Lunch spots that let you customize your own salad are everywhere. And some days, I’m perfectly willing to drop $16 on a gourmet spinach mix with a variety of toppings straight from my imagination. Other days? Not so much. That’s why Trader Joe’s salads, most of which are just $3.99, are truly a godsend.
If you usually pass the prepared aisle at TJ’s without a second glance, please believe me (and a dietitian) when I say it’s worth your while to stop and peruse the plentiful salad options. Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, author of The Better Period Food Solution says that each of the frugal supermarket’s salads packs its own nutritional merits. Of the many Trader Joe’s salads, I asked her to choose the option that is best for fiber, which one you should fork to refuel after a workout, and so much more. Plus, find tips on how to make all of Trader Joe’s salads even healthier.
A dietitian’s definitive guide to the best Trader Joe’s salads
1. Highest in fiber: Kale and Edamame Salad
“The Kale and Edamame Salad has the most fiber at 10 grams, or 40 percent of the daily serving. Insoluble dietary fibers found in edamame and kale have multiple health benefits such as increased satiety and decreased blood cholesterol,” says Beckerman.
2. For a kick of energy: Super Green Salad Palette
“The Super Green Salad Palette contains tons of high quality, complex carbohydrates such as edamame, kale, and avocado. This combination of foods will keep you energized thanks to the slow-digesting carbs, and the heart-healthy fats will help keep your energy—and blood sugar—levels stable for a while,” says Beckerman. “Plus, the fiber in the edamame paired with the healthy fat from the walnuts and avocado is a winning trio to help you stay full for hours.”
3. Highest in protein: Mexicali Inspired Salad
“The Mexicali Inspired Salad is packed with protein at 26 grams per serving,” says the dietitian. “With filling chicken and satisfying cheese, if you packed this salad for lunch, you will definitely feel fueled all afternoon!”
4. Lowest in sugar: Mozzarella and Tomato Salad or Caesar Salad
“The Mozzarella and Tomato Salad and the Caesar Salad are the lowest-sugar salads with 5 grams of sugar per salad. Most of the sugar in salads come from dressings and added ingredients, so be sure to look for simple ingredients when it comes to your salad. When in doubt, use your own dressing for no added sugar—my fave is olive oil, lemon, garlic and garlic infused balsamic vinegar,” explains Beckerman.
5. For optimal brain power: Super Green Salad Palette
“The Super Green Salad Palette is packed with foods that are fantastic brain health such as nuts and seeds, kale and of course, and avocado. A source of healthy unsaturated fat, avocados may support the brain by reducing blood pressure and help improve cognitive functioning,” says Beckerman.
6. Best for healthy fats: Kale and Edamame Salad
“While the Mozzarella and Tomato Salad contains the most total fat, it also contains 9 grams of saturated fat which is not considered a ‘healthy fat’ and can be not so great for those with high cholesterol. Due to the low saturated fat content (3 grams) and higher total fat content of 36 grams, the Kale and Edamame Salad has the most healthy fats thanks to the almonds, edamame, and eggs,” says Beckerman.
7. Richest in whole grains: Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Quinoa Salad
“The Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Quinoa Salad contains about 60 grams of carbs, but most of these come from the mighty whole grain, quinoa. Quinoa is naturally gluten free, high in fiber, protein, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin E. Talk about a chock full of nutrition packed into a salad,” Beckerman says.
Here’s how Beckerman shops at Trader Joe’s for just $30:
8. For heart health: Super Spinach Salad
“The Super Spinach Salad is a heart healthy salad with tons of beans, tomatoes, whole grains and, duh, spinach! These ingredients will help lower LDL cholesterol and provide essential nutrients for heart health such as potassium, vitamin C, folate and choline,” says Beckerman.
9. For an antioxidant boost: Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Quinoa Salad
“The Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Quinoa Salad contains squash, kale and tomatoes which are high in inflammation-fighting and heart-healthy antioxidants,” says the expert. “Squash is loaded with beta carotene which helps limit the production of negative free radicals lurking the body and keeps our health in pristine condition!”
10. Lunch fuel for fertility: Super Spinach Salad
“The Super Spinach Salad is ideal for fertility as it contains high-folate foods such as spinach, garbanzo beans, and edamame beans, all of which help with producing healthy eggs. Additionally, the beans and oil in the dressing can help regulate hormones, promote ovulation, and improve blood flow to the reproductive organs,” Beckerman explains.
11. Tops to eat if you’re pregnant: Mexicali Inspired Salad
“A calorie- and protein-dense salad, the Mexicali Inspired Salad contains extra calories needed for pregnancy and fetal growth. The grilled chicken, parmesan cheese, and asiago cheeses—two hard cheeses that are safe during pregnancy—are good sources of calcium and protein. These are generally needed in higher quantities during pregnancy,” explains the dietitian.
12. For optimal post-workout fuel: Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad
“The Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad is a great salad to consume after that intense workout due to the high amount of whole grains and protein,” explains Beckerman. “The complex carbohydrates from couscous and red quinoa, as well as the healthy protein from chicken will break down slowly and restore glycogen stores needed for muscle and energy recovery.”
13. At last, the best Trader Joe’s salad overall: Kale Edamame Salad
“The Kale Edamame Salad is the most balanced salad with high amounts of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of micronutrients. The protein is entirely plant-based, and the edamame and almonds provide a hearty amount of energy, unsaturated fats, and essential nutrients and amino acids for a satisfying and nutrient-packed meal.”
5 dietitian-approved tips for making Trader Joe’s salads healthier
Whatever Trader Joe’s salad is your go-to—and whether it’s on this list or not—there are so many ways you can tweak them to make them even more nutritious. Read on for Beckerman’s tips.
1. Take everything out of the container.
Before you dive fork first into your trusty Trader Joe’s salad, Beckerman advises taking everything out of the salad’s container and putting it into a bowl, which makes it easier to see everything and lets tightly-stuffed greens breathe and expand. “Sometimes, if you do the same monotonous fork to container, fork to mouth motion while eating, you can get lost in a state of repetitive motion,” Beckerman says. Losing the plastic packaging will make for a more enjoyable eating experience—plus, everything just tastes better out of a dedicated salad bowl, am I right?
2. Mix everything well.
Once your TJ salad is out of the container, ensure you mix everything thoroughly. “Oftentimes, we eat out of the container and eat all the yummy toppings first and can get bored or distracted before our fork even hits the lettuce greens at the bottle,” Beckerman says. “A major point of buying the salad is to get the fiber-filled greens. Mixing it all together ensures the toppings are evenly distributed in the bowl so you are getting all of the goodies in each and every bite.”
3. Expand the dressing.
It’s not a Trader Joe’s salad without the delicious dressing. If you’re a fan of the dressing packet the salad kit comes with, let yourself have it, Beckerman says. However, she adds that one packet is usually not enough to coat the entire salad. To remedy this, Beckerman suggests expanding the dressing by adding a few tablespoons of heart-healthy extra virgin oil and a sprinkle of flaxseeds to the dressing for an extra nutritional punch. “Because we don’t know what oil they use to make their balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar dressing, it helps to ensure we give our bodies a dose of anti-inflammatory extra virgin olive oil,” Beckerman says. Be sure to mix well so the flaxseeds coat the veggies in your bowl.
4. Add more greens.
To pack your Trader Joe’s salad with more nutrition and stretch your salad dollars further, consider piling on more greens to go with the salad kit, like baby kale or spinach. “Not only will it allow you to fill up on even more healthy greens, but it enhances the nutritional quality of the salad by adding more phytochemicals, fibers, and vitamins,” Beckerman says. Or, if you want to go all out (because why not?), “you can add another salad kit—like the Mediterranean style, broccoli, and kale slaw or veggie and greens kit—for some vitamin K, antioxidants and folic acid.”
5. Have fun with it.
And lastly, Beckerman says it’s perfectly fine to go for the “heavier” Trader Joe’s salads too—no food guilt needed (ever). “It is totally okay to choose a salad from Trader Joe’s that has all the cheese, meat, crunchies, or sweetened dried fruit,” Beckerman says. “It’s all relative and if it helps you to eat and enjoy your daily dose of greens, it’s certainly worth it.”
With that in mind, you can’t go wrong with a Trader Joe’s salad. No matter what salad kit you opt for, you’re in for a nourishing treat. Plus, with these RD-prescribed salad hacks, you can make any salad that catches your eye in the Trader Joe’s aisle healthier and more nutritious. Fair warning: after trying some of these salads, you may want to ditch those other gourmet, pricy salads for good. They’re *that* good.
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