We Tried Nearly Every Salad Kit in America. Here Are the Best of the Best.
We’re almost a month into a new year; are you a new you yet? (We hope not; we liked you just as you were in 2018!) One of your resolutions was probably to start taking lunch to work — or to eat better, spend less money on food, win the office title of She Who Packs the Best Lunches, blah blah blah.
You know what, though? Packing a good lunch every day can be tough. We’re here to help, with maybe the best grocery lunch shortcut of all: salad kits, those wondrous paragons of health and joy and all things that go crunch.
There are zillions of salad kits in the world (zillions!) and, starting last fall, we embarked on a quest to taste nearly every single one and find the ones we loved the most. (That’s how we know there are zillions!) Here, from us to you, from our lunch boxes to yours, is a rundown of the shining few that emerged victorious. America, meet your best salad kits.
How We Picked and Reviewed the Salad Kits
Our first goal: Try as many as possible! Fortunately our editors are widely spread across the country. Arie hit up stores in Los Angeles, I went to Price Chopper and Target in upstate New York, Meghan went shopping in Boise, Idaho, Sheela covered stores in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Faith ordered from Giant Eagle and Kroger in Ohio.
We bought up everything we could find from Earthbound Farm, Taylor Farms, Fresh Express, Ready Pac, Dole … all the brands, all the grocery stores. We focused on salad kits that could be meals in their own rights (although all of these salad kits would also be delicious as a side salad with a meal).
As we tried each one, we took detailed photos and notes. Then, we met in person (kind of a huge deal considering how spread apart we all are!) to discuss our findings and our favorites. We took even more notes, culled through it all, and came up with this list for you — the top five salad kits that stood out.
Oh, one note about this list! You might notice that we didn’t include a single salad kit from Costco, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, or Whole Foods. Although we did eat kits from all four of those stores (for other posts, which are linked below!), we wanted to keep this list to the salads that we can all find in major grocery stores.
If you would like to see our picks from those specialty stores, check them out in their own posts.
The Best Salad Kits at Specialty Supermarkets
What We Learned from Eating 85 Salad Kits
In the end, we tried more than 85 salad kits (some even WITH non-recalled romaine, once the leaves were cleared for eating; remember that big romaine recall back in November and December? That put an exciting spin on this project!) and quickly came to a few conclusions. For starters, there are a few main types you’ll see over and over again: sweet kale, Caesar, Southwestern-style, Asian-inspired, the fruity spring mix, and the occasional wildcard.
We discovered that most salad kits have dressing that is too sweet for our tastes, and we argued the merits of lettuce vs. slaw in the mix.
But most important: It’s a total waste of money to spend $13 on a lunch salad when you can just doctor up a salad kit.
Which salad kits are worth your money? Keep reading for our favorites. These kits got the best reviews and are readily available at most supermarkets. These are your lunch superheroes so you can keep on keeping on with your 2019 goals.
The 5 Best Salad Kits in America
Our hard-fought favorites, found in grocery stores from coast to coast.
The Sweet Kale Salad Favorite: Earthbound Farm Fresh Organic Sweet Kale Chopped Salad Kit
Sweet kale salad lovers, this is your jam.
There are so many sweet kale salad kits on the market! Most of them really take that “sweet” part to the extreme — either with the dressing, the mix-ins, or both. This one is an exception to that rule. “It’s colorful and crunchy with chopped cabbage and kale pieces that are just the right size,” raves Kelli Foster, one of our associate food editors.
The dressing isn’t too sweet at all — even though the word “honey” originally caused us some concern, we think the “ginger” part of it helped to balance things out. This fresh mix, above all the other sweet kale salads we tried, really stood out. Again, partly because it wasn’t too sweet, but also because it came with crispy onions.
The Crunchiest Salad Winner: Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kit
This bag should be renamed to Edamame Crisp Chopped Salad Kit, but that is literally our only nit-picky thing we have to say about it. The kit starts off with green cabbage, romaine lettuce, kale, red cabbage, and carrots. Then, you add in dry roasted edamame, roasted sunflower seeds, toasted quinoa, and a sweet onion vinaigrette dressing. There’s more edamame than sunflower seeds (hence our renaming idea), and that’s not a bad thing.
This salad has so much crunch and so many textures and flavors. Each bite is more interesting than the last — especially as you get down to the bottom of the bowl and start to uncover the small stuff that’s hiding. It also won points for being pretty different (it’s not Southwest- or Asian-inspired!) and totally felt like a salad that could be eaten on its own for lunch. Add half an avocado and you’ve really got something special.
The Salad Winner for Bacon Lovers: Taylor Farm’s Wedge Style Chopped Kit
This kit tastes exactly like what you’d get at a steakhouse — only you don’t have to go to a steakhouse, nor do you have to waste all that time cutting it up. The kit starts with a base of romaine, cabbage, cauliflower, shredded broccoli, and carrots. You then add crispy fried onions, crumbled bacon, steakhouse seasoning (which you can actually taste!), and blue cheese dressing. The lettuce base was perfectly chopped and we somehow got every single mix-in with each bite.
The Southwest Salad Winner: Dole Chopped Chipotle and Cheddar Salad Kit
We’re going to go ahead and call this a Southwestern-style salad. After all, it has tortilla chips in it. Actually, it has something better than tortilla chips: cheddar tortilla strips! It also has chipotle ranch dressing, bonus pieces of cheddar cheese, green onions, and four types of lettuce (red and green cabbage, romaine, and kale). “You could totally make this a complete meal by ramping up the taco salad effect,” says Staff Writer Lauren Masur. “Throw in some ground beef and all the fixings and you’ll have yourself a meal.”
The Almost-Too-Good-to-Be-True Salad Winner: Eat Smart Wild Greens & Quinoa Vegetable Salad Kit
This salad kit is almost freakishly good. Faith, our editor-in-chief, tried it as a control sample early on but then found herself coming back to it over and over. It departs from the all-too-common sweet dressings with a savory avocado-herb number, plus punchy, salty feta cheese. Julienned vegetables make it extra robust, and the quinoa is toasted (not soft) for a sophisticated crunch. In a world of sloppy salads, this one would stand out anywhere.
These two were so close to making the top five, we had to show you.
The Warm Salad Winner: Mann’s Smokehouse Brussels Nourish Bowl
We had a semi-heated discussion over whether or not a warm salad was still a salad. Ultimately, we decided that most of these Mann’s Nourish Bowls counted — and that this one was, by far, the best. “I really like the way microwaving softens the sprouts and kale,” says Kelli. “And while the maple dressing is on the sweet side, it balances the bacon and tough greens really well.” She even adds that the salad tastes fancy! Like something you might get at a restaurant. If you’re looking for a side to serve with chicken or a roast this winter, you’ve found it.
The Solid Caesar Salad: Dole Classic Caesar Kit
We’re only putting this kit down here because Caesar kits in general are, well, pretty basic. That said, we still ate many, many Caesar salad kits. And this one was good. Like, really good. Funny enough, we liked the Dole Classic Caesar Kit even more than we liked the premium version, which is supposed to have more “artisanal” ingredients. The croutons are well-seasoned (nice and garlicky!), the lettuce is crisp, the Parmesan cheese mixes up so there’s some in every bite, and the dressing is the right consistency and not too tangy the way other Caesar dressings can be. Eat this on its own as a side salad or add some chicken to make it a meal.
Do you have a favorite salad kit that didn’t make this list? Tell us about it in the comments below and your nomination could make it into a follow-up post!