When I think of a salad bar, I think of Whole Foods. It has some of the best varieties of organic and healthy food available—plus some yummy toppings. It’s a quick and easy lunch option or a low-hassle, healthy dinner. But I hesitate going the salad bar route very often because I have trouble walking away without paying over $20.00. I certainly do not save 50-80% on my grocery bill to then turn around and spend that money on one meal at the salad bar, no matter how yummy it is.  So I stepped back and I thought about it. I figured out how to save so much on my groceries–why can’t I do the same with my favorite Whole Foods salad bar?

The salad bar is unlike one you’ve ever seen; you don’t pay by the item or size, you pay by the pound. My Whole Foods’ salad bar charges $8.49 a pound, so just three pounds puts my bill at over $25.00. There are two ways to bring this cost down. First, buy product at the salad bar that, if bought in the store, would cost more than $8.49 a pound. Secondly, buy lighter items so that you can get more of it per pound. Keeping these two ideas in mind, here’s how I keep my salad bill as low as possible.

1. The container

Start with the basics: choose the smaller bowl. For me, it’s enough food to fill me up without emptying my wallet.

2. The green leafy basics

Make the base of your salad the lightest thing at the bar: the greens! I always choose spinach and baby greens for two reasons: they’re more expensive and they’re lighter. I never choose romaine because it’s a very inexpensive lettuce and is pretty heavy. For the same reason, I limit the amount of kale I put in my salad.

3. Add the veggies

Now, it’s time for the veggies. My favorites are sun-dried tomatoes—they’re super light and expensive—and mushrooms. At all costs, I avoid beets and fresh tomatoes. Similarly, steamed veggies are full of water and rarely make it into my salad. Basically, if the veggies are dense and filled with water weight, don’t get them.

4. Don’t forget the protein

The trickiest part is the protein portion of my salad. I look for things that are cooked dry, like grilled chicken, and avoid things that are saucy, sauteed, or have the bone-in. If I find shrimp or bacon, I stock up. These are expensive outside of the bar and are relatively light in weight. If I’m going for vegetarian, I pick out pieces of tofu or beans, draining any excess sauce.

5. Choose your toppings wisely

I try not to get out of control with toppings since they are generally pretty heavy. Pine nuts are a great deal at the salad bar, and I’ve been known to stock up on these if I’m lucky enough to find them. Cabbage, while inexpensive, is very light and adds a nice crunch.

6. Top it off

I always choose to put my dressing in a side container. This way, it doesn’t sink to the bottom, making for a soggy salad, and most importantly, I know exactly how much I’m really getting. Choose the olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette over the more inexpensive—and heavy—cream dressings.

7. What not to get at the salad bar

 

There are a few favorites that I opt to buy in the store rather than at the salad bar. Almonds and a few other trail mixes are a dollar or two cheaper in the bulk section and still just as handy to pour on my salads. I love avocados, so the extra effort to get them in the produce section is worth the huge savings. If I’m feeling like an apple or pear on my salad, I get those in the produce section as well.

With just these few easy adjustments, I keep my bill under $10.00 and have a fantastic, healthy meal! Just remember, keep it light and high quality, choosing the more expensive items in order to get the best value.