Lisa Lillien is the author of the popular Hungry Girl website and email newsletter, featuring smart, funny advice on guilt-free eating. She is also the author of nine books, six of which debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Monday for slimmed-down celebrity recipes and more.
Salads seem safe when you’re dining out, but BEWARE. Some restaurant salads have a thousand calories… or more! Here are a few to avoid, plus better-for-you alternatives:
At Chipotle Mexican Grill
Salad Shock: Salad with Chicken and Toppings
You’re at Chipotle and eating a SALAD? This basically makes you a Zen master. A salad with chicken, no less — so virtuous. Throw on some fajita veggies and black beans — you’re so healthy! Corn salsa, why not? Cheese? You’ve earned it by not ordering a burrito. Guacamole? Duh. Vinaigrette? Well, it IS a salad. Guess what, health nut? That salad now totals 1,010 calories and 64.5g fat.
Better Bet: Soft Corn Tacos with Sofritas, Veggies, and Salsa
Let’s try again. The great thing about tacos is that you’re kind of restricted to the amount of toppings you can fit into a few small tortillas. Pick the tofu-based sofritas, add on those fajita veggies, and top with tomatillo-red chili salsa. Only 400 calories for 3 tacos, plus 12.5g fiber and 13g protein!
At California Pizza Kitchen
Salad Shock: Caramelized Peach Salad with Grilled Shrimp
You walk into CPK with reserve of steel — you’re not ordering a pizza, no matter how tempting they look. Good thing there are a bunch of yummy salads on the menu… STOP! As virtuous and delicious as this fruit-topped option sounds, the full order with dressing is a serious calorie-fest with 960 calories and 63g fat. Yeesh!
Better Bet: Shrimp Scampi Zucchini Fettuccine
Look again — those shrimp are sitting on a bed of zucchini ribbons! At 470 calories and 24g fat, this is one of the best options on the menu. (P.S. If you like zucchini “noodles,” check this out.)
Salad Shock: Oriental Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken
This salad is so simple — how can it be trouble? There’s no cheese or bacon, and choosing grilled chicken rather than crispy chicken saves you 110 calories and 17g fat. Sadly, a regular-sized salad with dressing still has 1,290 calories and 82g fat! The Oriental Dressing alone has 250 calories and 22g fat. ACK.
Better Bet: Napa Chicken & Portobellos
Now here’s a really satisfying plate. Chicken smothered in sauce, mushrooms, and onion, alongside sautéed veggies and crispy potatoes — all for just 500 calories and 16g fat? Sold! Make our salad swap at home, and get this from the ‘Bee’s.
Salad Shock: Quesadilla Explosion Salad
The silly item has been a scourge on my radar for years. Yeah, it seems like a quesadilla wouldn’t be so bad if it comes in salad form… But it’s basically an entire quesadilla sitting next to a salad. How does it stack up? 1,430 calories and 96g fat. Noooooope.
Better Bet: 6 oz. Sirloin with Grilled Avocado
You could get A STEAK with AVOCADO for FAR fewer calories and fat grams than that silly salad. Topped with a citrus-chile sauce, the steak also comes with garlic roasted tomatoes and a Fresco side salad for 410 calories and 20g fat. BRILLIANT.
At Cheesecake Factory
Salad Shock: Caesar Salad with Chicken
How bad could a pile of lettuce with some chicken really be? MAYDAY! CODE RED. This salad has 1,550 calories in it! That’s higher than an order of the Four Cheese Pasta — CRAZYPANTS. (But I wouldn’t suggest ordering the Four Cheese Pasta either — it has a whopping 1,270 calories.)
Better bet: SkinnyLicious Hamburger
What’s your reward for suffering the indignity of saying the word “SkinnyLicious” out loud? A burger on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles, with a smear of mayo, salad on the side. For just 560 calories. Worth it.
‘Til next time… Chew the right thing!
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