food & drink

Food Dude

By Jim Duncan


Fast food goes green?


Nearing the 10th anniversary of the first “fast food made me obese” lawsuits, marketers are busy crafting a new “healthier” image for McIndustry. Most fast food chains have reduced calories, fats, trans fats and sodium in their fare. Marketers for industry whipping boy McDonald’s now point out that their signature Big Mac has fewer fats, half as many carbs, and only 38 percent as much sodium as a burrito from Chipotle — the Oprah-approved, green darling of the food media. Most fast food giants promote salads now, some with recently reduced calories and sodium. Press releases for Wendy’s “apple pecan chicken salad with pomegranate vinaigrette” enticed me into the brave new world of fast food greens.

I began with McDonald’s “premium bacon ranch salad with crispy chicken.” Its greens impressed me with their freshness and generous ratio of mesclun to iceberg. Grape tomatoes were crisp, but carrots were pale with age. A chicken filet was served hot on top of cold ingredients. A light Paul Newman dressing tasted like buttermilk. A fistful of shredded cheeses plus swarms of bacon bits challenged the claim that this salad has only 370 calories, 200 grams of fat and 970 mg of sodium. All those numbers are down significantly from similar reports on the same salad a couple years ago.

I found the best presentation of the week at Taco Bell (TB). “Chipotle steak taco salad” was served in a crisp tortilla bowl with beans and rice on the bottom.


Lettuce and tomato topped that, covered with tender seasoned beef, cheddar cheese, sour cream, salty chipotle dressing, and multi colored tortilla strips. TB made no health claims for this salad’s 900 calories, 57 grams of fat and 1,700 mg of sodium — numbers unchanged from a couple years ago. The lettuce was iceberg, and TB’s condiment bar had no fresh salsas at all.

At the KFC by Drake University, the company-promoted “zero trans fats KFC crispy chicken caesar salad” was not available. No specialty salads were. Does the company think college kids don’t eat salads? This was not the first time that KFC innovations have been withheld from the Des Moines market.

At Wendy’s, the new salad that had inspired my quest was not available either. In my mind, franchisees should not be the last people to know about a company’s new products. I tried a “Mandarin chicken salad” that had similar nutritional numbers to the one that had teased me. It included a good mix of greens, including mizuna and tango. Roasted almonds tasted strangely like peanuts.


Crispy noodles tasted like salt. Mandarin oranges tasted like sugar. Chicken was bland with just a trace of paprika and garlic salt. White sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup and pineapple juice dominated the sesame and ginger flavors in the sweet dressing. At 570 calories, 25 grams from fat and 1370 mg of sodium, nutritional numbers were second to McDonald’s.

Burger King’s (BK) “TenderCrisp chicken garden salad with Ken’s caesar dressing” defied the trend toward “healthier” salads. Its 1,070 calories, 86 grams of fat and 2,900 mg of sodium (almost double the CDC recommended daily allotment) were up from numbers on a previous nutritional check of the same salad. The difference might result from three kinds of cheeses not included in the previous count. BK’s packaging was true to their motto “Have it your way.” Tired lettuce was packed in a salad bowl with baby carrots and tomatoes, shredded cheeses compartmentalized in a different bowl. Additional packets included dressing, croutons and a chicken breast. That created a lot of personal plastic and paper to rip open. This salad was named one of six “diet destroyers” by business travelers’ website Divine Caroline.

Bottom line. Costing around $5, most of these salads are not bargains. Less costly burgers were actually “healthier” choices than most, too.

Side Dishes
Iowa’s first Iraqi café, Babylon Grill, opened in the old Bosnian Grill space on Douglas… Casa di Vino offers a tasting of featured wines from World Cup countries on Thursday, July 8. CV


Caption: Taco Bell’s salads were the best looking.


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