Last week's Lunch Break was pretty brutal for everyone involved, but we've got a pleasant pick-me-up with this week's breakdown of the menu at Sweetgreen. The sustainable, locally sourced District mainstay began in 2007 as the brainchild of three Georgetown students, and still enjoys a stellar reputation for its fresh salads and fat-free fro-yo. Our Greenbelt-based nutrition expert, Kathy Kendall, had never heard of or been to Sweetgreen until now, but we think that's about to change.
"This place is like the utopia of salad. I'm really impressed," she says. "I thought, 'How am I going to pick? Everything looks so good!'"
Below, Kendall has pulled out your best and worst bets as usual, but since Sweetgreen gives you free rein over the menu, we also asked her to build us her ideal lunch. Read on for her recommendations.
• Derby cobb salad: Its blue cheese, egg, bacon, and avocado amount to 725 calories, 45.5 grams of fat (16 saturated), and 1,577 milligrams of sodium, which pushes it into really unhealthy territory. "With this combination of ingredients, when you get close to 1,600 milligrams of sodium it cancels out any good," Kendall says.
• Guacamole greens salad: "I like the fact that it had lots of deep colors, which means lots of antioxidants. I also like the sodium level being where it is, but the fat is a little high," Kendall explains. This salad is a lean 515 calories and only 367 milligrams of sodium, and packs 23 grams of protein--but also serves up 36 grams of fat. "Some of the fat is healthy fats from avocado, but if it was just a little lower this salad would be perfect."
• Curry gold salad: "I just couldn't find anything wrong with this--it's a well-rounded option with a wide range of ingredients," Kendall says. "It's got healthy fats from almonds, a good amount of carbs to make your meal more satisfying, and a good amount of fiber." This option is just 395 calories, 12 grams of fat (only 1.5 saturated), and 650 milligrams, with a satiating 27 grams of protein. It also features nutrient-rich beets and cranberries.
• SALAD: Mesclun, grape tomatoes, raw peppers, black beans, shredded carrots, cucumbers, basil, edamame, and hard-boiled egg, with toasted almonds and pita chips for crunch, all topped with cucumber-basil yogurt dressing.
• WRAP: Baby spinach, shredded carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, red onions, grape tomatoes, raw peppers, roasted chicken, and sunflower seeds, dressed with cucumber-basil yogurt.
Kendall says she paid more attention to the nutritional integrity of her choices, as opposed to the calorie count. "It was most important to get lots of antioxidants and nutrients from the veggies and, second, to have a good source of protein," she explains.
Although it's hard to go wrong at this salad spot, Kendall does have a few caveats to share. The honey-roasted turkey, for example, packs 720 milligrams of sodium on its own. Additionally, the menu doesn't provide any details on its wrap--it's unclear what it's made of and how big it is, so be sure to ask questions, especially if you have allergy concerns.
As far as building an original salad goes, Kendall's tips include being careful not to load fat into your salad, including the dressing and ingredients with healthy fatty acids (although she does say all of Sweetgreen's dressings are great). If you're watching calories, stick to the oil, vinegar, and fresh lemon or lime squeeze.
"It's really easy to go overboard. You can't go wrong with the vegetable toppings, but when you get to the crunches and cheeses, they can add up quickly," she says. She recommends to stick to one or two fatty toppings and one protein, and load up the veggies. Shoot for 500 to 600 calories, 15 to 25 grams of fat (zero to five grams of saturated fat), and no more than 800 milligrams of sodium.
Finally, Kendall says to take advantage of the tools you're given when you go out to eat. Sweetgreen's calculator lets you see nutritional info for individual ingredients as well as for the preset menu options. "Even if your nearest Sweetgreen doesn't take online orders, you can make your selections before you go and be prepared to order healthy once you get there," she says.