Salad Bar Maximization Tips

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To get the most for your money, stay away from vegetables—especially beets, carrots, and red onion.

Nate Silver, the statistics guru for the FiveThirtyEight Blog, offers a statistical bang-for-the-buck analysis of the supermarket salad bar in the NY Times Magazine. “The fight against Big Salad is winnable,” Silver writes, by strategically loading up on the items that are higher priced per pound when purchased on the store shelves, before they’ve been sliced, diced, or otherwise prepared for the salad bar. By filling your plastic box with the pricier foods, you’ll get more value at the salad bar—perhaps even enough to justify paying $7.99 a pound (the going rate at a Whole Foods visited by Silver).

Based on his cross-checking shopping expedition, Silver suggests that salad bar maximizers should opt for baby spinach over cheaper romaine lettuce, fancy mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes over plain old carrots and beets, and balsamic vinegar over ranch or Italian dressing. Also, pile on the toppings (croutons, bacon bits, etc.), which are normally more expensive on a per-pound basis than they cost at the salad bar.

Hmmm … Let’s think about this for a sec. The recommendations suggest consumers should stay away from most vegetables and load up on bacon bits instead. So here’s an obvious observation: The formula is meant to get consumers the most value in terms of dollars, not nutrition.