How to get the most bang for your buck at the salad bar

For well-heeled sorts, the Whole Foods salad bar is a nice, easy lunch—for others, it’s a nerve-racking exercise in maximizing fiscal and nutritional efficiency. For the latter, fear not: here’s a guide to navigating a good deal while keeping our bones good and strong.

October 6, 2016

By Graham Templeton / Photo: Unsplash

Thou shalt know what’s expensive
Nothing is better-tasting (or more nutritious) than victory, so we’ll need to take into account the overall price of each salad component. Some things are easy—compared to market prices, brown rice is very expensive, candied salmon generally quite cheap. But consider less exaggerated examples: Greek salads are often a great source of yummy and relatively expensive feta or goat cheeses, and quinoa salad mixes almost always include something odd or expensive like goji berries or pomegranate seeds.

Thou shalt consider mixed salads
Some salads are much tastier than others, and this is almost always reflected in the weight. Beet salad is delicious (this is a scientific fact) but also heavy with beet water and other dense components. You want 300 grams of salad, but that’s so little beet salad! Solution: take a cheap, nutritious green salad and toss it with a bit of beet salad for extra taste.

Thou shalt not be tricked by heavy carbs or lots of water
If there’s one trick to running a profitable food bar, it’s the use of water. The contents of a smartly done salad bar will always skew toward things like tomatoes and watermelon, which are basically nature’s sponges. But fruit fibre isn’t the only thing that carries absurd amounts of dense, and thus expensive, water—certain carbohydrates do it very well, too. That pasta salad? Not only will the simple carbs leave you hungry again before long, but it’s largely water puffing up those delicious macaroni elbows. Pass right on by—we’ve got better things in store.

Thou shalt source some actual salad
Okay, so I know you see the grilled chicken over there—just put your hands in your pockets for a second. Before going further, we need to make a quick and very small concession to nutrition: throw on some leaves. It doesn’t have to be a full green salad, but it does have to be there in some form, providing iron, zinc, magnesium and dietary fibre to the meal. Seriously, take some lettuce, pick it up and drop it back down—as long as you avoid the water-filled ribs on iceberg lettuce, you’ll barely notice the price increase. Over time, however, your doctor may notice the difference.

Thou shalt not go nuts on the strong veggies
Carrots. Bell peppers. Radishes. For those of us unused to the freedom of the salad bar, these individually delicious veggies provide just enough (hemp) rope to hang ourselves. They’re heavy and, more importantly, they absolutely dominate the taste of almost anything they join. For many, it takes a few runs to acquire the discipline to hold back, but in the right hands these strategically used taste grenades can make even the most boring plate a true joy to consume.

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