If you’ve made a vow to muscle more veggies into your diet, you might be perusing the salad options at your local salad bar, lunch joint, or restaurant more often than usual. And you’d be smart to do so—salads are exceptional vehicles for adding more protein, fiber, healthy fats, and other nutrients and minerals into your daily fare.

But beware: the calories can add up quickly if you’re not careful—even if you fix a salad yourself. For example, a salad made with 2 cups kale, 1⁄2 cup quinoa, 3 ounces shredded chicken breast, half an avocado, a large hardboiled egg, 3 tablespoons bacon bits, 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons Caesar dressing can pack nearly 900 calories.  

Healthy Salad Tips

“The trick is to be mindful of the ingredients—and the portions—that go into your salad,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads CR’s food-testing lab.

To get the most nutritious mix, start with a base of dark leafy greenssuch as kale, spinach, or arugula, then load up on other veggies, the more colorful the better. With the exception of a few high-calorie items—such as olives, avocado, and potatoes, for example—you can add as much or as many types of undressed produce as you like without adding too many calories.

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“Most vegetables are so low in calories and high in fiber and other nutrients that you can really eat as much as you want,” says Siegel. For example, there’s less than 25 calories in a half cup of shredded carrots, chopped red pepper, or cherry tomatoes.

Next, pick a lean protein—such as chicken breast, tofu, chickpeas, a hardboiled egg, or a grilled piece of fish to increase satiety.

A little fat in your salad is good—your body has an easier time absorbing some of the nutrients in vegetables when they’re eaten with oil, avocado, nuts, or some other type of healthy fat. Still, go easy on the dressing, aiming for no more than about 2 tablespoons—oil and vinegar is better than something creamy, says Siegel. “Most people don’t realize that the dressing is often the biggest contributor of calories, sodium, and fats in a salad,” she says.

And if you’re craving a treat, such as bacon bits, croutons, or cheese, which tend to be higher in calories and sodium than veggies, says Siegel, pick one and sprinkle lightly.

These tips are easy to forget, though, when you’re faced with endless options at a restaurant, salad bar, or even at home. To keep the nutrition numbers in check, we created this handy visual guide to help you see how much of some favorite salad ingredients you can have for 100 calories. If you’re following a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet and are enjoying the salad as a meal, says Siegel, aim for no more than 500 to 600 calories per serving. 

A chart that will help you see how much of some favorite salad ingredients you can have for 100 calories.