If there’s one thing District denizens love, it’s a good salad—even if it costs an arm and a leg. This week we took a look at how food trucks are serving up this reliable lunchtime staple.
“At all of these places, the salads are the healthiest things on the menu,” says our expert, Melissa Musiker, MPP, LD, RD. “That being said, salads are a nutritional Trojan horse. They can seem like a great choice, but can be total calorie bombs in disguise.”
Read her thoughts on the salads available at some of the most popular mobile eateries.
According to our expert, none of this truck’s salads would make for bad eats, although improvements can be made to all of the choices.
• Best—Santa Fe and Chop Shop: “For the best balance of calories and nutrients, the Santa Fe might be the top choice,” she says. She also cites the Chop Shop as a close second, but, “with avocado, cheese, and croutons [it] might actually have the most calories.” Add a lean protein to make sure your salad keeps you full without packing on fatty ingredients.
Sweetgreen’s frozen-yogurt-centric truck also ofers smaller salads for those looking for lunch instead of a treat.
• Best—Santorini and Curry Gold: Our expert says that both choices offer a great lean protein and excellent variety of nutrients, but suit different tastes. “Curry has lots of antioxidants and phytonutrients that are really good for you, but many people don’t like curry,” Musiker explains. “The Santorini is a little more vegetarian, but still offers a good mix of ingredients with low calories.”
• Worst—Derby Cobb: Musiker calls the cobb the “stereotypical calorie bomb of salads.” At 665 calories and 49.5 grams of fat from the egg, blue cheese, bacon, and avocado, it’s easy to see why.
“The salad is the best choice on their menu,” Musiker says. “And it’s a great way to try their food.”
• Best—Tofu or chicken teriyaki: Your choice of protein comes on a bed of greens, shredded napa cabbage, cucumber, edamame, green onions, macadamia nuts, pickled carrots, and daikon, drizzled with ginger-soy dressing. Tofu and chicken are comparable in terms of nutrition, but Musiker points out that the prep method might tip the scales. “Depending on how it’s marinated, the tofu could soak up more and have lots of sodium.” And be sure to leave off the dressing, especially when brined veggies are involved.
• Argentinian skirt steak salad: This salad is jam-packed with ingredients: skirt steak on a bed of romaine, watercress, jicama, mango, pepitas, cucumber, tomatoes, and queso fresco with mango-chipotle dressing and chimichurri sauce. “The steak is about 200 calories, which is not necessarily an issue,” says our expert. “What could throw someone off track is both the chimichurri sauce and the dressing.” Chimichurri is basically seasoned oil, so choose one dressing and keep it on the side.
• Tofu or lemongrass chicken: This NOVA-based Vietnamese truck serves your choice of protein with green leaf lettuce, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumbers, and cilantro. Watch out for high sodium levels in the dressing, especially if it’s miso-, soy-, or peanut-based.
Musiker says a good salad should be “bright and colorful on a bed of dark green.” Keep dressings on the side, and watch out for fatty add-ons such as bacon, cheese, and croutons.
“Non-vegetable toppings are like jewelry,” she says. “Coco Chanel advised taking off one piece of jewelry each day after getting dressed so as not to overdo it. Good advice for salads, too.”
Photographs courtesy of the food trucks' Facebook pages.