Dressed to kill a diet
September 2, 2015 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Let's say you order a big, full-plate dinner salad at a restaurant and ask for dressing on the side. You are counting calories. They forget and it comes pretty heavily dressed. You are at a work event, it's busy at the restaurant, and you eat it because of the social awkwardness of returning food at this event.

How could you possibly estimate the calories in a large, dressed salad? Say it was all lettuce/greens. But still, with dressing, it would have many tablespoons of oil, no? 1000 calories? 2000? Please jump in with an estimate. Assume a full dinner sized plate of dressed salad greens.
posted by flourpot to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of dressing? That'd make it easier to ballpark.
posted by Sequence at 7:12 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hmmmm... My favorite bleu cheese dressing is 120 calories for 2 tablespoons. Based on my years as a server, I'd guess 3-5 tablespoons of dressing to a large, dinner plate sized salad. If I HAD to track the calories, I'd put the dressing between 360 and 600 calories. But then I only use bleu cheese dressing- YSDMV (your salad dressing may vary).
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:14 PM on September 2, 2015

Well the salad greens themselves are going to be basically zero calories. Obviously they contain calories, but there's not much point worrying about them.

Assuming it was a full plate, as you say, or a big bowl, and it was a dressing I made myself (bog-standard olive oil + balsamic), I would use about a shotglass full of olive oil (three and a bit tablespoons, say 415 calories) and say two tablespoons of balsamic (28 calories according to the Googles). A bit of salt and pepper and some chilli flakes too, probably, but again the calories in those are negligible.

Long story short: budget 500 calories for your dressing (always estimate higher than you need to).
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:15 PM on September 2, 2015

Was it a chain restaurant that might post nutritional info or at least a menu on-line?

What was the dressing?

Can you do a Google image search and link to a similar-looking salad?

Can you guess at how many cups of greens were involved?

If this is really critical information for somebody with strict dietary requirements (hopefully not, as hopefully they wouldn't have felt pressured into eating it? but who knows), can they not call the restaurant and ask for the calories-per-tbsp of the dressing?
posted by kmennie at 7:15 PM on September 2, 2015

I think there is no way that it could be anything like 2000 calories. There are about 2000 calories in a cup of olive oil. You didn't eat a cup of olive oil.

Call it 500 and then realize that no one decision is going to make or break your diet.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:18 PM on September 2, 2015 [21 favorites]

Response by poster: It was a vinaigrette. Not a chain restaurant.
posted by flourpot at 7:21 PM on September 2, 2015

Salads with all the crazy fixings (bacon bits, cheese, eggs, etc.) at a place like Chili's are about 1500-2000 calories, so I think you don't have to worry about it being that bad. If you got a big glob of dressing, it may be about 2-3 times as much as the recommended amount, which would be perhaps 400-500 calories, I'd think? Probably less.
posted by xingcat at 7:21 PM on September 2, 2015

There's only so much vinaigrette salad greens will hold, even if it's sloppily mixed. I'd estimate you consumed no more than 0.5 a tablespoon of oil. The vinegar would be negligible. Maybe allow another 50 calories, max, for sugars, etc. (Assuming it was just greens, no nuts or cheese, etc.) Any more than that would have stayed on the plate.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:24 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can just Google a teaspoon of olive oil. It's like 40 calories.

There is really no way to tell how many calories were in your salad, unless you know how much oil was in the dressing. I would venture to say, maybe 80 or 200? In between that? Because you have to do a lot of vinegar to get the ratio down (other cooks may know).
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:36 PM on September 2, 2015

I worked in many restaurants and one thing I learned is that if you toss greens with dressing in a bowl, the result is a salad that is much more lightly dressed than if you pour dressing from a side container onto the greens. The tossing action starts by putting a small amount, say 1 t, of dressing in a bowl, and then tosses greens through it, which lets flavor coat each leaf while using a very small amount of dressing. It is cost-effective, which is one reason restaurants do it - it also tastes better since there are no dry greens.

Since it was a vinaigrette and not a gloppy, thick, creamy or cheesy dressing, I would say that you probably consumed much less than you would have had you poured dressing on yourself. You could take whatever a normal side portion is - often, it's a 2-oz bullet cup - and calculate that in based on 2/3 oil and 1/3 vinegar. Whatever you ate is most certainly less than that, probably less than half that. Probably not more than 1 T of dressing at the outside. Even a full dinner size plate.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on September 2, 2015 [18 favorites]

I would see if I could sneak away from the table to the bathroom and find someone to ask, or call after we left the restaurant and ask, "About how much dressing is on you x salad?, I'm supposed to record my food intake for this medical thing." And they would probably be happy to help.

If that wasn't possible I'd err on the side of extra and say 4 tablespoons, look up calorie counts online for a generic vinegarette and use that.
posted by HMSSM at 7:50 PM on September 2, 2015

I'm sorry to join the pile-on of speculation, but as others have mentioned, greens are effectively non-caloric; and 2000 calories is a CUP of oil (all oils are fat and have the same calorie content). Restaurants do put more sugar into dressing than you would at home but it's not probably notable compared to the fat.

Adding to this, you weren't at Ruby Tuesday and so they probably didn't drown the salad. Almost certainly WAY <1000 calories unless it was topped with fried Bang Boom Shrimp.
posted by ftm at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Call it 500 and then realize that no one decision is going to make or break your diet.

Basically this. You can look up an approximately dressed salad in the counting program you are using, but I've been doing this for a few years and I'd call it 500 unless there was something else (avocado, bacon bits, croutons) in the salad.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 PM on September 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

I'd go look at the nutrition information for chop't those salads are huge but not like trying to break a record for calories in a salad like chilis. Without any protein to speak of, I'd say somewhere between 500-750. And really that's building in a large margin of error.
posted by whoaali at 8:00 PM on September 2, 2015

tl;dr -- about 3 ounces

Think about how it might've been dressed to gauge the serving amount. Was it poured on top? Or was the dressing pretty evenly distributed?

If evenly distributed, the dressing was probably poured into a mixing bowl, then topped with the greens, and then shaken or folded/stirred. In which case, the amount of dressing was likely a full 4-oz ladle, maybe part of two -- enough to cover the bottom of the mixing bowl.

Now, you didn't get all of that, because some was left behind.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:26 PM on September 2, 2015

I'd ballpark it at 2-4 tablespoons. Erring on the over-counting side, let's say 4. Classic vinaigrette is 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio. 3 tablespoons of olive oil is 360, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar about 15. ~400ish.

That might be an overestimate, but better to go over than go under. I highly doubt it was less than 2 tablespoons --- an ounce of dressing is a very small amount of liquid for a whole plate of greens, and restaurants (bowing to the tastes of the American public) tend to be pretty heavy handed with the dressing.

Of course, that's assuming the plate I'm imagining is the same size as the one you got --- if this was some chain restaurant sized salad bowl with half-a-head of iceberg, then it could be 600 or so on the dressing. Would doubt you got up to 1000, though, unless there was bacon, cheese, meat or avacado in there. A plain green salad with a vinaigrette I'd say estimate 400 and call it a day.
posted by Diablevert at 9:03 PM on September 2, 2015

I couldn't find really good pictures with decent references like e.g. a hand or a standard dinner plate, or with a normal depth of field, but just for a rough visual comparison, one tablespoon/15 ml of olive oil (120 calories) looks like this (and this). One tablespoon of the balsamic I like is 40 calories (I doubt you got that much vinegar), and two teaspoons of straight sugar = 33 calories. Would you guess that you consumed that much?

I'd say you ingested 350 tops (including three cups of raw spinach = 21 calories); probably closer to 200-250.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:27 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a dietitian (although not your dietitian of course, and I don't generally work with counting exact calories for weightloss purposes) and I'd estimate a big plate of leafy green salad tossed with vinaigrette at max 400 kcal, possibly even less than 300 kcal. Now, a salad drenched in a thick, goopy dressing would be a slightly different beast because you can end up basically spooning ladles of pure dressing into your mouth, but vinaigrette barely even clings to the leaves!

Your question was short but I get the impression you're stressed about the whole thing. A plate of greens with vinaigrette will not ruin your diet, I promise. Salads are getting a bad rep nowadays because the general public was slow to realize that restaurant salads often contain large amounts of croutons, cheese, bacon, fried chicken, avocado, nuts or other energy dense ingredients. But what you had barely counts as a snack, and a healthy one to boot. No worries!
posted by sively at 6:05 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

n which case, the amount of dressing was likely a full 4-oz ladle

That would be crazy. The greens would be gloppy. I did this for a living a long time. In a tossed salad with vinaigreette, it's 2 T, max max max.
posted by Miko at 6:09 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The really killer calorie counts in restaurant salads are from the croutons or other starches added, the cheese, the breading, fry oil or sugar/HFCS in the glazing in the protein added, and the sugar/HFCS in the creamy dressings. A salad with none of the preceding, but with olive oil added, is going to struggle to exceed 300 calories ... maybe 500 with a generous portion of grilled fish, shrimp or chicken.
posted by MattD at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The vinaigrette I make at home contains 2 tablespoons of olive oil (plus balsamic vinegar, mustard and crushed garlic) and is enough to dress a whole bowl of salad, so say two full dinner plates worth.

That would put your serving of dressing at about 120 calories for the tbsp of oil, plus a few extra calories for the other ingredients.
posted by w0mbat at 3:38 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The most important thing about counting calories is that you are counting calories, not that it's always an exact science. That is, it gives you a definite boundary to stop eating during the day without allowing for unlimited eating temptations. Getting close in measurements is important, but having a lifestyle of cutting out indiscriminate eating is probably more so. So in cases like this, I'd also call it about 500 and keep on pressing on with the self-reflective eating habits as accurately as possible, and the system can compensate for it over the long haul. It will not derail your overall efforts, even if not exact.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:34 PM on September 3, 2015

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