Q: I love using a salad bar at lunch to help me get enough vegetables each day. How can I avoid creating one of those mega-calorie salads that make headlines periodically?
A: Salad bars are a terrific way to make vegetables a large part of meals, as recommended by guidelines from organizations such as the American Institute for Cancer Research. To control calories, be creative and fill most of your plate or take-out container with a wide variety of dark leafy greens (like spinach, romaine or other mixed salad greens) and plain colorful chopped vegetables (including carrots, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes and more). For a sweet touch, include about a half-cup (a rounded handful) of unsweetened fresh fruit, such as pineapple or berries. To make a main dish salad, include one of the following (or smaller portions of several): a half-cup of kidney or garbanzo beans; a half-cup turkey, seafood chunks, chopped hardboiled egg or tuna (unless it’s mixed with lots of mayonnaise); or one-third cup (a level handful) of nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If you want cheese, add about one to two tablespoons for flavor in combination with one of these leaner sources of protein. Otherwise, using just a half-cup of shredded regular cheese adds over 200 calories to your salad. Try Parmesan or feta for plenty of flavor in a small amount. Finally, be careful with salad dressing portions. A full typical four-tablespoon size ladle of regular dressing probably contains 140 to 320 calories (and 500 to 640 milligrams of sodium). Even reduced-fat dressings add up. A ladle the size of a ping-pong ball will give you two tablespoons. If it’s bigger than that, make sure you only fill the ladle part way before dressing your salad. You can extend salad dressing with lemon juice or splashes of vinegar. For even lower calories and sodium, dress your salad with lemon juice or vinegar and a couple teaspoons of plain olive oil (often in a cruet on the salad bar).