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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Fast Food Salad Edition

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Photo by natmeister from Flickr.
With all the readily accessible gourmet-quality food on offer here in Toronto, we have quickly become a city of foodies, expounding the joys of this boîte, this bar, and that beanery. Unfortunately, as travel season gets into its fullest swing, we urban folk may find ourselves in an airport lounge or even somewhere outside of Trenton on the 401, at a service centre, hungry, and with limited choices. The “health-conscious” fast food explosion has come to Canada, and with the knowledge that a few 2,000-calorie dinners are close at hand, we may find ourselves sampling some of these readily available “leaner” choices. At the end of the day, healthy or not, it just feels better ordering a salad, doesn’t it?

The Contestants

In the spirit of being lean, we’ve only chosen three contestants for this challenge. To be honest, that was pretty much all we could handle.

  • Burger King Tendergrill® Chicken BLT Salad. On offer from BK’s Leans & Greens menu, the BLT salad is apparently one “that satisfies.” Customers also have a choice of dressings, which means, according to BK, that you are “having it your way.” Neat.
  • McDonald’s Bacon Ranch Salad with Chicken McGrill®. The saladsplus menu at Mickey Dee’s was created in order to give Canadian customers “more choice, more variety, and more great taste.” McDonald’s can be credited with not pretending anywhere, at least not explicitly, that saladsplus is a “lean” or “low-fat” option.
  • Wendy’s Chicken BLT Salad. The Garden’s Sensations® salads are touted as being healthy, fresh and tasty. The Chicken BLT, our chosen contestant, is better, as per Wendy’s homepage, because of the cheddar. Rhymy.

The Criteria

  • Visuals. Salads should look enticing—working under the pretense that this is going to be good for you, then it should at least look appealing as well.
  • Ingredients. Are there a variety of ingredients? Have they been creative? Have the ingredients been prepared in such a way that facilitates easy consumption?
  • Freshness. Is the lettuce limp? The tomato not ripe? The croutons smooshy?
  • Flavour. Does the combination work? Is it chock full of yummy saladness?

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Photo of Burger King salad by Julie Reitsma; photo of Burger King exterior on Yonge Street by smwarnke4 from Flickr.

Additional Criteria

All three of our contestants cost the exact same amount: $5.99. We think there’s a much more important criteria to consider anyway—nutritional values. We have ordered them according to fat content. We’re still shaking our heads at just how high these numbers are.
Wendy’s Chicken BLT Salad (with Honey Mustard Dressing and Homestyle Garlic Croutons) 650 calories, 43.5 grams of fat, 1535 milligrams of sodium; Burger King Tendergrill Chicken BLT Salad (with Balsamic Vinaigrette) 510 calories, 35 grams of fat, 1740 milligrams of sodium; McDonald’s Bacon Ranch Salad with Chicken McGrill (with Ranch Dressing) 460 calories, 29 grams of fat, 1540 milligrams of sodium.

Results

  • Visuals. McDonald’s—4/5. Macca’s had the most “real” looking salad. While we don’t exactly enjoy the fact that “realness” has come into play, we also do realize the nature of this challenge. Anyway, this salad had a real chicken breast, with nice ripe looking tomatoes and not one, but two-toned lettuce.
  • Ingredients. Wendy’s—3.5/5. Wendy’s offering had lots of stuff going on—tomatoes, cucumber, lettuces, cheese, bacon, chicken, croutons. It was a veritable smorgasborg!
  • Freshness. Wendy’s—4/5. Wendy’s, other than a chicken “issue” that will be discussed later, was the freshest of the bunch.
  • Flavour. Wendy’s—4/5. The combination here really worked. There were a lot of flavours, but they all played a role, and the honey mustard dressing added the perfect zip.

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Photo of McDonald’s salad by Julie Reitsma; photo of McDonald’s exterior at Dundas and Bathurst by urbanreviewstl.com from Flickr.

Conclusions

From the get-go, Burger King’s salad offering was the least appetizing, which is pretty dismal when you consider the company. The tomatoes were pale, the carrots looked slimy, and there was no cheese, even though the website description mentions it as an ingredient. Upon sampling the salad itself, we noticed that though the tomatoes weren’t pretty, they also weren’t starchy and actually didn’t taste too bad. Unfortunately, the positives end there. The lettuce was broken up in massive pieces that were difficult to ingest, the bacon was chewy, the croutons were gross at best, and though the Kraft-brand dressing instilled some minor amount of optimism, it did little to cover up the many flaws. In essence, this salad is vending-machine quality, and considering the fat content, you’re better off getting a burger and fries.
Our most surprising contestant was undoubtedly McDonald’s. Winning out in the visual department, this salad had a whole chicken breast on top of it, which, though not cut up for easy ingestion, was well cooked, seasoned and obviously not processed. While tossing the salad with the dressing, we noted that there was a good cheese level, and we also discovered some hidden carrot gems that we previously could not detect. Unfortunately we did also find some wilted pieces of lettuce, but with the chicken quality so high, we soon forgot about them. Though we would have liked a choice in dressing—maybe we should have asked, and maybe we shouldn’t complain considering it was Newman’s Own—we liked this salad more than we thought going in. When you also factor in that it contained the least amount of fat of any of its rivals, this salad—for what it is—is almost impressive.
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Photo of Wendy’s salad by Julie Reitsma; photo of Wendy’s exterior near Leslie and Eastern by hc916 from theTorontoist Flickr Pool.
Though it wasn’t by much, Wendy’s was the definite winner of this challenge. It was the freshest of the salads, with not a wilted leaf to be seen, it had a great range of ingredients, including croutons to add and a dressing that, while not brand name and perhaps containing hobo spices, was tangy and delish. The issues with this salad lie in its exorbitant fat content and in the chicken, which wasn’t exactly appetizing to behold—to be honest, it looked boiled. Maybe you like boiled meats. We, admittedly, don’t. That being said, with the dressing and other ingredients in play, the chicken’s role was no longer central and so no longer a bother. There was also some initial concern that so many ingredients would end up clashing on our palates, but we were pleasantly surprised, and in the end it was the only salad that got finished by the judges. If you go by flavour and freshness, this salad is the best of the fast food giants. If you actually want a healthy lunch brimming with vitamins and low in fat, calories and sodium, well, you really just need to look elsewhere. Actually, do you know what is low in fat? Anyone? Dust. Yes, you can have as much dust as you like.

Comments

  • Ducatisti

    So here I was hating salad and now I know why!!! Back to the cheeseburgers, at least you get taste with the fat!

  • paigesix

    I would pay money to be able to have access to the “Dust.. anyone? Dust!” clip on demand, sigh.