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Salad days 

Fast food outlets are pretty slick. They provide our multitasking, overworked, commuting car-bound asses with cheap, fast, tasty food like burgers and fries. Then we get fat from eating the greasy food, but they come to our rescue again with choices labelled “Healthy” or “Lean and Green.”

We truly have become a fast food culture, for a myriad of reasons. But now that we are reliant on car-borne fare, is there truly a better way to eat at the drive-thru?

Kempt Road is prime fast food territory, from the Burger King to the Wendy’s. It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m resisting the call of Chicken Select strips and Whoppers in favour of salads.

McDonald’s new saladsplus is, according to the website “three entree salads served with warm Chicken McGrill or Crispy Chicken with Newman’s Own dressings.” I’m sampling two of them: the Bacon Ranch Chicken with Crispy Chicken and the Chicken Oriental with Chicken McGrill (both $5.99).

Both of these salads are large, around 350 grams, fresh and surprisingly tasty, with bases of mesclun greens (mixed spring greens) and lots of toppings. Bacon Ranch comes with grape tomatoes, bacon bits, shredded cheddar, mozza and the chicken, and a large packet of ranch dressing. The Chicken Oriental has mandarin orange sections, crispy noodles (in a little packet on the side), and low-fat sesame Thai dressing.

Wendy’s also features a Chicken Mandarin salad ($5.99), this one has way more mandarins than Ronald’s, and along with a separate crispy noodle packet has a little bag of roasted almonds. The chicken’s not as nice, though. It’s about a half breast chunked and piled in the centre but the Wendy’s sesame dressing is much tastier.

At Burger King, the option is to have a salad without chicken ($4.99) or with ($5.99), and I’m trying Garden Salad with Fire Grilled Chicken. This salad is the same size as the others, but mostly romaine for greens. There are plenty of tomato wedges, sliced cucumbers, small carrots and red onions, but the chicken is a disappointment—cold, tasteless and rubbery, and not at all like the mental image of “Fire Grilled Chicken.” However, except for the chicken, this is an excellent salad.

So, all the salads taste healthier, and I feel a certain smugness at forgoing my usual guilty pleasure order, but I want to know the nutritional information. On to the web (all the major fast food places have this info on their websites, although BK’s is currently under construction. I’m not too concerned—raw veggies and light dressing don’t amount to much).

Wendy’s Chicken Mandarin totaled 550 calories, with 32 grams from fat. If you’re wondering how that stacks up, you could have a Wendy’s baked potato with sour cream and chives, and a small chili for only 10 calories more and only 12 grams of fat. If you order the salad and don’t use the almonds or dressing, you cut back the total calories to 230, with only four grams of fat.

McDonald’s Chicken Oriental fared better, with only 200 calories and 1.5 grams of fat, and while the dressing wasn’t as zingy or full-bodied as the Wendy’s, using it only added 90 calories.

The Bacon Ranch was, unsurprisingly, higher in calories and fat with 360 calories, a whopping 20 grams of fat and that’s without the 190-calorie dressing.

Having done my research, I feel I can recommend the salads as a relatively healthy and flavourful option. Plus, ordering the salads forces us to slow down a little bit—unlike burgers, they’re hard to eat with one hand on the wheel.

Find Liz Feltham online at: foodcritic.ca

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