The Trader Joe’s prepared foods section has been a popular source of quick and easy lunches and snacks for many TJ’s shoppers over the years. From salads and sandwiches to wraps, dips, and more, Trader Joe’s offers dozens upon dozens of tasty premade meals ready to eat with zero prep.
Among these is Trader Joe’s popular Southwest Salad, available for $3.49. Each container weighs 9 ounces and should be consumed within one week of purchasing, or before it’s best by date (whichever comes first). This salad is considered a single-serving meal.
Trader Joe’s also sells a Southwestern Chopped Salad Kit, which is a mix of many of the same ingredients featured in the premade salad, with some key differences. For example, the salad kit comes with an avocado dressing, while the premade salad features a chipotle ranch dressing. The kit also serves more people.
Further down, we’ll go over the differences in ingredients and nutrition between the two salads.
Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad (premade)
Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad is a single-serving meal on the go, containing lettuce, corn, black beans, cabbage, peppers, red onion, cotija cheese, and chipotle ranch dressing.
It’s highly perishable and should always be stored in the fridge before eating. Each salad comes with a “best-by” date based on when it was made. If your salad smells off, do not eat it.
Ingredients & Nutrition
The full ingredients label for this Southwest Salad lists the following–romaine lettuce, cut sweet corn (contains sugar and salt), black beans (contains onions, salt, lemon, and chile peppers), green bell peppers, red bell peppers, cotija cheese (contains cultured milk, sea salt, and enzymes), red onions, green cabbage, and red cabbage.
The dressing contains water, low fat yogurt, apple cider vinegar, canola oil, natural flavors, cornstarch, sugar, salt, spices, distilled vinegar, soy protein isolate, xanthan gum, lemon juice concentrate, and garlic powder.
Due to the inclusion of cheese and yogurt, this salad is not vegan, although it is completely vegetarian. It is also gluten free.
Each container of TJ’s Southwest Salad contains 200 calories from 9 grams of fat, 10 mg of cholesterol, 560 mg of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of protein. You’ll also be getting 40% of your daily value of both Vitamins A and C, as well as 10% of your DV of calcium and 8% of your DV of iron.
Overall, this salad is fairly healthy, despite being quite high in sodium. It should also be noted that 200 calories is only about half of the recommended caloric intake for a single meal, so you might not feel all that full if you don’t combine this salad with something else.
Trader Joe’s Southwestern Chopped Salad (salad mix kit)
Located near the grab-and-go items, Trader Joe’s also sells a wide range of salad kits, which come in plastic bags and can serve up to four people.
One of the more popular salad kits at TJ’s is Southwestern Chopped Salad. What’s great about this salad is that it’s the same price as the premade version ($3.49), but it contains almost 50% more food per container.
Ingredients & Nutrition
Each bag of Southwestern Chopped Salad contains green cabbage, romaine lettuce, carrots, cotija cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, microbial enzyme, organic potato starch), radish, dry roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), green onion, tortilla strips (stone ground yellow corn, stone ground blue corn, sunflower oil, sea salt, water, lime), and cilantro.
The accompanying avocado dressing is made with soybean oil, water, avocado, white wine vinegar, poblano chiles, cane sugar, distilled vinegar, salt, cilantro, cornstarch, cumin, dried onion, xanthan gum, dried garlic, acacia gum, dried chipotle peppers, and red pepper.
Each serving (about one cup or a quarter of the bag) contains 160 calories from 12 grams of fat, 5 mg of cholesterol, 220 mg of sodium, 8 grams of carbs, 5 grams of protein, and 3 grams of sugar. You’ll also be getting small amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium.
If you’re trying to decide which is healthier–the premade salad or the kit–it’s pretty clear once you look at the nutrition labels. The premade salad is higher in calories, cholesterol, carbs, sodium, and sugar. That said, it’s also higher in protein and vitamin content and lower in fat.
Overall, the Southwestern Chopped Salad kit wins out as the healthier option due to its significantly lower sugar, sodium, and cholesterol content.
Southwest Salad Dressing Recipes
One of the most popular aspects of these Southwest Salads is their delicious salad dressings.
They’re so popular in fact that many TJ’s fans have tried to recreate them at home using DIY recipes.
Here’s a vegan version of the Southwest Salad dressing from VeganMichele.com. The recipe replaces yogurt with cashew cream and swaps out a few of the other ingredients for healthier and more flavorful alternatives, like maple syrup and cumin.
And from TheCollegeHousewife.com, here’s another recipe inspired by the Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad, including a dressing made with chipotle peppers, honey, and olive oil.
Finally, here’s a from-scratch recipe similar to Trader Joe’s Southwestern Chopped Salad, featuring a creamy dressing made from avocado, yogurt, and spices. Check it out on PinchOfYum.com.
Overall, the Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad and Southwestern Chopped Salad are thought of as tasty, easy, and affordable meal options.
But shoppers also have a few critiques…
One commenter noted that the salad kit doesn’t last very long after purchasing, which is a big downside:
Some other reviewers noted that while this salad claims to contain a generous portion of cheese (cotija is listed just four ingredients down on the label), there actually isn’t nearly enough cheese for it to be satisfying:
Nevertheless, many happy customers still weighed in with their approval…
More positive feedback…
And even more: