Getting the most bang-for-the-buck at the salad bar

(NBC) - Walking through the salad bar at your favorite restaurant or supermarket offers lots of healthy choices, but what you put on your plate could impact the health of your wallet. Are you shopping smart at the salad bar?

In the backroom of Whole Foods Market a team of workers prepares their latest selections for the organic salad bar. Everything is cut fresh but not everything they prepare is worth the same amount of money. Sure there is equality in the salad bar, but not at the cash register.

"Every item has a different price point on it," said Ray Kau of Whole Foods.

The folks at Whole Foods and every other place that offers salad has to think about what it costs to stock the salad bar.

"Obviously we couldn't put everything out on the bar," said Kau. "That would be hugely expensive. It wouldn't work out. We'd have to increase the prices, but with the mix it works."

So how do you shop the salad bar and get the most for your money? You need to know which ingredients are steals and which ones aren't worth their weight at the salad bar. Kau said a consumable varies in price, so it goes up and down.

You also need to know that piling your plate high with cucumbers, beets, and garbanzo beans is not the most cost effective. The same thing applies with selecting radishes, mushrooms, and corn.

Now the price is right - just a small markup when you add broccoli to your salad. The same is true with black olives, grape tomatoes, and carrots. But Kau said things like chicken and those items are going to cost you more.

That's where you get the most bang for your buck - in stocking up on protein, grilled chicken, ham, and bacon bits. Cheeses like cheddar and blue cheese are a steal and so are walnuts, dried cranberries, and peas. But do people choose their salad by value?

"I think a few people might, but I think most people want to come away with what they want, what they really want to enjoy when they're sitting down to eat it," said Kau.

So if the value of the salad bar is as different as the selection, what if you stock up on one or two bargain items and take them home? That's what Ian Ashley does, stocking up on things he likes, such as broccoli, beets, onions and kale. While Kau said Whole Foods does not put any restrictions what you get, he also said they haven't seen people abuse the salad bar either.

People are coming to the salad bar. In tough times there's comfort in shopping for food that is not only good for you, but with a little planning, it is also a selection of savings.

Unlike the aisles of the supermarket, the items in the salad bar don't have an individual per ounce cost. You have to kind of figure that out yourself.
If the salad bar is $7.99 a pound, that breaks down to 50 cents an ounce. Those numbers can help you determine if the individual items are worth piling on your salad or not.

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