how to beat the whole foods salad bar

It’s been well documented that Whole Foods is expensive. But I’m not here to talk about that. In fact, I’m glad it’s expensive, keeps me from having to look at poor people while I shop for groceries.

I am here, however, to offer a solution to the $20 salads many of us have bludgeoned ourselves with. It seems as though no matter how much you try to cut back, it’s always at least $13.05.

After talking to my accountant last month I learned that I spend an average of $800/month on the Whole Foods salad bar. I realized I had a problem.

But maybe it was a bigger problem.

When asked my favorite restaurant during an interview by a local magazine, my answer was Whole Foods. When friends come to visit from out of town and want a cultural, California experience, I take them to Whole Foods.

Truth is, I don’t care about nice restaurants if I can’t get a drumstick, mac and cheese, and a slice of pizza in the same meal. I also don’t care that much what my friends see when they’re here, as long as I get my green smoothie in every day.

Unlike some of the desperate people, I don’t shop at WF because spending money there makes me feel relevant; I shop there because they have the best selection of fresh and healthy food in my neighborhood.

But I’m not rich and I definitely felt like an asshole when I saw the WF debit on my monthly income statement.

I enjoy a problem like this because it gives me an opportunity to put my neurosis to work and find a solution.

The good news is, I’ve cracked the code on how to beat the Whole Foods salad bar.

I will get you to a salad that hits all your nutritional needs, fills your belly, and gets you out of the door for under $8.

Let’s start with the basic psychology behind the salad bar containers. Nobody wants to put their food on the open paper plates, it’s trashy. Plus the food gets cold, and everyone in line will see the 3 pieces of bacon you’ve hidden under your arugula.

And the small containers are for pussies, right? Not really. It’s just that the large containers are for people who vacation at Disney World and give the little ones a bad name.

whole foods salad bar

Say goodbye to the big containers in your head and heart right now and understand that it’s no longer an option. If this is difficult for you, fill up a big container with salad and then dump it onto a plate and see that it’s the largest, most obnoxious salad you’ve ever seen.

Grab a small container, no matter how you feel about it, and head towards the greens. Lay down a firm bed of greenery before turning the corner to the vegetables.

Get a lot of different colored veggies in your salad because it’s good for you and it’s fun, and your usual salad is depressing.

whole foods salad bar

Understand that it’s $8.49/lb whether you get 1 piece of chicken or 3 handfuls of spring mix. It’s important to identify the items that weigh you down (slam!). This is usually the hot food items. And since no respectable person likes to eat a salad without at least a little warm food mixed in, it gets very expensive.

That’s why players use the brown rice.

whole foods salad bar

WF conveniently forgets to mention (anywhere) that the brown rice is only $3.99/lb, all day, every day.

Grab a scoop or two and put it in a separate, soup container so you don’t confuse the tribe of native hipsters working the cash registers.

We’re almost done in the salad bar section but first we need some dressing to lubricate our greens, because that kale is going to get stuck in your teeth and people will look at you funny all day.

Most of the dressings that WF offers are gross, except the lemon herb. But we’re not even going to mess around with that. Grab a little to-go container from behind prepared foods and mix up a few drops of balsamic with a couple ounces of olive oil.

If you’re like my friend Ian (sorry bro) you would put the dressing in your pocket now. But I don’t support thievery, unless it’s at Walmart.

whole foods salad bar

Don’t fill the container past ¾ or else your salad will tip past the point of no return on the highly volatile salad-to-salad-dressing ratio.

Whatever you do, don’t put your dressing directly on your salad, it will be a soggy mess by the time you’re ready to eat it.

*Optional for Skeletor vegetarians worried about getting enough protein* Grab the packet of 2 hard boiled eggs near the pre-packaged salads. Use one for your salad and give the other one to the awkward teen outside asking if you support gay marriage because those jobs pay like shit and he’s starving.

Now throw your hands up in the air like a G because you’ve just served the salad bar (see You Got Served).

Most people don’t think about using food from the rest of the store to round out their salads, but it’s the secret to “beating the bar.”

It’s time to head over to the bulk foods aisle and get your hands on some nuts.

A salad without some crunch is like a yoga girl without a butt.

My preference is almonds because they are cheap and delicious. But you can really pick any, just make sure they are under $11.99/lb.

Grab the littlest amount of nuts possible, like 6 of them. So few that the cashier will ring you up gently, because she thinks you might be on the spectrum.

whole foods salad bar

Don’t write down the product number on one of the twist ties either, you’ll hold up the whole goddamn aisle. Memorizing it will also keep your brain sharp and delay your Alzheimer’s.

Now head over to the produce and find the avocados that are on sale.

whole foods salad bar

Grab one that is perfectly ripe and head over to check out.

At this moment you’ll want to cockily stare at the person in line behind you whose biceps will be trembling under the weight of their salad.

When doing my research for this article, my particular salad came in at $4.61.

Granted it was on a Wednesday and the salad bar is $2 off every Wednesday at my local store. On any other day, this salad would have cost me $5.11. Take that WF.

whole foods salad bar

It brings me a lot of personal joy to see something weigh in at 0.03 pounds.

She didn’t even charge me for my dressing because it was so small that she felt bad. Sorry John Mackey.

Now you’ll have your ingredients but you’ll need to know the trade secrets to the final steps of salad prep so you don’t get caught eating like an amateur.

You’ll need to grab 1 packet of salt, 2 packets of pepper, a knife, and a fork (chopsticks if you want to be superior to everyone else).

Head on over to a table and begin cutting your avo in half with the knife.

whole foods salad bar

Lay out all the ingredients of your soon-to-be bomb salad and appreciate the utilitarian aesthetic.

whole foods salad bar

Mix it all together in any way you see fit, add the seasonings, and then drizzle on that dressing.

whole foods salad bar

Enjoy a thing of beauty.

whole foods salad bar

And since pinching pennies is only fun if you spend the savings on something else, open up your iPhone and download a few songs with your extra cash.

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Kirk Hensler is the creator of ‘Organizing Inspiration – How to bring your brilliant ideas to the world,’ a course for entrepreneurs and creatives to identify their brand, create a work process, and implement an intuitive working schedule.

Organizing Inspiration Course Trailer: How to Bring Your Brilliant Ideas to the World from kale & cigarettes on Vimeo.


There’s no reason we all can’t be really good at our work and really happy with our lives.

Check out the course outline below!

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Organizing Inspiration Course Outline

After beating the bar this hard I had to dance it off…

Dancing Kale – “Touch It” from kale & cigarettes on Vimeo.


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