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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Walmart Ready Pac Bistro Chicken Caesar Salad Bowl

Readers of this blog know that I take a rather dim view on convenience products like store bought, pre-cut fruits and vegetables as well as salad kits.  In general, they are over priced and laden with preservatives.  In the case of salad kits, you have no control over the fat content of the salad dressing.  When we are at our home in Ontario, buying a salad kit would not even be a consideration.  When we are travelling, I prefer to enjoy salads when on the road or flying.  Salads are light on the tummy, nutritious and provide much needed hydration when flying.  A lot of folks don't realize that the air in air planes is very drying especially to the mucosa tissues which makes them more susceptible to viral infections.

Ready Pac bistro chicken caesar salad from Walmart
We left for our winter vacation at our vacation home in Florida on November 29.  As per our norm we stopped for dinner while waiting for the flight, so I had my regular salad.  Our flight was delayed so we didn't arrive into Tampa until after midnight.  By the time we got our rental vehicle and drove to our vacation home, it was about 1:30 AM.  We stopped at Walmart to get a few groceries.  Since we had left food in the fridge, freezer and cupboards as there was only five weeks between our fall and winter vacation, we really only had to pick up perishables.

While in the produce aisle, my husband put a Ready Pac Bistro Chicken Caesar salad bowl into the cart to replace the Caesar salad ingredients I had in the cart.  His premise was, we had plans for the following few days and didn't need a large bottle of Caesar salad dressing so this was a nice solution to my salad fixation and for only $2.98.  Then he hit me with the whammy "this will give you a comparison of ready salads to blog about."  Trust me at 2 AM, running on empty with no sleep in over 24 hours, his reasoning sounded rather good.

the salad bowl packaging
Salads on the go are a norm when travelling but sometimes it is hard to tell which is the better deal.  Most fast food restaurants offer some type of salad in the average price range of $4.  So, I decided to compare this salad bowl to the McDonald's Caesar Salad with grilled chicken, croutons and dressing.

Now, take-out salads really are not the best solution as they are more expensive per serving than making a salad from scratch.  Then there is the packaging.  Most take-out leaf salads come in two piece plastic containers.  The clear plastic top protects the salad while the bottom serves as the bowl for the salad.  The dressing usually comes in a plastic condiment packet.  Toppings are usually already on the salad.

This salad had the bowl was covered with a sealed plastic lid as was the dressing.  There was a separate insert for the dressing, chicken and cheese.  It definitely had more packaging than a fast food take-out salad.  However, just as with fast food salads, the trays and lids can be reused or recycled so it isn't as bad as it seem and if anything, since this salad had the dressing in a covered cup, there was less throw-away waste than there would be with a fast food salad.  Next up was a taste, price and nutritional comparison.

McDonald's Caesar salad with grilled chicken, croutons and dressing is 9.8 ounce (278 g) while the Walmart salad bowl was 177 grams so I converted everything to the 278 g weight for comparison.  Again, this is a time to do the math to be sure you are making the right comparison.  The general conversion was:  Y/177 g = X/278 g  which works out to be (Y x 278 g)/177 g.  For example, price was $2.98/177 g = X/278 g.  Solving the equation, the price of the Walmart salad bowl worked out to be $4.68 for a comparable amount.

nutritional value of the bistro salad bowl
The McDonald's salad was $4.19.  The comparable amount of Walmart salad bowl worked out to be $4.68, so 49¢ more.  In terms of flavour, the McDonald's salad comes with a full piece of grilled chicken which tastes fresher than the chicken in the salad bowl which seemed to have more of the texture of thick cut chicken lunchmeat.  However, the salad bowl included a parmesan style cheese that really added to the flavour of the salad.  The dressing included with the salad bowl had a nicer flavour with just the right amount of tang.  The lettuce was crisp.  Now something to be aware of,  all greens based salads sold this way are treated with a sulfate spray (copper sulfate).  This presents a health problem for those of us with sensitivities to sulfates that trigger asthma attacks and if you have melasma as I do, excess copper in the body makes the condition worse.  So be aware of that.

Let's talk nutrition.  Pictured is the nutritional label on the salad bowl.  After doing the conversions to get to 278 g (same as McDonald's) I came up with 361 calories, 25 g total fat (4.5 g of that is saturated, 0 g unsaturated), 78.5 mg cholesterol, 12.5 mg carbs (4.7 g sugars, 1.6 g fiber), 1,539 mg sodium, and 25.1 g protein.  I compared this to the nutritional value for the McDonald's Caesar salad with grilled chicken, croutons and dressing.  The McDonald's version (278 g) came in at 490 calories, 31 g total fat (7 g saturated, 0 g unsaturated), 140 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates (sugar 4 g, fiber 3 g), 1110 mg sodium and 27 g protein.  The Walmart salad bowl was higher in Vitamins A and C content than the McDonald's version but the McDonald's version was higher in calcium and iron.

Going by the numbers, the Walmart salad bowl is lower in calories, fat and cholesterol and higher in Vitamins A and C.  The McDonald's version is lower in sodium, higher in protein and higher in calcium and iron.  The bottom line is, neither of these salads are good for anyone on a sodium restricted diet.  In my opinion, both salads are too large for one person and there really is no reason to have to use the full amount the salad dressing included with the salad.  Reducing the amount of the dressing in either will reduce the fat and sodium content.

The reality is, neither of these salads are as healthy as a homemade version.  That's a given but think about it.  If you go to a restaurant and order a Caesar salad, you have no idea of the nutritional value especially with respect to sodium and fat content.  Unless you order a dinner size Caesar salad, most served in restaurants will average about 125 g but they usually have bacon.  At the same time, both of the salads are healthier choices when the dressing is reduced than a lot of fast food or take-out choices.

My bottom line is, I liked the Walmart salad bowl.  It tasted fresher.  I used less than half of the chicken, about half of the dressing and about a quarter of the cheese.  It was more than sufficient for flavour while reducing both the sodium and fat content.  If I had to pick up a take-out quick salad when out, my choice would be the Walmart salad bowl.

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