Salad Mix: Buy It vs. Make It
This is going to sound odd, coming from an organic produce connoisseur, but … I have always hated salad. Like, hate-hate it: I consider it a waste of chewing, an activity that could be put to much better use.
When someone lists salad as a favorite food, I immediately assume they’re lying. I used to get the salad special for lunch at Pick-a-Bagel near my old office, where you would start with a bowl of lettuce and add whatever you wanted for a couple bucks. My usual add-ons included pasta, chickpeas, eggs, corn, chicken chunks, raisins, blue cheese and enough croutons to render it a sandwich, plus enough dressing to render it soup. That, in my opinion, was a salad. Potato salad was also a salad, if it had pickles in it. (You know. Greens.)
My definition of salad has relaxed a bit since moving away from Pick-a-Bagel. My husband is one of those “I-love-salad” fibbers, and I’ve begun to see the appeal, sort of. Weirdly, the kids will walk around with a leaf of romaine each, nibbling on it like little Beatrix Potter characters.
So okay, there’s salad in the house. (Lest you think I’m some kind of food heathen whose only exposure to green food is via pistachio ice cream, I do love kale, spinach and escarole — I just like it in stuff, not raw in a bowl.)
But how best to get it on the table? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m busy and have limited fridge space. Sometimes, packaged salads are a busy mom’s best friend. But lately, I’ve begun to suspect this best friend is really a frenemy: too much cost and not enough love. Let’s take a look.
A little effort goes a long way here. According to Consumer Reports, you can extend the shelf life of your greens significantly by storing them in the fridge in your salad spinner (I don’t have one! And where would I put that?!) or … in loosely tied plastic bags lined with paper towels (Oh! That I’ve got). So you buy two kinds of lettuce plus, I don’t know, some green pepper and a cucumber, then you spend ten minutes or less washing and shredding and storing, and you’re set for the week.
My local Safeway has a really terrific 1-pound tub of organic spring mix for 35 cents an ounce. The five-ounce tubs bump the price up to 88 cents an ounce. The Fresh Express pre-packaged salads, including a Caesar salad option and an Italian mix, come in at about 40–45 cents an ounce. The cheapest option consists mostly of shredded iceberg lettuce, which is 27 cents an ounce.
Now let’s wander over to the fresh lettuces. Romaine is about $2.19 a pound, or 13 cents an ounce. Green-leaf and red-leaf lettuces are even less, $1.99 a pound or 12 cents an ounce. Let us not speak of endive, escarole, or radiccio, at $5 a pound. Oddly, the organic options at my local cooperative are similarly priced or even cheaper ($1.79 a pound for the green-leaf and red-leaf lettuce). That may be because they’re in season.
So. Even in the huge tub, the ripped-up, pre-washed stuff is a lot more expensive. And having several days’ worth of salad burritoed in Bounty will probably shame you into actually eating it.
To me, the stuff that comes in plastic containers has started tasting like, well, plastic, while the farm-fresh stuff actually has its own sweetly spiced flavor that actually … is … tasty.
Believe you me, I’m as surprised as you are.
Stop buying bags of lettuce. It’s counter-intuitive, like buying balls filled with boxes or tofu packed in meat. I know this stinks, but you can handle the truth. Plus, you’ll be able to shop for the most in-season stuff and personalize your salads. Maybe you’ll end up even enjoying them. (If you put enough pasta in them, anyway.)
What’s the verdict? Check out all our Buy It vs. Make It comparisons!