Studies have shown a pre-meal salad or broth based soup was helpful in filling you up so you ate less at the main meal. It was shown to improve satiety and weight loss in participants who consumed a pre-meal of salad. One important note is that the salad should consist of raw or grilled vegetables, fat reduced dressing, and limited on extra high calorie toppings.
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This appears to be more of a cultural issue than a scientific one. Many European countries customarily eat the salad after the main meal, while Americans tend to eat it before. I suppose the case could be made that eating a salad prior to the main course may allow one to fill up sooner and eat less in the following courses/meal. This would be fine if the salad was full of fresh vegetables and not loaded with calorie and fat laden add-ons and dressing. Sadly, many pre-meal salads are slathered in rich, creamy dressings, cheese, bacon bits and other caloric add-ons. In this instance, they simply contribute additional fat and calories to your meal. Ultimately, it makes no difference when the salad is eaten. The processes of digestion and absorption take many hours and the food eaten is mixed and churned together as it makes its way through your body.
There's evidence to suggest that eating a vegetable salad before a meal can help reduce the total calories eaten at that meal. To get the benefit, be sure to prepare or select a vegetable salad with a low calorie dressing. Choosing the salad appetizer over higher calorie starters is also a great weight management strategy to use when dining out at a restaurant. In addition, it's an easy way to meet your vegetable goals for the day!