It began, as most things do when I'm shopping, with a deal: Simply Fresh Salads were two for $10 at Publix last week. I bought two, tried one the next day, and realized I had found my new grocery store salad. If you're pressed for time but don't want to spend upwards of $8 on a healthy lunch at a restaurant, this kind of prepared salad fits the bill.
Simply Fresh Salads come in appealing packaging, with brightly colored labels wrapped around plastic bowls. (According to that packaging, the bowls are "made from two recycled water bottles.") Wisely included in each container is a plastic fork, helpful when eating on the go.
I bought the Crunchy Thai Style Salad With Chicken and the Gourmet Caprese Salad With Fresh Mozzarella. The Thai variety was a clear favorite, and felt worth the $5 price tag. Both labels indicated the salads were "loaded with toppings," but this was more true of the Thai salad than the Caprese, which came merely with baby spring mix, fresh mozzarella pearls (which were indeed fresh-tasting; no grated cheese here) and grape tomatoes.
The Thai salad has a green and purple cabbage base and comes with chicken, edamame, carrots, roasted peanuts, crispy won tons and a spicy peanut dressing. According to the package, the chicken is raised without antibiotics, a designation that drew me in. I was then impressed by the flavor of the chicken, which had less of a fake, processed texture and taste than other meats typically found in this sort of prepared food presentation.
Overall, this is a very satisfying salad, with enough oomph to keep you full for a while and a good balance of nutrition and tasty bits. (The whole salad was 340 calories, while the Caprese was 280.) Next time I went to the store, I saw even more varieties — like the Santa Fe Chicken Salad — and plan to try them all.
Michelle Stark, Times food editor