Weekday lunches have always been a challenge for me. I often lean on leftovers or attempt some meal prep over the weekend so that I can spend as little time as possible getting my mid-day meal together. Still, I frequently fall short and end up eating a few rice cakes slathered in peanut butter and some carrot sticks with one hand while typing with the other.
In the summer this issue is compounded since there’s no way I’m turning on my stove or oven just for a quick lunch. This is when I lean heavily on salad kits. You know, the pouches or already-washed lettuces, chopped veggies, toppings, and a weird little packet of dressing. They’re often lined up near the fresh produce, available in a variety of different flavors like Southwestern and Caesar.
My preferred bagged salads often come from Trader Joe’s, and the grocery chain switches out flavors fairly regularly. Here are some of my favorites:
- Southwestern Chopped
- Vegan Ranch Crunch
- A Za'atar Tango
- Peanut and Crispy Noodle
- Organic Mediterranean Style
- Lemony Arugula Basil (available seasonally)
Regardless of the grocery store or brand, Southwestern, chopped kale, Caesar, Mediterranean, and crispy Asian-style salads are dependably tasty across the board.
How to Upgrade a Bagged Salad
The key to turning a bagged salad from a sad lunch to a real meal is accessorizing. By adding just a couple of ingredients, you can majorly upgrade your lunch with very little effort. I keep toppings and mix-ins like these on hand, toss a couple into a bagged salad, and call it lunch:
- Cheese: Cheese makes everything better, and many salad kits don’t include it since it’s tricky to package. At most you’ll get some flakes of Parmesan. Try adding crumbled cotija or shredded pepper Jack to a Southwestern salad, feta cheese to a Mediterranean, or fresh goat cheese to a kale salad.
- Nuts: Every good salad needs crunch. While many kits include a few seeds and things, they tend to skimp on the crunchy stuff. Add toasted cashews or sesame seeds to an Asian-style salad or walnuts to a kale or ranch salad. Spiced and flavored nuts and seeds can be a fun addition and add a pop of flavor, too.
- Extra veggies: Salad kits don’t include veggies with a lot of moisture since they’ll spoil the whole bag. By simply adding a handful of cherry tomatoes or some slices of avocado, a bagged salad goes from blah to colorful and fresh.
- Fruit: Nothing brings a salad to life quite like fresh fruit. In the summer, sliced peaches add juicy sweetness to a kale salad. Apple and citrus are nice in Asian-style salads and chopped salads. Dried fruit like cranberries and cherries also add sweetness and a fun texture.
- Meat: If you’re a meat eater, top your salad of choice with sliced chicken, leftover salmon, or drained canned tuna fish. It’s a great way to use up excess and add a dose of protein to your lunch.
- Beans: Drained canned beans are another quick and inexpensive way to add protein to a salad kit. Chickpeas are especially good in Caesar, Mediterranean, and ranch salads; and black beans are delicious in Southwestern kits.
- Citrus: Regardless of the type of bagged salad, I almost always add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice. The citrus really brightens up the flavors of the dressing and highlights the fresh ingredients.
- Fresh Herbs: If you’ve got some extra herbs lying around, toss them in a salad to make it taste gourmet. Basil is great in an Italian-leaning, and parsley is good in just about anything. Add cilantro to a Southwestern salad, and toss chopped chives or dill into a Caesar or chopped salad.