If you’re like me, you love the freedom that making your own salad/assortment of hot foods involves. One food trend that is only expected to grow in future years are salad bars or self-serve hot food bars. The food service industry is realizing that people love to customize their own food, and what better way to cater to their customers than allowing a self-service set-up. Depending on where you’re dining, salad bars may offer an array of healthy and not-so-healthy options, and it can be tempting to load up on those comfort food options (I think everyone can agree that mac and cheese and mashed potatoes look so good!) How can you make the wisest choices when you have so many less healthy choices available? Here are some tips for navigating the self-service food set-up:
- If available, choose a smaller size plate. Studies have shown that the size of your plate or bowl influences how much you’ll eat. Eating off a larger plate can lead to eating larger portions of food, and consuming more calories.
- Make at least half of your plate greens. In general, the darker the green veggie, the more nutritious it is. Spinach, romaine, and kale, are all good choices. If possible opt for these over iceberg lettuce, which is all water and little nutrients.
- Make your plate or container look appetizing by adding colorful veggies. Carrots, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, baby corn, are usually some common options offered.
- Add a protein component. Some healthy options include grilled chicken, beans, tofu, turkey, and hard-boiled eggs. Try to keep the portion size to the size of deck of cards (about a half cup).
- For dressing, your best bet is oil and vinegar. Although oil is high in calories, usually the oil provided will be olive oil, which has healthy fats that will help absorb the fat soluble vitamins in vegetables, such as vitamin K, vitamin E, and vitamin A.
- Since there will probably be less healthy options available, choose this item last and stick to a 1/4 cup portion. Full-fat cheese, a serving of mashed potatoes, or a dessert item are all things you definitely want to limit at the salad bar in order to have a healthy meal.
I personally love dining at salad bars/hot food bars. In fact, I rarely go out to eat and instead I insist that my friends and family meet me at Whole Foods Market Salad Bar when they decide to treat me! What I love about Whole Foods Market Salad Bar are the many vegan options, which of course you’d expect at a salad bar because of the vegetables, but Whole Foods takes it a step further by offering different bean salads, grain salads, different types of tofu, and so much more. If you live near a Whole Foods Market, I encourage you to pick up a tray and make yourself a meal!
What are your strategies to navigating self-serve food bars? If you have a favorite salad bar restaurant or food place, do share by leaving a reply!