SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Buying lunch at a salad bar can be a great bargain or a bum deal, depending on what ingredients you pick to fill your plate.
According to a recent calculation by the New York Times, individual items at the salad bar cost on average 70 percent more than they do on the store shelves. Most salad bars charge between $6 and $10 a pound. Items such as eggs, lettuce, even chicken breast cost far less when purchased individually at a supermarket.
San Francisco based registered dietician Jo Ann Hattner said there are good reasons for that. “You’re paying for the convenience and the variety,” Hattner said.
But while you pay by the pound at a salad bar, the items offered vary widely in price. From eggs which can cost 99 cents a dozen, to real bacon bits, which cost $3.99 for just a few ounces.
So, what are the best bargains at the salad bar? Spring Mix and Spinach are two good choices. Both greens cost between $5 and $6 a pound at most supermarkets, while iceberg and romaine lettuce generally costs less than half of that.
Hattner said the more expensive greens are generally healthier, too. “The darker the color, we always consider that more nutritious,” she said.
Now for what you put on your lettuce. At $3 to $5 a pound at the market, mushrooms, snow peas, artichokes and baby tomatoes are salad bar best buys. Cucumber, carrots and beets are less of a deal, since they are cheaper.
Salad dressings are a bit harder to calculate. Since price is usually determined by brand, and salad bars usually don’t tell you which brands they offer, there is no way to tell if you are getting a bargain. But, there’s one clear bargain: olive oil and balsamic vinegar nearly always cost more, in many cases significantly more, than prepared dressings. And Hattner said oil and vinegar is your best choice nutritionally as well.
Saavy salad bar shoppers can pile on the toppings. Croutons, cheese crumbles, nuts, and bacon bits all cost close to, or more at the salad bar than at the store.
But Hattner warns don’t go crazy, especially with those bacon bits. “I’m not sure it’s beating the system, because it’s not that good for the body,” she said.
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