We Tested 5 Salad Kit Brands—Here Are the Best Ones

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Salad kits—you see them in the produce section of your supermarket, but are they worth the buzz? We sampled five of the most popular brands to help you decide for yourself.

When it comes to desk lunches, bagged salad kits are among my favorite. There are few options that are as quick, affordable, healthy and satisfying. I’ve been known to indulge in boxed mac and cheese and air-fried chicken nuggets on my lunch break every now and then, but salad kits are a midday meal I can always feel good about. Plus, they’re mindless in the very best way. Simply open the bag, dump the ingredients into a bowl and toss together. No slicing and dicing needed.

They make an awesome side dish, too. Talk about speedy! I grew up loving “Mom’s salad” with tortilla strips and creamy dressing. Little did I know she was simply stirring up a store-bought salad kit. Now, when making my own dinners, I employ the same trick. Hey, everyone knows homemade meal accompaniments, like these amazing side salads, aren’t always in the cards.

So whether you’re looking for a light lunch shortcut or a dinnertime booster, salad kits are your answer. I sampled the most popular brands so you know which bagged salad kits are best suited for you and your family.

What Are Salad Kits?

For this article, I tested bagged salad kits, not to be confused with salad bowls or individual salad kits. As the name would imply, the latter are single-serving. Bagged salad kits, on the other hand, typically contain 3-4 servings, and they’re an all-in-one deal.

Open up the bag, and you’ll find the salad base, typically made of cabbage, lettuce, carrots and the like; crunchy toppings, such as nuts, seeds or crushed chips; cheese; and, of course, salad dressing. (These are our favorite healthy salad dressings.)

How We Tested the Salad Kits

To make things fair, I tried the same salad flavor from each brand: Southwest—or a similar variation. (Love Tex-Mex? Try these recipes, too!) But salad-kit selections extend so far beyond this beloved classic. Just look at Good & Gather’s Nashville-Style Hot Salad and Fresh Express’ Thai & Cashews Salad, for example.

When testing each salad kit, I combined all the ingredients, including the dressing, and took a couple bites, ensuring each one was chock-full of goodies. (I also tried each salad dressing on its own to get a real sense of the flavor.) I paid special attention to each salad’s appearance, texture, freshness and taste.

Trader Joe’s Southwestern Chopped Salad

Trader Joe's salad bag with a bowl of SaladAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

Trader Joe’s standout salad serves four and is available year-round. Each bowl is brimming with green cabbage, romaine, green onion, carrots, radish, cilantro, Cotija cheese, roasted pepitas and tortilla strips. There’s clearly no shortage of flavor here, and that’s before I even introduce the Spicy Southwest Avocado Dressing.

This is certainly the most unique take on the quintessential Southwest salad I tried, and it totally worked for me. Interestingly, this was the only salad without a cream-based dressing; the vinaigrette was light and delicious, tasting similar to a salsa verde.

All the flavors really shined through in this salad, particularly the nuttiness of the pepitas and the cool tanginess of the Cotija cheese chunks, which also lent a nice textural contrast amid all the crunchiness.

Because of the brown dressing, this salad was probably the least visually appealing, but the mouthwatering flavors make that fact easy to look past.

Pros

What we liked about the Trader Joe’s Southwestern Chopped Salad

  • Authentic ingredients, such as Cotija cheese, roasted pepitas and cilantro
  • 4 servings per bag, as opposed to the other brands’ 3 or 3-1/2 servings
  • Distinctive dressing

Cons

What to consider about the Trader Joe’s Southwestern Chopped Salad

  • Little visual appeal due to salad’s brown dressing
  • Less availability compared to other brands’ salads, which are sold in a number of different chain stores

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Dole Southwest Salad

Dole salad bag with a bowl of SaladAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

Available internationally and containing 3-1/2 servings, the Dole salad was the only one I tried that wasn’t a chopped salad. Because of this, the base was overwhelmingly lettuce, rather than cabbage. This one is definitely for the straight-up salad lovers.

In addition to the lettuce, there were radishes, carrots, red cabbage, tortilla strips, white cheddar cheese and Taco Ranch Dressing. (If you’re a serious fan of ranch, you’ll want to read these ranch-related fun facts.)

Although I personally missed the freshness that, say, green onion or cilantro would’ve provided, I really appreciated the crisp and earthiness of the radishes, which were left in quite large chunks.

The dressing was the most striking in color, with a bright orange hue, likely from its bell peppers. It was garlicky and smoky, and it packed a ton of tasty Tex-Mex flavor without being spicy. (Psst! Find out just what “Tex-Mex” means.) But be careful not to overdress the salad—I found the lettuce was more prone to wilting than the sturdier cabbage of other salads.

Pros

What we liked about the Dole Southwest Salad

  • Widely available
  • Vibrant-colored dressing
  • Universal appeal due to its lack of heat and more contentious ingredients, such as cilantro

Cons

What to consider about the Dole Southwest Salad

  • Easily overdressed
  • Slightly less hearty than the others

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Good & Gather Southwest Chopped Salad Kit

Good & Gather salad bag with a bowl of SaladAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

A Target exclusive, this Good & Gather salad has 3-1/2 servings and a base that’s very comparable to its competitors. Think green cabbage, romaine, carrots, green onion and cilantro with a Creamy Cilantro Pepita Dressing. The crunchy toppings include pepitas and tortilla strips. Notably, this is the only salad without any cheese.

Now, if you’re not a cilantro fan, don’t be deterred by the dressing. (Here’s the scientific reason why some people think the herb tastes like soap.) I tasted little cilantro but, rather, a pleasant sweetness from the neutral-colored dressing’s pepitas and lime juice.

Overall, this bagged salad checked all the boxes. The pepitas lend nuttiness, the dressing adds tang, the cabbage contributes earthiness, and the cilantro and green onion bring brightness.

Pros

What we liked about the Good & Gather Southwest Chopped Salad Kit

  • Great balance of ingredients and flavors

Cons

What to consider about the Good & Gather Southwest Chopped Salad Kit

  • Only available at one store: Target
  • No cheese

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Fresh Express Southwest Chopped Salad

Fresh Express salad bag with a bowl of SaladAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

When it comes to Southwest salads, this is the prototype. It has all the components you’d expect, and it delivers on quality and freshness. Serving three, the Fresh Express bagged salad has green and red cabbage, lettuce, carrots, green onions, tortilla strips, 4-cheese Mexican blend and Greek Yogurt Jalapeno Dressing.

This salad was just as pleasantly crunchy as the rest of ‘em, thanks to the tortilla strips and cabbage. Although the texture was great, I found the flavors of most the ingredients, even the cheese and green onions, to be overpowered by the dressing. With visible bits of chopped jalapenos and seasonings, this dressing had quite the kick, so much so that I’d advise anyone who doesn’t like spicy food to try another option. But if you’re looking for that trademark Tex-Mex zip, then this is the salad for you. (Discover 40+ other fiery recipes.)

Pros

What we liked about the Fresh Express Southwest Chopped Salad

  • Widely available
  • Quintessential Southwest salad
  • Colorful ingredients

Cons

What to consider about the Fresh Express Southwest Chopped Salad

  • Spice of dressing outshined some of the other flavors

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Little Salad Bar Southwest Chopped Salad

Little Salad Bar salad bag with a bowl of SaladAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

This bagged salad kit, which can be found at ALDI, is—believe it or not—the exact same salad as the Fresh Express one listed above. After some research and the realization that my taste buds weren’t deceiving me, I came to find that Fresh Express salads are sold under multiple names, including Little Salad Bar. So the review from above applies here.

All toppings are the same, as well as the base and dressing. The only difference is that this kit contains slightly more salad and 3-1/2 servings, rather than 3.

And I choose to think of this copy-and-paste-type situation as a good one—now, if you shop at ALDI, you don’t need to bother with going elsewhere for a top-notch salad kit, and vice versa. (Find out our favorite things to buy at ALDI.)

Pros

What we liked about the Little Salad Bar Southwest Chopped Salad

  • Quintessential Southwest salad
  • 3-1/2 servings rather than 3

Cons

What to consider about the Little Salad Bar Southwest Chopped Salad

  • Spice of dressing outshined some of the other flavors
  • Only available at ALDI—but you can still buy the same salad at other supermarket chains under the name Fresh Express!

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FAQ

Are bagged salad kits good for you?

Salad kits are a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, which is never an entirely bad thing. But all the toppings that make these salads taste so good also bump up the saturated fat, sugar and calories.

Our senior food editor and registered dietitian nutritionist, Peggy Woodward, suggests looking for kits that pack, say, plain nuts and seeds rather than sweetened dried fruit and candied nuts. Another way to save on calories and added sugar is to skimp on the dressing. “Either add less dressing or bulk up your kit with more greens, preferably dark greens like spinach, so you get more servings per package,” she says.

What is the healthiest salad kit?

As Peggy suggests, the healthiest salad kits are going to be those with few calories and those that are low in sugar and saturated fat. Reach for salad kits with vinaigrettes, rather than creamy dressings; plain nuts and seeds; unsweetened dried fruit; and dark leafy greens.

It’s also easy to customize salad kits to boost their nutritional value. Ease up on the dressing; exclude some of the less healthy toppings, such as cheese and corn chips; or supplement with your own greens, vegetables and proteins. “Turn it into a main dish by adding cooked shrimp, chicken, beef or chickpeas,” Peggy says.

Is it cheaper to buy salad kits?

It depends. If you like variety, salad kits are a good way to enjoy different types of salads without having to stock up on loads of toppings. But if you don’t mind eating the same salad for while, then buying the ingredients in bulk could be cheaper. Once you buy the cheese crumbles, nuts, dried fruits and greens, your tab will be higher than a single salad kit, but you’ll get more salads out of it. Just remember to eat it all before it goes bad—there’s the increased potential of food waste with this option.

(Here’s how to save serious money at the supermarket.)

How Bagged Salad Kits Compare to Other Salads

In my opinion, salads from bagged kits can hold their own against those from restaurants, likely because many of them are developed by professional chefs.

The fun and creative ingredient combinations far surpass any I could muster on my own and are much closer to a dish I’d find on a restaurant menu. (Want to try your hand at homemade? Here’s how to make a salad that’s anything but boring.) For example, my all-time favorite salad kit includes funky toppers like toasted quinoa, roasted sunflower seeds, dried edamame and more things I simply never have in my pantry.

The only way in which bagged salads might fall short to other salads is that many of them aren’t filling enough to be considered a main dish. Even so, adding shredded chicken, crumbled bacon, cubed ham, flaked tuna, drained beans and more can fix that in an instant. (See our best main-dish salads for inspiration.)

Final Verdict

Although my overall favorite salad kit from this taste-test was the one from Trader Joe’s, it all comes down to personal preference.

Those who crave authentic Mexican foods, like me, will enjoy the salads from Good & Gather and Trader Joe’s. If you’re a lettuce lover, don’t care much for cabbage or just want a light side, look to Dole’s salad. And if you can handle heat, the Little Salad Bar/Fresh Express bag is your best bet.

More generally speaking, Trader Joe’s and Good & Gather are experimental yet intentional with the ingredients in their salad kits. I’d recommend their salads to adventurous eaters. ALDI’s salad kits (aka Little Salad Bar kits) are straightforward yet high-quality and tasty. I’d recommend them to families with timid eaters or to groups with a wide range of preferences. And then there’s Dole and Fresh Express: two respected brands that can be found in pretty much every produce section across the country. I’d recommend their salads to anyone who doesn’t have access to the aforementioned not-so-ubiquitous stores—I promise they won’t disappoint.

Where to Buy

You can find bagged salad kits—all ranging between $2.50 and $5—in any grocery store. Good & Gather salads can be found at Target; Little Salad Bar salads can be found at ALDI; and Trader Joe’s salads can be found at—you guessed it—Trader Joe’s.

Fresh Express and Dole are available at most national supermarket chains, including Walmart as well as Kroger and Albertsons. They’re also in many local and regional supermarkets. For added convenience, though, order online through Instacart to ship your salad straight to your door.

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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.