We Ranked 10 Trader Joe's Pre-Made Salads

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
In the off chance that you hadn't already noticed, I'm going to reiterate that we do quite a bit of our shopping at Trader Joe's. Every month, every week, sometimes even daily, we live off its bounty — basking in all the affordable, unique, grocery shopping glory (hey, we even subsisted off the frozen section for two weeks). TJ's makes the idea of consuming quality food at home less of a feat and more of a "hacking the system" situation — it always feels like a serious steal. And what happens to be one of the freshest finds? The pre-packaged salad section.
Tucked snuggly away with the other pre-made foods like burritos and sushi lies a plethora of eclectically-dressed greens. This selection is compact but entirely wide-spanning in the flavor department (from Asian to Italian, Southwestern, and even Greek). Best of all, these containers all clock in under the $5 money marker. The only downside? With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to commit — heaven forbid you invest in that Pacific Chicken Salad only to find yourself unimpressed with the lettuce to toppings ratio!
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So in order to save you from TJ's pre-made buyer's remorse, we decided to scoop up ten popular flavors for a taste-testing, ranking, extravaganza. Click on to see just how they stack up from worst to best, and let us know your personal favorites in the comments below.
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10. Classic Greek Salad, $3.99 (Least Fave)

With feta cheese, pitted Kalamata olives, and red wine vinaigrette.
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Consensus: This salad was small in size with toppings (and a dressing) that all proved to be on the watery side. Aside from the creamy feta, it lacked overall flavor and could have used an addition of grilled chicken. This was not an option we would necessarily purchase again.
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9. Thai Style Citrus Chicken Salad, $4.49

With Napa cabbage, white meat chicken, daikon radish and green papaya with a tangy citrus dressing.
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Consensus: Another small, lackluster-looking option that could easily be recreated at home. However, this time chicken was involved and the dressing packed more of a flavor punch than the Greek. But the protein and seasoning additions weren't enough to save this salad from being removed from our grocery list. It ended up feeling like an unfinished thought in need of more veggie variety (i.e. it was not a meal).
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8. Southwest Salad, $3.99

With black beans, corn, cotija cheese, and a tangy ranch dressing.
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Consensus: This salad looked the most promising upon opening; large, colorful, packed with a variety of ingredients, and a creamy dressing to boot. But overall the flavor was a bit bland. There was no hint of spice that one might expect from a "Southwest" flavor profile, and the cotija cheese was lost in the mix completely. Overall, although it was filling it fell flat in the flavor department.
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7. Mexicali Inspired Salad, $4.49

With chili seasoned chicken, mixed greens, corn, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and parmesan cheese with a jalapeño caesar dressing.
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Consensus: This option did not look as fresh or as full as the previous — but it did have a LOT going on in the toppings department. Aside from the mild confusion over the sun-dried tomatoes, shaved parmesan additions, and the "Mexicali-inspired" theme, the flavors all came together nicely. The dressing was creamy, the chicken was properly seasoned, and it wasn't a salad we'd necessarily want to take the time to arrange at home.
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6. Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa, & Quinoa Wheatberry Salad, $3.99

With baby arugula, cranberries, toasted almonds, goat cheese and a honey sesame vinaigrette.
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Consensus: I have been an avid fan of this salad in the past (purchasing it for many an office lunch), so went in with a top ranker's confidence. However, the dressing, although delicious, was far sweeter than I remembered (a bit heavy-handed on the cinnamon notes). That being said, the chewiness of the wheat berries, the creamy goat cheese, and other ingredients made for a nice textured mix and overall creative flavor profile. While this may not be an ideal lunch salad, it could be a great side to serve up for two with a steak dinner.
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5. Mozzarella & Tomato Salad, $3.99

With balsamic vinaigrette.
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Consensus: I went into this one with my guard up — it looked like a boringly simple house salad that one might receive (not by request) after ordering a pizza. Therefore I was having some trouble imagining it as a suitable lunch. However, the rest of the Team Food was majorly into the large chunks of mozz and flavorful vinaigrette. As one member gushed, "this is a GOOD vinaigrette." Might not be the most ideal lunch salad (would need a protein addition), but would make a great side dish to a dinner for two.
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4. Chinese Imperial Salad, $4.49

Grilled white chicken, green cabbage, snow peas and crispy noodles with a sesame soy dressing.
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Consensus: This salad provided a hefty serving of romaine, grilled chicken, and crispy noodle topping. The texture was fresh and crunchy, and the dressing was an ideal combo of savory-sweet. All in all, we agreed that it was solid lunch salad — but we maybe could have whipped it together at home fairly easily.
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3. Broccoli Slaw & Kale Salad, $4.49

With white chicken meat, sunflower seeds, cranberries, and a sweet and spicy dressing.
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Consensus: A nice hefty kale salad serving with a light and creamy dressing that layered nicely with all the various toppings. The selling point of this salad was the fact that we wouldn't necessarily spend time shredding all the ingredients at home — so avoiding that work was majorly worth the purchase!
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2. Pacific Salad, $4.49

With romaine and iceberg lettuce, grilled white chicken meat, crispy rice noodles, roasted almonds, and sesame seeds with a dressing "that's divine!".
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Consensus: The first thing we noticed about this salad? It was absolutely PACKED with lettuce. So much so that it was near impossible to shake the dressing through for a thorough coating. But the crispy rice noodles, sesame seeds, and nuts were a delightfully crunchy addition on top of the fresh iceberg. It was by far the best Asian salad option that we'd sampled and felt like a meal we'd look forward to packing for lunch.
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1. Kale & Edamame Salad, $3.99 (Winner)

With sweetened dried cranberries, grape tomatoes, almonds, scallions, and a lemon herb dressing.
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Consensus: This option was hefty, which was much appreciated for a full on veggie variety (no meat here). The kale was soft but stood up well to heavier creamy dressing, and the toppings all came together with a nice tang (we loved the edamame addition). There were far too many ingredients for us to recreate this at home with any ease — so for the $3.99 price tag, it was an absolute steal!

Overall Takeaway: Trader Joe's pre-packaged salads are all around cheap, easy, and consistently pretty damn tasty. But they're also at their best when all the various ingredients come together in a harmonious way — a way that would take a little too much time and effort to recreate ourselves (at least more than we're willing to commit). Our tip to you? Pick a salad that has a myriad of creative ingredients along with a flavor profile that suits your taste — and stay away from the simpler ones that you'd feel comfortable making in bulk at home.
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