How to Make a Restaurant Quality Salad from the Salad Bar

I know my local teeny tiny market like the back of my hand. The fancy eight dollar crackers are tucked away near all the organic produce. The ready-to-go bags of peeled and deveined shrimp are hidden around a corner in the back of the store. The ice cream sundae goodies are away from their frozen base, and on display near the registers. And the samples of freshly made tuscan salad are always, almost secretly, displayed on a tray of ice by the sushi and soups.

Every time I enter the grocery store around lunch time, I know the little salad snack will be waiting for me, and every time, I make a beeline towards the display. The samples are of course, part of a bigger initiative to get customers to buy these freshly made salads in bulk for their family dinners, but I find it hard to fork over $15 for a salad I could easily make myself, so I only sample, and never purchase. One day I had a lightbulb moment, and realized that every ingredient in the salad came directly from their salad bar, and would be way cheaper to make myself. Plus, I can add extra blue cheese if I want, which is a win in and of itself.

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Salad bars are such an underutilized part of the grocery store, I think maybe because they’re often associated with being kind of gross, with the food sitting out and all, but a good salad bar, a good one can be your best friend. I use mine not only for making small lunch-worthy salads, but for gathering veggies for stir-fry, adding spinach and mushrooms to my favorite cup o’ noodles, or even as the cheese garnish on various dishes when I don’t have the need for an entire block in my fridge.

This time though, the bar was used just as it was intended to be, to make a big ol’ salad. This one uses chopped tomatoes, red onion, grilled chicken, shredded parmesan cheese, and crumbled blue cheese. Obviously not every salad bar has the same items, but I’d be shocked if yours doesn’t include all these ingredients. The only one that might be kind of questionable is the grilled chicken, so if yours looks a little pre-packaged, you could either use diced ham, or even crispy chicken fingers instead.

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You could pick up one of the dressings they provide, but I whipped up a quick Italian-eque dressing just from what I had on hand in the pantry — a little bit of light mayo, red wine vinegar, mustard, and olive oil.   Everything gets chopped up into tiny pieces, tossed with the vinaigrette, and this grocery store, turned restaurant-quality salad is ready for consumption.

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Chopped Tuscan Salad (Made from the Salad Bar!)
Prep time
Total time
Serves: 4
  • 4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup chopped bacon bits
  • 1 cup chopped, grilled chicken
  • 2 Tlbs. light mayo
  • 2 Tlbs. red wine vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tlbs olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, whisk mayo, vinegar, salt, onion powder, and dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Add lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, blue cheese, parmesan cheese, bacon, and grilled chicken together, toss until combined with dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
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