Hold the pizza, burgers and cheesy pasta. It’s time for salad — and not just rabbit greens. We’re talking serious, nutrient-dense salads tossed with everything from grains to seeds, dried fruit and meats, turning the dish into a meal.
Making substantial salads isn’t difficult, but when there’s no time to prep, there’s a mind-boggling array of salad options within arm’s reach — in the supermarket deli section. The best are fresh and creative, and include a dressing that pulls the flavors together into a fork-worthy meal. The worst are — ahem — slimy.
Obviously it’s important to look at the “use by” date on a pre-made salad. But a lot of these highly perishable salads turn slimy and smelly days before that date arrives. Packaging is also key: Salad toppings that are individually packaged are infinitely better than ingredients thrown together as if they were to be eaten in the next hour.
With so many options available, we focused on the most interesting selections at local markets and, since one of the biggest downsides to single-serve salads is price point, we included several family-size bagged salads. Nutrition details refer to either the entire individual salad with dressing, or a meal-sized salad portion of about 2 cups.
Now let’s get tossing:
Fresh Garden Highway Ka-Power Greens
Sweet-tart Asian style dressing and a generous amount of fresh edamame, kale, cabbage and sunflower seeds combine for a tasty salad that’s both light and satisfying. A 213-gram salad has 200 calories, 7 g fat, 430 mg sodium, 7 g protein. $4.99 at Sprouts. (4 stars)
Earthbound Farms Kale Caesar
Made with tender baby kale leaves, this bagged salad comes with two generous packets of garlicky whole grain croutons, shredded Parmesan and a cheesy, natural-tasting dressing with lots of kick. A serving has 170 calories, 3 g fat, 400 mg sodium, 6 g protein. $3.49 for 11 ounces at Safeway. (4 stars)
Eat Smart Wild Greens & Quinoa
This healthy bagged salad includes shredded broccoli stalks, beet greens, carrots and cabbage with packets of feta, almonds and crispy toasted quinoa. A creamy avocado dressing pulls all the flavors together. A serving has 260 calories, 20 g fat, 360 mg sodium, 8 g protein. $3.99 for 9 ounces at Safeway. (4 stars)
Signature Cafe Curried Quinoa Salad
This huge salad is especially hearty, with handfuls of garbanzos, dried apricots, raisins, cashews and cooked quinoa that you toss into a generous bowl of nicely chopped kale. The dressing is pleasant, but begs for a bit more flavor and acidity. A 7.5-ounce salad has 490 calories, 27 g fat, 550 mg sodium, 11 g protein. $4.99 at Safeway. (3 stars)
Elevate Organic Spinach Bowl
Very fresh greens and ingredients make this small salad a good pick for those who prefer smaller portions. Noticeably tiny amounts of grilled chicken, cheese, almonds and cranberries are packed in a small tray nestled on top of the salad. An 11-ounce salad has 250 calories, 17 g fat, 390 mg sodium, 11 g protein. $3.49 at Safeway. (3 stars)
Eat Smart Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad Kit
The fresh greens, combined with a generous amount of cranberries and pumpkin seeds, in this bargain-sized bagged salad keep well and deliver a tasty salad for those who don’t mind their dressing on the sweet side. A serving has 280 calories, 16 g fat, 280 mg sodium, 6 g protein. $4.49 for a 28-ounce bag at Costco. (3 stars)
ReadyPac Bistro Bowl Sesame Miso Chopped Salad
This salad looks small, but the lettuce, edamame, nuts and chicken, tossed with Asian-style dressing, make for a pleasant meal. A 6.5-ounce salad has 280 calories, 17 g fat, 490 mg sodium, 11 g protein. $3.89 at Raley’s. (3 stars)
Fresh Garden Power Salad with Kale & Brussels Sprouts
Clean flavors and a punchy Girard’s Dijon dressing make for a nice, if somewhat predictable bowl of healthy greens. A 7.5 ounce salad has 510 calories, 33 g fat, 620 mg sodium, 10 g protein. $4.99 at Sprouts. (2 stars)
Super Fresh! Tuscan Kale & Quinoa
Made with really fresh lettuces, kale, garbanzos and sunflower seeds, this salad is a great pick for those who prefer a mild, creamy dressing. Swap out the dressing on this and it would get much higher marks. Other Super Fresh! Salads suffer from the same dressing issue. A 10-ounce salad has 290 calories, 15 g fat, 600 mg sodium, 9 g protein. $5 at Whole Foods. (2 stars)
Signature Farms Cranberry Walnut Salad
More of a side dish than a meal, this salad is fresh, but the toppings are chintzy. The raspberry vinaigrette is much too sweet and lacks acid. A 4.5 ounce salad has 210 calories, 9 g fat, 450 mg sodium, 7 g protein. $2.99 at Safeway. (2 stars).
Trader Joe’s Field Fresh Chopped Salad with Grilled Chicken
Made with Israeli couscous, currants, asiago, pecans and basil dressing, this hefty, generous serving is a true salad meal. But, as with all Trader Joe’s salads, all the ingredients are packaged directly on the lettuce, which encourages wilt, slime and unfortunate odors long before the “use by” date. Note that the Chinese Inspired Chicken Salad and the Classic Greek Salad both had the same freshness issue. A 10.7-ounce salad has 500 calories, 31 g fat, 360 mg sodium, 20 g protein. $4.49. (2 stars).
Taylor Farms Asian Cashew Chopped Salad
Oily dressing and a serious lack of a key flavor ingredient — cilantro — make this bagged salad a lackluster pick. Note that the Southwest Chopped Salad is even less appealing, due to its bland dressing. A serving has 400 calories, 32 g fat, 660 mg sodium, 6 g protein. $3.99 for 23.5 ounces at Costco. (1 stars)
Trader Joe’s Mexicali with Chicken
Made with lots of chicken, greens, tortilla chips and more, this gigantic salad has tons of great flavor, but the chicken tastes canned and there is not enough dressing. An 11-ounce salad has 380 calories, 24 g fat, 750 mg sodium, 26 g protein. $4.49. (1 star).
Fresh Express Pear Gorgonzola
Those with a serious sweet tooth will appreciate the crunchy, chewy bits of sweetness and the ultra-sweet dressing included in this bagged mix. But don’t expect Gorgonzola. There isn’t even a hint of it. A serving has 130 calories, 7 g fat, 270 mg sodium, 3 g protein. $3.69 for 4.65 ounces at Raley’s. ( a star)
Whole Foods The Kitchen Greek Salad
Paying $7 for a salad that contains a stack of slimy cucumbers hurts. If the cucumbers were omitted and the tasty artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and roasted bell peppers were packaged separately, this could be a stellar salad. A 7.4-ounce salad has 280 calories, 24 g fat, 680 mg sodium, 7 g protein. $7. (No stars)
Fresh Express Caesar
Less than 12 hours after purchase — and four days before the “use by” date, this was just a mucky bag of brown lettuce. Not good. A serving has 150 calories, 12 g fat, 230 mg sodium, 6 g protein. $2.99 for 7.6 ounces at Sprouts. (No stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at email@example.com. Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/taste-off.