I was in for a pleasant surprise recently, when I put four ready-made chicken salads to the taste test.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Greggs, but the opinions below are my own and unbiased.
Normally I plan to eat a home-made lunch, but you know what happens to the best laid plans… Maybe you have forgotten to stock up at the supermarket, run out of time in the morning, or even driven off to work and left your lunch in the fridge (not looking at anyone…!). When that happens, it’s time to head to the shops for a ready-made lunch like a salad. But are all chicken salads equal? Greggs asked me to put their salads to the taste test, comparing them to three of their high-street rivals. Now, I’m very partial to a Greggs tuna crunch baguette but I have to confess that I didn’t even know that they did a range of salads. It turns out that they have a range of four salads on offer, so I picked the Chargrill Chicken Salad to compare against salads from Marks & Spencer, Boots and Starbucks. I’m going to be marking each salad out of 5 on Taste, Appearance, Freshness, Nutrition and Value.
Greggs Chargrilled Chicken Salad – £3.00 299gCalories: 200kcals Carbohydrate: 15g Protein: 17g
This is a very simple salad, and at first glance I wasn’t expecting too much from it to be honest. It contains chargrilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peppers, coleslaw and a honey mustard dressing. A knife and fork were supplied with the salad. I was really surprised when I took the lid off, because I could immediately smell how fresh the salad was. Greggs don’t put a use-by date on the box because the salads are freshly made in-store each day, which I think is pretty fab!
All of the vegetables were really fresh and crunchy, the chicken and the coleslaw was yummy. I sometimes find that eating coleslaw leaves an unpleasant oily film on my lips but this didn’t. The dressing was tasty, I would have liked it to be a bit tangier but that’s a personal preference. It certainly went well with the rest of the salad though.
Nutritionally, I was very happy with this salad. I would have preferred a little more chicken to up the protein, but with just 200kcals and 15g of carbs, this is a salad that I’d happily eat at lunchtime. This salad was delicious, and made me want to try the other salads in the range. The only major downside was that there is no nutritional information on the box. It’s supplied in a separate booklet, which I only just spotted as I was leaving the shop.
Marks & Spencer Sweet Chilli Chicken Noodle Salad – £3.80 295gCalories: 342kcals Carbohydrate: 47g Protein: 25g
M&S is one of the places that I’ve always headed to for a ready-made lunch, and so I was really looking forward to this salad. The salad includes a bed of noodles, plenty of vegetables and chicken, with a sweet chilli dressing. There was no fork supplied with this salad, and I wasn’t offered one at the till – I guess I was supposed to pick one up somewhere?
Oh, this salad was a disappointment! As soon as I lifted the film lid, I was hit by an odd smell. It didn’t smell off, just a little bit stale. The chicken wasn’t as flavoursome as the Gregg’s salad, and while the dressing tasted pleasant on its own, it really overpowered the rest of the flavours in the salad. The shredded carrot was quite dry but on the plus side there were plenty of fresh tasty greens.
Nutritionally, I was a bit shocked by the level of carbs in this salad. All those noodles really rack up the carbs! The calories and protein content were OK, but I wouldn’t choose this salad again. If you’re looking to carb load, this is definitely one for you!
Boots Moroccan Style Chicken Couscous Salad – £3.00 230gCalories: 209kcals Carbohydrate: 21g Protein: 18g
Boots is my other stand-by lunch destination, and this was probably the salad I would ordinarily have picked up. It includes spiced chicken, couscous, chickpeas and a moroccan style dressing. A fork was supplied in the box. This one was as yummy as I had hoped. There was a reasonable amount of chicken, and the cos lettuce was fresh and crunchy. Some of the leaves were a little on the large side…
The morrocan style dressing was really flavoursome, I loved the spiciness of it. The salad also include pomegranate seeds, which is always something that I absolutely love. Nutritionally, I thought this was pretty good. The carb level was a little higher than I would have chosen, but the protein content is boosted by the chick peas. I’d probably be happy to eat this for lunch if I’d been to the gym in the morning.
Starbucks Rainbow Salad – £4.85 303gCalories: 370kcals Carbohydrate: 49.5g Protein: 22.2g
I finished off my week of salads with this from Starbucks, and this was the one I was most looking forward to trying. It looked really impressive in the packaging, and at £4.85 was more than 50% more expensive than the Greggs salad. It had to be good, right?
The salad includes shredded chicken on a bed of edamame beans, carrot, spinach. There is also a black and white rice salad, and spinach, red chard and rocket leaves. The dressing is sweet chilli and soy. There wasn’t a fork included in the box, but I was offered one at the till. They didn’t have any bags though, so I had to put the salad in my handbag, which isn’t ideal!
When I opened the box, the salad looked pretty good although I noticed that the chicken looked watery. When I tasted it, my suspicions were confirmed – it was tasteless, watery and had a horrible ‘pappy’ texture. Feeling disappointed, I tasted the rice salad. This looked pretty good, but was pretty tasteless as well and the white rice was undercooked which meant that the salad had a horrible, crunchy, stick-in-your-teeth texture. OK, maybe the dressing will improve things… Nope, the dressing was horribly oily and actually managed to make things worse. The only things that actually tasted good in the whole box were the salad leaves!
£4.85 feels like an awful lot to pay for this salad. This is a huge salad, with a really high level of carbohydrates. Nutritionally, it would be far too much for me to eat at lunchtime. Which is a good thing, because I’d rather go without lunch than eat this salad again!
The Verdict: The clear winner in this taste test is the Greggs Chargrilled Chicken Salad. I was really surprised by the freshness and quality of the Greggs salad. With a little extra protein, that would be a pretty much perfect lunch for me. The Boots salad was also a very tasty option, but lost out slightly in the freshness and value categories. I would probably not choose the Marks and Spencer salad as it was just too carb-heavy for my taste, and didn’t feel like good value for money. The Starbucks salad was a huge disappointment!