAY. “I love that it’s higher in protein and lower in carbs and calories,” said Byrd. “I like to use the dressing on the side and just dip my fork in it to keep the fat and calories down. By doing that, I get to enjoy the dressing without drowning my salad in it,” said Byrd. Plus, that keeps it healthier!
Grilled Market Salad, Chick-fil-A
“Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Market Salad is loaded with nutrient rich ingredients including grilled chicken breast served on a fresh bed of mixed greens, topped with crumbled blue cheese and a mix of red and green apples, strawberries and blueberries,” said Richards. This salad has 330 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 29 grams of protein and is full of antioxidants from the apples, strawberries, and blueberries. “These are low-sugar fruits that are rich in nutrients but low in sugars. The grilled chicken breast and blue cheese are good, healthy sources of protein,” said Richards. What Richards really likes about this salad is the dressing it comes with. “A Light Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing, which is a reasonably healthy option despite containing added sugar and orange juice concentrate.. Ask for the dressing on the side to control your calorie intake,” said Richards.
Strawberry Poppsyseed Salad, Panera
The Strawberry Poppyseed and Chicken Salad has loads fresh seasonal fruit and the entire salad clocks in at only 340 calories with 27 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. “What I like about the strawberry poppy seed salad from Panera is that it contains a nice variety of fruits,” celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon told TODAY. “I always tell my clients to eat the rainbow because each color of fruit contains different phytonutrients and antioxidants that support health.” This salad does still contain several additives, so Poon wouldn’t make this salad an everyday meal. But it’s fine to grab if you are at a Panera. “if you find yourself in need of a salad on the go one day, this salad will provide pretty good nutrition,” said Poon.
Chain restaurants with good salads
Sweetgreen prides itself in serving only the cleanest, natural vegetables with its salads and other menu items.
Their products aren’t certified organic by name, but many of the farmers they source from only use organic practices to grow their veggies. The results are tasty salads with a modern spin.
What I love most from this salad chain is the Super Green Goddess, a shredded kale and baby spinach salad with raw beets, cabbage, broccoli, almonds, chickpeas, and green goddess ranch.
The chain is very trendy with an active social media presence. A recent press release mentions famous tennis player Naomi Osaka as one of their youngest investors.
Chopt takes a spicy spin on the classic salad.
This place has colorful decor and even more colorful salads. They also have some yummy homemade dressing, such as their steakhouse blue cheese.
Chopt was founded in 2001 and has been serving the freshest, and spiciest, salads since its opening.
Their specialties include the Spicy Sonoma Caesar Salad with creamy caesar dressing and the Gochujang Crunch Salad with spicy sesame cucumbers.
But how does Chopt maintain a fun atmosphere and fresh food all at once? The chain uses a full-bar operation.
One section to order your food, which leads to a section where you see it freshly chopped and dressed, and the last section where you pay.
Saladworks’ humble beginnings start in a mall.
The franchise was so successful that the small food court wasn’t enough to handle this store’s popularity. By 2015, the chain had opened 12 additional locations.
I like to visit Saladworks because it reminds me of Subway. You truly can’t go wrong when you build it yourself. Start with your choice between romance lettuce, a spring mix, kale, spinach, or even whole grain pasta.
From there you can add up to 5 toppings, including avocado, roasted squash, and glazed pecans. Lastly, top it off with dressing and enjoy your perfectly crafted creation.
If you want to create your salad, visit Saladworks. Even if you’re too overwhelmed to create your own, you can order one of their signature salads such as the popular Bently salad which includes glazed ham.
Fresh & Co.
“Just Made. Just For You” is Fresh & Co.’s slogan, and you’ll taste the difference in each bite.
The chain has locations all across New York City, and each one outdoes itself.
This family-owned restaurant was founded in 2010 and has been thriving ever since. I especially appreciated their family-first atmosphere.
The restaurant is decorated to make you feel right at home.
My favorite treat here is the Falafel Salad, a blend of fresh kale and romaine dressed with hot sauce and lemon tahini, and tossed with chickpeas, scallions, and falafel.
I also enjoy having their avocado chicken side salad on a busy lunch break.
Hale & Hearty Soups
This popular soup joint started as a small back-of-house restaurant joint serving creamy soup to busy people.
The joint got so popular it opened more stores and has committed to fresh ingredients ever since.
And don’t be fooled, this restaurant makes more than just good soup. Their salads are some of the best in New York, and New Yorkers know good food.
The best way to order a salad here is with a side soup or sandwich. Their Curried Chicken Chowder soup pairs well with a house salad.
The Balsamic Chicken and Avocado sandwich pairs best with their baby arugula salad. I must say, this salad joint gives Panera a run for their money!
Just Salad is a popular chain in the U.S for several reasons, but one of the biggest reasons for its popularity is its inspiring commitment to sustainability.
The store uses reusable containers to package their products, and they’re always encouraging their customers to reuse their containers.
Their intentional ingredients are prepped daily in-house and handled with pride. I was most surprised to see how diverse and delightful their staff was. Everyone seemed to enjoy their job and take care of the customer.
When I first went, I ordered the buffalo chicken salad, but after scanning the room I wished I had ordered the Chipotle Cowboy. The customers couldn’t get enough of that one.
The second time I visited I ordered it and fell in love with the flavor. This salad had so much fresh chicken, and best of all it was all plant-based.
I love this restaurant’s commitment to helping the environment as well as serving healthy food. A step in the right direction for American chain restaurants.
I don’t usually fall easily for restaurants that claim to have the “best-chopped salad you’ll ever eat!”, but this restaurant didn’t fail to impress me with their flavorful salads.
Chop Stop caters to the hungry individual or the modest date who claims they only want a salad. These salads are seriously loaded and finely chopped. The salad is so well chopped you can eat it with a spoon.
I ordered the Viva Mexican Chop because it had jalapenos and black beans, but they have plenty of other salads for those less daring. Their vegan chorizo chopped salad is the most popular.
I enjoyed dining at Chop Stop because the interior reminds me of hanging out late at night in college. Its setup is laid-back, fast-paced, and overall very familiar.
10 Best Fast Food Salads
Salad doesn’t automatically mean healthy, especially in the fast food world. Some concoctions are loaded with leafy greens and veggies, while others are layered with meat, creamy dressing, and croutons. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to ordering a one – you just have to know what you want – a nutritious, fresh salad or a calorie-dense, ranch-covered one. We’ve got options all over the spectrum so you can find just what you’re looking for in a grab-and-go salad. Enjoy!
CHICK-FIL-A COBB SALAD
Chick-Fil-A’s dressings make it easy to choose nutrition, if that’s something that’s important to you. They’ve got healthy options like the balsamic or low-fat honey mustard, which are both delicious options. But you can also take the comfort-food route and opt for buttermilk ranch. It packs on the calories, but it tastes like absolute perfection combined with the crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and crunchy tortilla strips. You can further customize the salad by adding either grilled or crispy chicken. If you’re not worried about calories, we recommend the crispy chicken – that extra layer of flavor goes a long way. And of course, if you’re a vegetarian, you can order the salad without meat and it’ll still taste better than most fast food salads you’ve eaten.
MCDONALD’S SOUTHWEST SALAD
We’ll be honest – McDonald’s Southwest Salad is by no means the healthiest salad on our list, but it sure is tasty. This classic menu options features a spring mix (romaine, baby spinach, baby kale, red leaf lettuce, and ribbon cut carrots) with sliced artisan grilled chicken fillet, southwest vegetable blend (black beans, roasted corn and tomatoes, and poblano peppers), cilantro lime glaze, shredded cheddar jack cheese, and chili lime tortilla strips. Top it off with Newman’s Own® Southwest Dressing, and you’ll understand why this salad has been on the menu for so many years.
Once Chipotle realized people were ordering bowls without chips or tortillas, they capitalized on the idea of calling it a “salad” and started adding a bed of leafy greens to the bottom of it. Now, salads are an official part of the Chipotle menu, and you can build them just like you order any other dish. Choose if you’d like protein, rice, beans, toppings, and sides. Chipotle only offers one dressing for their salads, though. The Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette has a nice sweet taste that complements nearly everything on the menu so you don’t have to worry about flavors clashing.
CORELIFE KALE CAESAR CHICKEN SALAD
CoreLife is a newer franchise in the US, but they’ve already got salad and health food down to a science. With all fresh, organic ingredients, you can order a custom salad or a recipe from the menu. They call their salads “green bowls” (trendy right?), which consist of dark leafy greens, veggies, and your choice of dressing that are all made from scratch. You’ll find most CoreLife Eateries in bigger cities, but they’re starting to branch out into smaller metropolitan areas, as well.
The Kale Caesar Chicken Salad is an absolute must-try if you have a CoreLife location near you. While most Caesar salads are full of fat and calories, this one is loaded with nutritious ingredients like shredded kale, chopped romaine, antibiotic-free chicken, tomatoes, and fresh parmesan cheese. You can get it with any dressing, but the Caesar is to-die-for.
NOODLES AND COMPANY MED SALAD WITH CHICKEN
Noodles and Company specializes in more than carbs and heavy sauces. You can get some of the most delicious fast food salads, too! There are three kinds listed on the menu, the Med Salad with Chicken, the Chicken Veracruz Salad, and the Grilled Chicken Caesar. We love a good Mediterranean dish, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It features a base of romaine and mixed greens, tossed with grilled chicken, tomato, cucumber, red onion, Kalamata olives, cavatappi pasta, spicy yogurt dressing, and feta. If you’re gluten-free or don’t want the added carbs, just ask for the Med salad without the cavatappi noodles. Bonus: You can order this in a size regular or small if you want to pair it with something else or keep your meal light.
PANERA STRAWBERRY POPPYSEED SALAD
If you’re a salad novice, strawberries and tangerines may sound like off-the-wall topping choices, but once you try this Panera salad, you’ll understand why fruit is the best way to brighten up any bowl of greens. The Strawberry Poppyseed Salad is an obvious choice for summertime, from its fruit-forward ingredients to its refreshing poppyseed dressing to its toasted pecan toppings. If your flavor profile leans more towards ranch and Caesar, this kind of salad will be a leap for you – but one that we think you won’t regret if you give it an honest try. You can add grilled chicken to the poppyseed salad for an added cost, or leave it meatless and pair it with another Panera menu item.
WENDY’S SOUTHWEST AVOCADO CHICKEN SALAD
Honestly, it’s hard to pick the “best” salad from Wendy’s. The fast food franchise has seriously upped their game when it comes to fresh salads, so while we love the Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad, the Summer Strawberry, Parmasean Caesar, Apple Pecan Chicken, and Taco Salads are all killer options, as well. The southwest option is the best of both worlds. It’s healthy and filling, which are usually mutually exclusive when it comes to salads. It features cold, crisp lettuce topped with pepper jack cheese, diced tomatoes, avocado, Applewood smoked bacon, and grilled chicken breast. The Marzetti® Simply Dressed® Southwest Ranch Dressing comes on the side so you can control how much zest (and calories!) you add to your salad. You can order a full or half size, as well as swap the ranch dressing with another option if you’d like.
MCALISTER’S CHEF SALAD
Salads come and go on the McAlister’s Deli menu depending on the season, but there’s one timeless option that’s never a disappointment – the Chef Salad. This protein-heavy salad features applewood smoked bacon, black forest ham, smoked turkey, cheddar jack cheese, and croutons, cucumbers, and diced tomatoes on a spring mix blend. You can choose whichever dressing you’d like served on the side. Options include Fat-free Chipotle Peach, Buttermilk Ranch, Thousand Island, Caesar, Sherry Shallot, Fat-Free Raspberry Pecan Vinaigrette, McAlister’s Honey Mustard™, Olive Oil Balsamic Vinaigrette, Chipotle Ranch, and Chili-Lime Vinaigrette. Talk about options. All McAlister’s salads are completely customizable, too, so feel free to substitute, remove, or add ingredients to suit your diet and taste buds.
TACO BELL FIESTA TACO SALAD
Okay, so it’s not a bed full of leaves and and veggies, but who doesn’t love a good taco salad? It may be one of the more expensive items on the Taco Bell menu (usually runs around $5.59), but it’s packed with flavorful, filling ingredients, so it’s definitely worth upgrading from your go-to tacos. The Fiesta Taco Salad features seasoned beef, rice, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, reduced fat sour cream, cheese, and red strips, but you can pile it high with other additional toppings like guac, pico de gallo, creamy jalepeno sauce, jalapeno peppers, and nacho cheese sauce. It may not be your idea of a healthy lunch, but it’s certainly delicious.
ARBY’S ROAST TURKEY FARMHOUSE SALAD
Arby’s may not be the first place you think of to grab a fresh salad, but the Roast Turkey Farmhouse checks all the boxes, from taste to quality to nutrition. The salad features roast turkey, pepper bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes, mixed lettuce, and shredded iceburg lettuce. You can top it with any of Arby’s salad dressings like light Italian, Dijon Honey Mustard, Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Buttermilk Ranch.