McDonald's Salad: What To Know Before Ordering

Even mighty corporations such as McDonald's have to constantly examine how customers respond to their menu items and tweak their offerings to make sure everyone gets the meals they crave. It is therefore no great surprise that McDonald's products have changed significantly from their introduction in the 1940s, and have been altered many times since then. Reader's Digest shows that there were only nine items on the original menu, including fries, burgers, and milkshakes — all of them centered around delicious bursts of flavor.

Now, far healthier options are also available at McDonald's restaurants alongside many of the original staples. McDonald's eventually introduced a lineup of three main types of salads, although sales were temporarily put on hold when a streamlined menu was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (via Insider). Despite the displacement of the salad, this item offers up a ton of unique flavors and spruces up the image of McDonald's offerings.

How many McDonald's salads are there?

Since there are so many fast food chains vying for business in the same competitive market, everything that McDonald's makes must be impressive and desirable — and salads are no exception. As of 2018, McDonald's sold three types of this product in its stores nationwide — Bacon Ranch, Southwest, and the Side Salad (via Insider).

The Bacon Ranch is a meat monstrosity featuring a double dose of bacon and either grilled or fried chicken — clearly a salad not thought of with vegans in mind. The item is packed with garnishings of small tomatoes, red lettuce, green Romaine lettuce, kale, and spinach. The Southwest features just chicken and the same toppings as above but has a Tex-Mex theme. This one is crammed with beans, tortilla strips, corn, lime, and a Southwest dressing sauce.

Although the Side Salad is somewhat less grand than its meaty neighbors, it is perhaps kinder to both humans and animals. Fast Food Nutrition reports that McDonald's Side Salad contains red and green lettuce, carrots, spinach, tomato, and kale.

How long has McDonald's been making salads?

McDonald's faced a crisis in the 1980s when the American public started to become far more aware of the detrimental effects of eating fatty, fried food. The company took action by launching menu items that were perceived to be healthier, first with the legendary McNuggets in 1983, then salads in 1987. When these items were initially trialed in 1986, The Washington Post reports that the available choices were Garden, Chef's, and Shrimp.

According to QSR, McDonald's gave its investment in green, leafy meals a big boost in 2003 when it launched its Premium Salad program. Following that, the Southwest, which launched initially as a limited edition trial in 2007, and the Bacon Ranch, which hit restaurants in 2019, became the company's flagship salads, per The Fast Food Post.

After these meals were temporarily dropped from the McDonald's menu as the business re-aligned itself to the pressures of COVID-19, Eat This, Not That! reported that the products were gone for good. But all hope isn't lost. The Packer believes a return is inevitable, especially considering McDonald's salads are widely available internationally, as noted by the company's U.K. and Australian websites.

How much do McDonald's salads cost?

No matter how dynamic or wholesome ingredients are, products simply won't succeed if they're sold at the wrong price. After all, McDonald's didn't amass its unbelievable value of an estimated $130 billion by selling French fries and burgers below market value (via Investopedia). Reader's Digest reports that the Southwest and Bacon Ranch salads are among the top 10 best-selling items at McDonald's.

Research by Burger Lad shows that both the Southwest and Bacon Ranch are priced at $5.49 each, although it does note that some McDonald's restaurants may have different prices. Burger Lad also records a Side Salad as costing $1.49. This varies slightly with data from Breakfast Hours, which reports the Bacon Ranch to cost $4.59 and the Southwest $4.79.

Not every salad to grace the McDonald's menu has been popular enough to stay there. According to Eat This, Not That!, McSalad Shakers, plastic tubs filled with lettuce and other toppings that were designed to be eaten on the go, fell out of favor with the general public and were dropped after just three years.

Nutritional values of McDonald's salads

McDonald's website lists the nutritional values of all its salads. The Side Salad is the healthiest option available, boasting a minuscule 20 calories, as well as only 10 milligrams of sodium and no fat. The Bacon Ranch is the next healthiest — with grilled chicken, the meal contains 260 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 1,010 milligrams of sodium. The item is worse with crispy, fried chicken, registering 370 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 970 milligrams of sodium.

The Southwest is the least nutritional of the three. The grilled chicken version is once again healthier, containing 320 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 960 milligrams of sodium. With crispy chicken, the meal packs in 430 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 920 milligrams of sodium. All of the salads are more nutritious without meat.

The FDA urges against eating more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, making the McDonald's salads somewhat tough to fit into a diet of this type. Every variety of these meals also records relatively high levels of vitamins and fiber compared to other products on the menu.

What do McDonald's salads taste like?

Taste is perhaps the ultimate factor when it comes to deciding if a fast food item is up to scratch. An Insider review of McDonald's Bacon Ranch salad concludes that it lacks flavor — despite it being laden with a huge variety of meat and greens. Mass Live has similar thoughts, believing crispy chicken to be better than grilled, but still rating the overall product as "not particularly good."

The Southwest faired much better, according to a review by Follow Me Foodie. Apart from some vegetables appearing to lack freshness, the meal was deemed to be a generous size, crunchy, and full of flavor. The Southwest received another good write-up from We Are Not Foodies, which commended its quality and noted that the item came filled with a slightly spicy taste.

Mass Live carried out a taste test for McDonald's Side Salad and praised the range of ingredients on offer. They did note that the size of the salad was too small, which may be an unfair criticism given that it is clearly designed as a side to add to another meal. Snack Girl, on the other hand, was full of excitement for the Side Salad, rated it as a "game changer" and praised its addition as a significantly healthier alternative to fries.