A Healthy Choice at McDonald's

June 15, 2010   31 Comments

Snack Girl is probably the last person on the planet to discover that McDonald's has yummy salads. I don't get out much.

McDonald's Salad Review

I avoid McDonald's because the food gives me a stomach ache (I am not making this up). But, recently, I drove from Massachusetts to Chicago, IL (see here: Challenge: Week 3 and found myself looking for healthy food on the New York State Thruway.

What to do? I was in a big hurry so I hadn't filled my car with excellent Top Travel Snacks, so I just stopped at McDonald's and stared at the menu. Then, Super Snack Girl started interrogating the poor teenager behind the counter.

Do they ship you the salads or do you make them here? We mix them here.
Are they made with iceberg lettuce? They are made with mixed greens - there may be some iceberg but there is other lettuce types included.
Is the dressing on the side? Yes, it is.
How many calories are in them? Calorie information is posted on the wall.

Turns out you can order the salad EXACTLY the way you want it. And their website allows you to customize your calorie choices The Southwest Salad section of their site has a nutrition box where you can change the ingredients in your salad to get it to an optimal calorie amount.

It seems that McDonald's has been listening to the healthy eaters out there. So, I had a Southwest Salad, but I didn't eat 420 calories. I ate 220 calories because I only ate 1/2 the chicken, used 1/2 the dressing (they give you a LIME - WOW!), avoided the tortilla strips and the cheese (both yucky).

Next time, I would order it without the tortilla strips and the cheese because they were unnecessary.

It cost $5 and versus a Big Mac, french fries, and a large Coke (also $5), I reduced my calorie intake by 1000 or so. It tasted pretty good - and no stomach ache! Of course, I had to stop to eat it (no forking salad in my mouth when driving a standard), but that was fine.

These big corporations - McDonald's, Nabisco, Kraft, Frito-Lay, etc. are the food manufacturers we rely on for most of our food. Do I want to eat from local farmers all the time? Yes, but is that realistic? No.

It makes me happy that the entire way to Chicago, I could find fresh food. I found a tasty apple at the next rest stop, trail mix, and sparkling water. I managed not to eat a hamburger for a 15 hour drive across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. I am seriously amazed.

We have the makings of a food revolution in if McD's can make money selling salads. That means enough of us out there are demanding healthier choices.

What do you eat while traveling? Have you tried a McD's salad?

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I remember driving cross country four years ago and McD's salads were pretty much the only thing I ate, every day. As a vegetarian I was so happy to discover they had salads because on the road, sometimes McD's is the ONLY place you can find to eat. Did you know you can ask for the salad without chicken and they charge you less? It's not widely advertised but you can get a meat-free salad (yay!). Sadly, though, the salad they had back then was an asian salad with edamame that I really liked and it seems to be gone now, replaced by the southwest one, which is OK, but not as good, IMO. It is a bummer that you can't really eat it on the go (like sometimes you want to drive thru and just keep going, but that is impossible to eat while driving). I wish they had an option for that, but I don't really know what it would be.

Love that McD's has healthier options. It's just too bad that it usually costs more than a larger amount of the unhealthy stuff.

I love McD's southwest salad! The dressing is great- I like that it is Paul Newman's. I don't eat at McDonald's often, but when I do, that's what I try to get.

hate McD's can not even walk into the place the smell makes me sick

I travel for work so I've learned to carry fruit, make the world's quickest sandwich (Oroweat double fiber and sliced turkey) and stop for yogurt if I need to. Even lowfat yogurt will work if all you have is a gas station refridgerator section. For plane rides, I always carry Fiber one cereal because I can throw half a cup on my yogurt with some fruit and I have a meal. I have a couple small coolers to choose from so it's easy. Interesting to read that about McDonald's.. with a young kid that likes the play areas, it's hard not to stop there once in awhile. :)

Whenever I'm stuck at McDonald's on a road trip that salad is pretty much the only thing I will eat. The dressing is a little fatty but it's still better then a big mac.

I always order the "grilled" chicken ceasar - but instead of the high fat ceasar dressing, i get the balsamic vinagrette - of which i use only about 1/4 of the package. The chicken is actually DELICIOUS! I was as surprised as Snack Girl to discover this. It is also a Bargain!

It's interesting to see an article on healthy choices at McDonalds. I dropped 40lbs by paying attention to what I eat - all pretty much based on face-value calories. I didn't care where they came from (though I was smart enough not to eat 1800 calories of ice cream at a sitting and call that a meal). I ate primarily at Chick-Fil-A and KFC, but took the time to understand the menu and to look at the caloric content of the food. If you haven't, run out and grab an App for the iPhone/iPod Touch called Restaurant Nutrition: I use it a lot when eating out to make good choices. :)

I love, love, love the Southwest Salad from McDonald's. Here is a link to a similar recipe so you can try it at home -…. I swear that it tastes exactly like the McDonald's version. If I am pressed for time I use a bottled dressing (salsa ranch) instead of making my own.

I really like the Ceasar Salad, the parmesan is actually high quality enough to be yummy.

On a recent roadtrip I had one of their salads, too! I think it was the same one. Mine was just veggies and grilled chicken (I didn't use dressing or cheese etc), and I was really amazed at how deliciously juicy the chicken was. I was quite impressed. I think it was the first time I've had McDonalds in years. I expect the only time I'll be getting it again will be roadtripping, hehe, but even so: I was pleased with the choices.

I love the Micky D's salads, my favorite is the ever elusive Asian salad but the Southwest is pretty much my standard otherwise.

I never use the salad dressing though, the chicken (grilled) is so juicy that it makes it's own dressing.

I take the Paul Newman dressing packs home and use it for a low cal marinade for my home chicken breasts. It's really good!

Well, you've given me hope. We're heading off on a lengthy roadtrip next week, and I was already panicking about what I was going to eat on the road.

I've decided to pack some of my favorite "salads" that travel well -- couscous + sun-dried tomatoes & spinach; chickpea salad w/ tomatoes and cucumbers.

Those things are not going to keep for a week, though, and I'll need something healthy for the return trip. So, I'll try to remain inspired and eat the modified salads at McD's, because I'm sure we'll be stopping there at some point. :-\

Wow, they must have improved. I remember trying their salads last around 2007 or so, and they were HORRIBLE. Wendy's had much better, so if I want fast food salads, i go there. If I ever need a drive-through one, I may give McD's a try again, although I'm leery. I never had a good salad at McD's. Never.

There is one M D's in town that is very good, fresh and tasty - but a couple of nights ago I went to one by a friends house and I was very disapointed. I don't know what happened but the lettuce was limp and the meat was rubbery and not even cut all the way through.

Ever try to cut a chicken fillet with a dorky plastic fork (a forky?)? Not that easy.

So I think it does make a difference with different McD's and different employees.

Good morning. First, I'd like to start out by saying that I do think you offer up value for your readers. However, over the last month or so, I've noticed a shift in some of your writings. Previously, I noticed you sometimes went to great lengths to criticize major food companies for their products and point out their flaws.

Certainly, I understand some of the arguments, although not entirely objective at times. Either way, I always gathered your mission to be that of seeking natural foods, whereas lately I've noticed a shift.

I'm not sure I understand what the reason is. How is it possible to discuss a binge eating spree after the trip related to your grandmother, acknowledging Ranch dressing won't kill you, and now applauding McDonalds, just to name a few? I take this as you trying to "please" both sides, a.k.a. the masses, which may possibly better suit your business endeavors.

However, I will respectfully share that it sends conflicting messages, based on your own words, when you sit on the fence between criticism and acceptance of these corporations. Surely, there are many gray areas in life, food is no exception. Yet, I'm curious to know what the shift is related to in your case.

Blog Commenter, speaking only for myself, and my own problems with this very same issue, I believe it's called "Life". It happens. All of us really would like to be perfect and always eat healthy, but life happens.

We always wasnt to eat natural, but life happens.

We need to roll with the punches and yet still make the best choices available at the time, which might include fast food because of family timetables, or acceptance of our imperfections during a family crisis.

Life happens - you adjust.

Hello Karen. I agree with you 100%. I would never dispute that life happens. If anything, that's why I mentioned in my original comment that I don't think criticisms of major food companies are always entirely objective. My issue is not whether or not someone should or shouldn't eat food from big food companies; I do almost all week.

The point is that I've always known Snack Girl to hone in on the emphasis of eating natural foods and openly criticized the same companies she's been applauding recently either directly or by eating their foods and posting about it. I'm just curious as to what the shift is all about when it comes to her running a blog of this nature, as well as from a business standpoint. It's almost like someone changing their political party right in the middle of a public office race. Doesn't that send very confusing messages to the voters?

Thank you for the interesting critique. Actually, as I write the blog I do sometimes change my view point. I have been very critical of McDonald's for their junk food - but I was happy to see a healthy choice. I believe both viewpoints are valid. I also criticized Frito-Lay's Tostitos - but like their Sabras Hummus. This companies are so ubiquitous that you have to remain open to the idea that they can do good things. I am not anti-corporate - just anti-misleading marketing. I hope this clarifies my view point.


Thank you for clarifying your view point.

I recently found out that you can order the side salad at McDonalds and order the grilled chicken on the side. Since I don't like a big salad, this is the perfect size for me. Plus, it only costs about $2.50.

It's more calories, but nothing compared to the fried items they have there or the huge cheeseburgers, but I get the premier grilled chicken sandwich without the mayo and then get the 0 calorie bottle of vitamin water...there's my lunch and it filled me up!

I have pretty much given up on a healthy-on-the-go option...when I travel, I usually opt for Subway or Panera Bread (I worked there and studied the menu, so I know what's actually decent for you, and what changes to make). Most of the time, though, I just take something with me...

I make little baggies with a single serving of crackers, take along pre-portioned cheese, or a peanut butter sandwich. And honest to goodness, my best recent purchase was my food scale. I don't know what I'd do without it.

That's just the best way to know exactly what you're eating, how much, and in what form.

The southwest grilled saladmis not 400 calories..the nutruitional info on their website says only 290. Where do u get 400 from?

@Lisa - this article is from 2010 - and it looks like they have updated the salad - you are right it is now 290 calories. Thanks for the heads-up and maybe I will write another post about the latest salad.

We have eaten salads while driving -- just don't put dressing on and you can eat as finger foods. A little messy but it works!

You say you want the option to eat this while driving? While I would not recommend eating and driving, you can simply have your salad wrapped in a tortilla wrap. You can't fit the entire salad into the tortilla but you can fit 75% of it. They do it at my McDonalds for me all the time, I get the Grilled Chicken Southwest and jam it into the tortilla and it's excellent, roasted corn tortilla chips, the whole works! It's 50 cents for the tortilla. I usually get two and the salad and it is very filling. I also add onions to the salad which for some reason none have? A lot of times for a fast lunch I get the side salad and plop one of those tuna pouches over it..excellent!

i love mcdi

I used to order a Big Mac, 4 piece chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce every time I went to McDonalds. I went on a fast of no meat for 21 days. I got used to eating salad, veggies mostly broccoli and potatoes hard boiled eggs and fruit, a little bit of white rice here and there. Before I started the fast I tried the Southwest salad I was weaning myself off meat. When the fast was over I went to McDonald's and got a Southwest salad I haven't eaten anything else but that from McDonalds ever since. I like the vinaigrette but only use little the lime is just right.

I recently had the Greek Salad at McDonalds and could not possibly be more disappointed There was no resemblance to any other Greek salad I'd ever eaten. No feta, no tomatoe, and tons of lettuce! WTF? Never again.

Read this as I was eating my Southwest Chicken Salad sitting in a McDonalds. I've loved it for a while, but wondered what info I'd discover on the web, fearing I'd read of 'stay fresh' chemicals sprayed on it or something. Instead read this fun writeup and the even more fun comments. And Snack Girl, appreciate your openness and transparency on those last questions. I know it kills some people that McDonalds actually serves something healthy. Less fun to hate them... But everyone here seems super-balanced which is nice in the chaos of polarity. Snack on, snack girl!

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