At some point, someone decided that it wasn’t enough to order a salad. Not only should you consume health-promoting veggies, declared the powers that be, but you should deprive yourself of combining them with anything enjoyable unless it was low-cal—otherwise these “diet wreckers” would make you fat. And so it was that croutons became something that health-conscious (or at least weight-conscious) people just understood were “off-limits.”
Now, I know that some restaurant salads are actually overloaded with fat and calories; you can’t just throw a bunch of fried chicken, ranch dressing, and cheese on a bed of lettuce and have that little bit of iceberg and romaine nullify the nutritional drawbacks of everything sitting on top of it. But let’s do a reality check here: An entire cup of croutons comes in at 186 calories, according to the USDA Nutrient Database—and I’m betting you probably don’t put a cup on most of your salads. (A package of croutons from a fast-food restaurant—probably a more typical serving size—is just 46 calories.) So not exactly the fast track to obesity that we’ve been led to believe. And while this salad topping isn’t exactly a nutritional superstar, it also contains some fiber (particularly if you buy or make whole-wheat croutons).
So I’m going to go ahead and say it: I like croutons. I avoided them for a long time because of this unspoken rule that they’re “bad,” but I’m not going to anymore. They help me transform my salad from something that can feel like a dietary chore into something to look forward to (particularly if we’re talking about cornbread croutons). If those 50 extra calories are going to mean the difference between feeling satisfied and feeling deprived, I would say that’s 50 calories well-spent. Maybe for you, it’s not croutons that make a salad—it’s the cheese. Or the dressing on the salad, not on the side. Whatever it is, I hope that you’ll embrace it for what it is—something that helps you get excited about eating healthful food—rather than feeling guilty about consuming it.
photo by Josh Truelson