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Costco Food Court: Eat This, Not That

With the long Independence Day weekend upon us, many of you will be heading to your neighborhood Costco to stock up on party essentials. On your way in and out of the store, chances are you’ll be tempted by the smell of pizza and hot dogs wafting in the air fronting Costco’s always busy Food Court.

Obviously the entire menu here isn’t going to get an endorsement from my doctor or dentist anytime soon. Yet determined to eat more healthy, without having done any research beforehand, I recently ordered their “healthier sounding” Chicken Caesar Salad over the decadently tempting and delicious, seemingly counterintuitively thrifty-priced giant-sized hot dog, hoping I made a nutritionally wiser choice.  Only to discover upon looking it up online the other night that this jacked-up salad has more calories, total fat, cholesterol and sodium than either the Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog or Polish Sausage. Go figure (or there goes my figure). In fact, that’s what we’re going to do here today.


Costco Food Court – Chicken Caesar Salad: Skinless boneless chicken, cherry tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, grated parmesan cheese, croutons and caesar dressing. $3.99

That salad sure looks healthy with the contrasting colors and the notion itself of having fresh lettuce, tomatoes and skinless chicken as its main feature. Yet of course I should have known that generous portion of Caesar salad dressing, grated Parmesan Cheese and croutons would demonize it, practically negating any health benefits.

So this begs to question: should I eat that? Or eat this?…


Costco Food Court – Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog. $1.50 including 20 oz. drink (including endless refills)

Well, let’s take a close look at Costco Food Court’s nutritional data on these two menu items and find out where each one really stands.

Costco Food Court Nutrional Data
(% daily value)
Chicken Caesar Salad (with dressing)All Beef Hot Dog (includes bun, ketchup, mustard,
relish, onion and kraut)
Service size20.5 oz.8.3 oz.
Calories670 kcal570 kcal
Calories from fat360 grams300 kcal
Total fat40 grams (62%)33 grams (51%)
Saturated fat9 grams (43%)12 grams (62%)
Trans fat1 gram2 grams
Polyunsaturated Fat18 grams1.5 grams
Monounsaturated Fat13 grams17 grams
Cholesterol135 grams (44%)80 grams (26%)
Sodium2680 milligrams (112%)1750 (73%)
Total carbohydrate35 grams (12%)46 grams (15%)
Dietary fiber7 grams (27%)2 grams (6%)
Sugars9 grams9 grams
Protien48 grams24 grams
Vitamin A(280%)(8%)
Vitamin C(100%)(4%)
Calcium(35%)(8%)
Iron(30%)(25%)
Thiamin(30%)(25%)
Riboflavin(25%)(20%)
Niacin(50%)(25%)
Follate(90%)(20%)

Comparing the numbers side-by-side, the Chicken Caesar Salad has more of just about everything. Yet looking specifically at the serving size,  the salad is also more than twice the amount of food in weight, tipping the scale over a pound at 20. 5 oz., versus the already giant-sized Costco Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog, which weighs in  at 8.3 ounces, or just a squirt of mustard and ketchup more than a half-pound. So we need to keep that in mind when comparing the two.


That in mind, ounce-for-ounce, actually the hot dog packs much more of just about everything, except, not surprisingly, all the  healthy stuff, including dietary fiber, vitamin A, C and calcium, where the salad clearly has it beat.

While the hot dog has more of the bad trans fat and saturated fat  per ounce than the salad, on the good side, it also has a significant amount of monounsaturated fat — the “good fat” — than the Chicken Caesar Salad. It’s still behind on the good fat per ounce, yet it must be commended for that. Had the dressing for the salad been made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it probably would have beaten the hot dog. But it’s not, and the dressing, along with the generous helping of grated parmesan cheese and croutons are certainly the culprit in all the “bad” figures making up the salad’s nutritional profile.

At least on paper, from a nutritional standpoint, for the most part, Costco’s giant-sized All-Beef Hot Dog ain’t all that bad in comparison to the Chicken Caesar Salad with all the fixinz, and is actually better for you, especially if less sodium and more monounsaturated fat are what’s best for your body’s needs. The hot dog’s expected high amount of saturated and trans fat, thanks to the very fact that it’s MEAT is really the “only” thing that hurts it. Emphasize “only”.

As for the salad, substitute the OEM Caesar dressing for an Extra Virgin Olive Oil-based vinaigrette dressing and take out some of the parmesan cheese and croutons, and it obviously will be far better for you than the hot dog. But who’s going to do that at the convenience of Costco’s Food court? Not me, that’s for sure.

So to answer the question of whether one should “Eat this, and not that”, between Costco’s Hot Dog with all the fixinz or the Chicken Caesar Salad with all the fixinz, it’ sounds like a toss-up from a nutritional standpoint. From an immediate financial standpoint, it’s tough to beat Costco’s $1.50 giant hot dog and 20 oz. drink deal. Compensate the nutritional deficiency of fiber and vitamins it lacks in comparison to the salad by getting a big bag of apples and oranges from their produce department and you should be good. Especially considering the higher $3.99 price for the Chicken Caesar Salad, where you can put that $2.49 savings in price difference compared to the hot dog towards those fresh fruits that will last you more than a week out.

So the question of whether one should “Eat this, and not that” from Costco’s Food Court is essentially asking which is the lesser of two evils, where I’d say the right answer would be “none of the above”.

Actually, to be honest, the only point I’m making here is to justify to myself, if not anyone else, that ordering a Costco Food Court Hot Dog isn’t far worse and in some ways better from a health standpoint than their Chicken Caesar Salad. Especially if I were to eat the whole salad, dressing and all. So at least I’ll feel that much less guilty from now on when choosing a hot dog over a salad, knowing I’ll be consuming that much less fat, sodium and cholesterol. All while having some spare change to buy a bag of apples in the warehouse club store to make up for the vitamins and fiber deficiency of the hot dog. And that’s my One Dollar and Fifty Cents, bang-for-the-buck take on that.


Costco Food Court  – Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog & 20 oz. Drink. $1.50 from Iwilei Costco.

P.S. Since we’re on a “Eat this, not that” kick, and while I was at it doing “research” for this write-up, I bought both Costco’s Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog and Polish Sausage to compare in a handy-dandy side-by-side comparo’. Normally I order the Polish Sausage, but you know what? I think I’m changing my mind on that, as you’ll soon read.

Here we have Costco’s Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog, before being loaded with all the fixinz…


Costco Food Court  – Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog

And here we have Costco’s Kirkland Signature Polish Sausage, before getting loaded up…


Costco Food Court  – Kirkland Signature Polish Sausage

Notice the slightly darker color, speckles of seasoning and thinner profile of the Polish sausage compared to the all beef hot dog.

Now when it comes to food, in general I’m a “the works” kinda’ guy, and add every available topping I can get. Subway? Give me all the veggies, all the cheeses, all the seasonings and all the sauces they’ve got. Baked potato? Nothing less than “fully loaded”. Cream cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, chives and heck, even melted cheese if they’ve got it.

Same for hot dogs. I say drag that sucker through the garden and throw in the kitchen sink too, if that’s possible. Even ketchup. Yup, I said it, ketchup.  With that, when dressing my Costco dog, it’s all or nothing for me…


Costco Food Court  – Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog with Ketchup, Mustard, Relish and Chopped Onions.

Ketchup, mustard, relish and fresh diced onions? All CHECK. For some reason, the Iwilei Costco didn’t have ‘Kraut on this visit. Yet I’m cool with “just” the onions.

Same toppings treatment for the Polish Sausage dog…


Costco Food Court  – Kirkland Signature Polish Sausage with Ketchup, Mustard, Relish and Chopped Onions.

What I really appreciate is that Costco’s hot dog buns have sesame seeds on them. Love that.

Also notice the dog protrudes about an inch total beyond the bun. Certainly a welcome site for meat lovers.

Speaking of measurements, let’s check the specific total length of this wiener…

Both wieners measure in at 8″ each, and get your mind out the gutter, thank you very much. lol

I forgot to measure the diameter of each one, yet I did get this cross-section shot of them side-by-side, which gives you an idea…

Here we have the two halves of the All Beef Hot Dog cut apart to the left, and the Polish Sausage Dog cut apart to the right. IIRC, the all beef hot dog was about 1″ in diameter, while the Polish Sausage was approximately 7/8″. Here you can also see the grains of spices mixed into the Polish sausage on the right, as well as the slightly darker color.

Now for the most important part, the taste comparison. The Polish Sausage is just slightly saltier, while also being somewhat noticeably spicier. It’s also more salami-like in flavor profile. While the all beef hot dog is very, well, BEEFY! Best part is, the all beef hot dog doesn’t taste as processed as the Polish sausage, but more “pure” if you will. The Kirkland Signature All Beef Hot Dog, at least for me, tastes exactly like what I envision on my palate to taste like a great-tasting all American Hot Dog. Simple as that. As much as a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger is an all-American muscle car through and through, Costco’s all beef wiener in a bun is an all-American hot dog through and through.

The verdict? Costco’s Signature All Beef Hot Dog wins it. Yet, I won’t turn down my former favorite, the Polish Sausage dog any time soon. They both taste delicious in their own way.

Oh, and I’m giving this post 5 SPAM Musubi because A) There’s no better deal in town than Costco’s most excellent and giant sized $1.50 Hot Dog and Drink, and B) I Love Costco!


59 thoughts on “Costco Food Court: Eat This, Not That

  • March 12, 2013 at 9:13 pm
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    Simple, for the salad just take out half the serving of cheese, use 1/4 the serving of sauce, half the serving of croutons and you have a decent salad! Eating it right now at Costco in Sydney Australia!

    Reply
  • March 13, 2013 at 6:03 am
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    Roger,

    Your suggestion had me thinking, Costco should offer a Chinese Chicken Salad variant. Swap out the ranch for Oriental dressing, which is WAY leaner in every way, swap out the croutons for baked – not fried – wonton strips, keep the tomatoes, while swap out the Parmesan cheese with chopped green onion and Chinese parsley. BAM! Problem solved.

    Our Costco stores in Hawaii actually sell Chinese Chicken Salad in the store. Costco should seriously rethink the menu outside at the food court and make it healthier. There’s currently NOTHING served there I can eat without feeling at least some guilt about. :struggle:

    Reply
  • April 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm
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    You could always eat the salad with about a quarter of the dressing. Take off some of the cheese, and not use the croutons. That makes it a lot better than the hot dog.

    Reply
  • August 17, 2013 at 4:19 am
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    It all depends on your concept of healthy. The more I read about the current science of health and weight loss, the more it looks like avoidance of sugars (carbohydrates) is more important than avoiding fat or calories. Through that lens the salad looks better (fewer carbs and more fiber). Read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes and get back to me.

    Reply
  • August 21, 2013 at 10:39 am
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    Gotta love the fries or and the poutine from Costco in Canada.

    Reply
  • October 23, 2013 at 7:10 am
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    Wish the sodium would be cut big time, 99%

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  • January 12, 2014 at 11:23 pm
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    Wow…this was great. Thank you for writing this!

    Reply
  • March 14, 2014 at 7:46 am
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    I do exactly what you mentioned you would not, I bring my own oil and vinegar packets, take off the cheese and never use the dressing or croutons to make an acceptable Costco salad. Since going low-salt, low-fat, I never use salad dressing, instead buying portable packets of oil and vinegar I carry to every away-from-home meal, I have some in my briefcase for workdays and more in my car. Read about them on my blog:

    http://nosaltnofatnosugar.com/2013/01/04/why-should-you-use-oil-and-vinegar/

    Reply
  • March 20, 2014 at 2:44 am
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    They need to get the transfats OUT! That stuff is toxic. There is no justification for putting it in food that humans eat. Costco, do the right thing!

    Reply
  • June 4, 2014 at 10:25 am
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    Seriously, the croutons can be left out of the salad – there’s more than half your sodium right there, almost all the carbs and a big chunk of the fat. And they give you a lake-sized container of dressing; who said you have to eat it all? Who would? It would be like drinking dressing from a bottle. Yuck.

    1/4 of the dressing is all I ever eat in that salad, and I skip the croutons. The completely reasonable portion of parmesan cheese is not going to hurt you. Compare this version to the hot dog and you’ll be much happier. Seriously, all it takes is a little bit of intelligent modification. Nobody is putting a gun to your head to make you eat the dressing and croutons.

    Reply
    • July 25, 2015 at 8:26 am
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      Agreed, Br. Bill. Always say no croutons and use less then half of the dressing.

      Reply
  • June 4, 2014 at 10:33 am
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    All good points Br. Bill. I used to enjoy a Costco hot dog when they served Hebrew Naitonal but when they switched to their house brand I found them too salty, not to mention the fat. I think I would notice the salt even more now that I’m on a low-salt diet.

    Reply
  • June 8, 2014 at 8:11 am
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    The only thing I used to buy from the Food Court was the hot latte. But they discontinued that due to production problems.
    I wonder if Costco sold something healthy at the food court if people would buy it. The Food court is a good example of our industrial food chain in microcosm. Highly processed foods designed by food engineers to over stimulate our taste receptors such that we have an unnatural inclination to consume too much.It is food high in unhealthy yet attractive ingredients that overcome the will power needed to consume a small, healthy portion.
    If Costco did provide a healthy alternative, people would weigh the sensory attraction and price of that option compared to other choices. But imagine for instance if they offered cut melon for $1.99. Some may profess that they would choose that option, but given the strong smells and attractive presentations of other unhealthy options, the bottom line would be: Does it fill me up and provide an entertaining experience. Result: It would probably not sell.
    So what could they sell that would be healthy and as attractive as the other items? The frozen yogurt is not bad but the calories are high. Other ideas?

    Reply
    • June 8, 2014 at 10:03 am
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      Jim W.,

      That was an excellent analysis of Costco’s Food Court marketing strategy and concept. I think it has everything to do with the overall American culture regarding diet. From childhood we were trained by the media (TV commercials) to crave processed, high fat foods such as pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and anything fried or full of refined sugar. And for many, especially those less educated, they never grow out of that habit into adulthood unless they’re forced to due to health issues.

      As you may know, grade schools are now trying to break that trend by offering healthier cafeteria food, yet I wonder how many trays come back to the dish washing line with the fresh fruits and vegetables still on them uneaten?

      Because of that sensory and “entertainment perception you mention, children will do not gravitate towards healthy food, and it continues into adulthood at the likes of Costco Food Court.

      Irregardless of the calories and fat in the Chicken Caesar Salad, how many people do you see buying that over a Hot Dog or Pizza at your neighborhood Costco? Perceptively that would be the healthier choice. Still, at the ones I go to and observe (as I briefly pass by), I’d say only about 2% are eating the salad. Majority are eating Pizza and Hot Dogs because of cost, entertainment and the perception that it’s more filling.

      As for healthier options, I say simply offer a “healthy choice” option to the same menu items, such as a vegetarian hot dog, and pizza with low fat cheese and more veggies on it. Low Fat Ice Cream. It would still have the “entertainment” factor that would appeal to the more discerning, educated eater and calorie counters (dieters).

      Otherwise, just don’t eat there.

      Getting back to American culture and diet, I shop regularly at a supermarket here in Honolulu that sells lots of imported Asian groceries as well as American groceries. And I watch what the Koreans and Japanese (tourists and green card residents) buy compared to the locals (Americans), and can clearly see their diet is WAY better than ours. The locals (Americans) will typically have the likes of ground beef, pork, chicken, sugar-coated breakfast cereal, canned vegetables and soups, white bread and frozen instant meals (all processed) on the conveyor belt in mass quantities. Then right behind them you’ll have a Japanese or Korean with a tray of fresh fish, tofu, buckwheat noodles (such as Soba), fresh bean sprouts and Mustard Cabbage and fresh fruit. And you look at the local (American), and they’re obviously obese or on their way there, while the Japanese and Korean are typically fit and trim, being totally relevant to the food you see them buying.

      Reply
  • July 12, 2014 at 10:27 am
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    Do the hot dogs themselves contain MSG in them???

    Reply
    • July 14, 2014 at 1:36 am
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      Having seen an artery 80% blocked during my angioplasty surgery I’m not taking chances on the latest medical debates, I’m avoiding salt, fat and sugar, hoping not to need surgery again.

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        • July 14, 2014 at 5:59 am
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          Brad,

          Just curious, how’s your BMI?

          I went on a “good fat” pescetarian diet about two years ago and lost 40 pounds (it’s well documented on this blog). Only recently since becoming lax and eating more animal fat (bad fat) and junk food (snack chips, etc.) again has my weight shot back up, where I gained back about 20 lbs. putting me back to being technically overweight by medical standards. So starting next month I’m going back to being more strict on my pescetarian diet. I want to be back in shape for the holiday season so I can go back to eating junk food. lol

          I definitely agree with that last article you linked that eggs are GOOD for you.

          Still, we don’t need all these perpetually conflicting medical “studies” to tell us what’s good for our bodies. One study says bacon and eggs should be eaten at least twice a week, while the other says to avoid at all costs. Come on, enough already!

          It’s all common sense: avoid processed foods, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, minimal meat (preferably fish), and when so, meat with the “good fat” in it (e.g. Salmon), while getting adequate exercise and sleep. And of course don’t smoke or drink too much.

          I also don’t believe in deprivation. It’s all about balance. If my diet and lifestyle is 95% healthy for me, with a good BMI to endorse that, you bet when the opportunity comes to dive into big ‘n juicy, tasty fatty steak, I’m goin’ for it and rewarding my efforts with a treat! On the other hand, if I just eat crap all the time, I don’t think that steak is going to do me any favors and I certainly feel the guilt, as does my body also tell me so at the scale and clothing rack.

          The traditional Okinawan diet is a great place to start, being native Okinawans have proven statistically to have the most centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world. Goya (Okinawan Bittermelon) for the win!

          Reply
          • July 14, 2014 at 7:59 am
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            The so-called science of nutrition is a moving target, take this study for example, which goes to the fat issue. Trying keep up with every study can lead you to over-eat out of frustration. But I agree about the and fat and that’s primarily what I don’t eat anymore, no more cookies, Hostess cakes, other cakes, ribs, prime rib, all the things I used to love. Now my fat intake comes from olive oil and salmon primarily and the occasional lean fillet.My nutritionist has limited me to 40 grams of fat a day.

            http://time.com/2981436/women-stress-eating-11-pounds/

  • July 14, 2014 at 8:03 am
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    Last June I started reading up on nutrition because I had turned 53 and I want to live as long as I can. The two game changers for me were Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat” and Lustig’s “Fat Chance”. Both cite studies showing that sugar/carbs really seem to be the reason for the spike in obesity/diabetes in the last 30 years. In an effort to lower fat manufacturers invariably added sugar to replace the fat in order to keep their products palatable.

    Last July I started just generally cutting back on my carbs. I quit buying virtually all processed foods. I bought a CSA from a local grass fed farmer. I started eating more fish and eggs. I quit drinking beer and switched to wine. Pretty much all I drink now is water, coffee, and wine.

    After six months of generally lowering my carb intake my test results for my January checkup showed some pretty dramatic changes. My Triglyceride count went from 136 to 83. And while my total cholesterol pretty much stayed the same (173 to 178) by VLDL (which seems to be the most predictive of heart/stroke problems) dropped from 27 to 17).

    My weight has not changed a lot but my BMI did drop from 26 to 24. So I am technically not “overweight” anymore. I am the lightest I have been since I started measuring about eight years ago. It has been very easy but I am pissed that our government still spouts the same “eat less exercise more” mantra that is clearly incorrect. A calorie is DEFINITELY not a calorie.

    Reply
    • July 14, 2014 at 8:37 am
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      Brad,

      Congratulations on those great numbers! You sound determined enough to not go “yo-yo” back up. For me, my weight loss two years ago was the first time I got serious about it or felt that I needed to, so I fell into the “yo-yo” effect by slacking after maintaining my healthy 24.8 BMI score for over a year. I used to bodybuild as a hobby, and was always in great shape, but you know how age affects our declining metabolism, and it takes more work to maintain the same ideal weight I had in my teens, 20’s and 30’s. I was also always a skinny little boy. Only when I reached my 40’s did maintaining a healthy weight become a (nagging) challenge.

      During my weight loss journal, I talked a lot about visceral fat, which I’m sure you know is the culprit most men have, and why you see many overweight men with relatively normal sized arms and legs, yet a popped-out “beer belly”, which actually is stored fat within our vital organs. That visceral fat is very dangerous, not just for our cardiovascular system, but also makes us more prone to cancer of those organs it’s surrounding. For me it wasn’t very hard to lose the excessive visceral fat I had, only requiring eating the right food (pescetarian diet) and getting adequate, yet not strenuous exercise; mostly brisk walking and swimming in my case (not trying to do an iron man triathalon). Oh, and drinking lots of Japanese Green Tea, which is full of EGCG, an antioxidant that boosts metabolism, amongst other health benefits.

      Regarding refined sugar, that’s by far one of the worst demons in the American diet. Like good and bad fat, there’s also good and bad carbs, e.g. white vs. brown bread and rice.

      Gosh, now I’m getting a complex about all my recent visits to new bakeries here in Honolulu. Must resist sugary pastries! Must resist!

      Reply
  • July 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm
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    We went there today and my salad didn’t come with croutons thankfully because I don’t like them. I would have loved a olive oil dressing or something similar but I just drizzled a bit of the dressing over the top. The container still looked full with I put it aside to eat my salad. So as for your comment ‘who would do that’ lol I would I guess.

    Reply
    • July 19, 2014 at 6:10 pm
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      I’m always shocked that Costco doesn’t offer olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the food counter since it sells both individually in the store!

      Reply
  • October 9, 2015 at 6:05 am
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    ONLY DEATH & DISEASE FOODS AVAILABLE AT COSTCO FOOD COURT

    (artery clogging, diabetic producing, sodium laced offerings)

     

    Where are the promised healthy plant-based options to promote vibrantly healthy return customers?

    Consult with Dr. John McDougall & Jeff Novick for easy, healthy delicious menu items ! ! !

    Reply
  • August 7, 2016 at 11:24 am
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    I realize this is now 6 years old, but it’s infuriating how you fail to mention or realize the fact that very few people put that entire cup of dressing in the salad, which makes comparing that nutritional data to the hotdog completely inaccurate, and this whole article pointless.

    Reply
    • August 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm
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      Ken,

      How do you know not everyone puts the entire cup of dressing on? I always do!  :-P

      Reply
  • December 4, 2017 at 10:12 am
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    No turkey provolone mentioned in the checkmark favorite foods. Or the brisket sandwich with slaw.

    Reply

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