PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s one of the most popular places for lunch these days: your local salad bar! 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan shows you how to be “salad bar smart.”
Healthy, convenient, and selections that are hard to beat.
“The clientele has become a little more demanding as far as the quality they’re looking for,” said Trent O’Drain, Wegmans’ executive chef at their Cherry Hill store.
Your meal is usually priced by the pound. But are you getting the most bang for your buck when you head to the salad bar?
“My regulars really have it down to a science,” said Marion “Tootsie” D’Ambrosio, owner of Tootsie’s Salad Express in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.
You could be paying the same price as your friend based on your salad’s weight, but is your salad more valuable?
“They’re looking for more of these high-end ingredients and prepared salads,” said O’Drain.
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First, start with your leafy greens. Go for the higher end stuff. Spinach and spring mix beat out iceberg and romaine any day.
If you were to purchase your greens in the produce department, ready-to-eat iceberg lettuce would be $2.91 a pound; romaine, $4.00 a pound. Baby spinach came in at $4.99 a pound. A pound of mixed field greens tops out just under $6.00.
Then watch out for items that weigh you down.
“Tomatoes and cucumbers weigh heavy, and potatoes and pasta,” D’Ambrosio said.
Shopper Robin Levy said, “I don’t try to pile on too much heavy stuff like the hardboiled eggs because that can add weight, and I don’t put the dressing because that adds weight. I’ll do it afterward.”
“A lot of our regulars have their salad dressing at their office, and I encourage that,” said D’Ambrosio.
Next, skip basic veggies and live a little. At Tootsie’s, “the chicken, the beef, the pork ribs and everything, that costs us the most,” said D’Ambrosio.
At Wegmans, cash in on gourmet offerings like grilled corn salsa, herb-baked tofu, or rigatoni with sundried tomato and feta.
“To get all the ingredients and actually do them yourself not only takes valuable time, but it’s also expensive to stock your kitchen with all your oils and things,” said O’Drain.
Finally, to top it off, Stacia Cohen picked “olives, and I even do cheese, the feta cheese.”
The more valuable items are “some of the more expensive cheeses, like the bleu cheese, the feta, the romano,” said O’Drain. “If everyone bought all the high-end things, I guess it would become difficult to offer them all of the time.”
But while they are, why not be salad bar smart?
These days, most places allow you to mix salad bar vegetarian offerings with hot meats or Asian foods for a flat price, so take advantage of it.
By the way, as far as toppings are concerned, nuts are always a good choice. If you find bacon bits on a salad bar, you’ve hit the mother load. If you priced them by the pound, they would cost over twenty bucks a pound!
Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3