May 102012

As much as I love eating at cozy, local restaurants, I have a weakness for a few chains.  Number one, my favorite of all which I am actually currently digesting, is Chipotle.  The second, which was a regular hang-out destination for my friends and I in high school, is Cheesecake Factory.  Now, at both of these places, it’s very possible to get a healthy meal if you order carefully, but it’s also possible to see the word “salad”, assume it means healthy, and not realize that you could have saved calories by eating a cheeseburger.  So I took one of the popular salads at Cheesecake Factory, and made a healthier (but still crave worthy) version at home.  

Nutrition Highlights:  The lunch size version of this salad at Cheesecake has over 700 calories.  A lot of this comes from the heavy ranch dressing and the crispy fried onions on top.  But there’s still a lot of healthy ingredients in it, so with a few swaps this salad can be a healthy meal.  Grilled chicken provides lean protein, avocado gives healthy fat, black beans give fiber, and plenty of lettuce, tomato, green onions, and corn will help fill you up.  Instead of fried onions, I crushed a few baked tortilla chips on top.  Instead of fattening ranch dressing, I found a low fat yogurt ranch dressing in the refrigerated section at the grocery store, and just used a drizzle of that to finish the salad.  

My male roommates weren’t all that excited when I told them I was making “salad” for dinner that night, but once I put this in front of them and the tasted it, there were absolutely no complaints.  Who needs cheesecake factory when you have the tush cook factory?

Healthified BBQ “Ranch” Chicken Salad
for 4 large servings


  • 3 grilled chicken breasts, diced and tossed in 1/4 cup bbq sauce
  • 1 large avocado, diced
  • 1 can low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 6 scallions (green onions), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lime
  • chopped romaine lettuce or mixed greens
  • lowfat yogurt ranch dressing (or another light ranch)
  • optional (but delicious)garnishes: low fat cheese (like pepper jack), chopped cilantro, and a handful of baked tortilla chips to crumble on top

Directions:  In a saute pan, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium high heat and add the frozen corn. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until corn is slightly charred.  You can also skip this step and just thaw the frozen corn, but the toasted flavor adds a lot.  Set charred corn aside.

Prepare the rest of the ingredients as described above.  Assemble the salad.  Start by tossing the lettuce in the juice from half of the lime.  Save the other half for wedges to garnish.  Add all your other ingredients, the diced bbq chicken, avocado, black beans, charred corn, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, and tortilla chips.  Drizzle with the yogurt ranch dressing and enjoy!

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