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Top things Americans agree you gotta toss in to make the ‘ultimate salad’

A new study discovered that 48% believe there’s such a thing as the “ultimate salad” and what it should include.

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Cheerful women preparing salad together in the kitchen
(Photo by ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

Is iceberg lettuce set to dethrone kale in your next salad? A new survey suggests that may be the case.

A poll of 2,000 U.S. adults looked at the state of salad and revealed iceberg wins as the best salad base for 31% of Americans, while kale is the top choice for less than a quarter (23%).

The average American eats four salads every week, and 62% said the dish is part of their regular diet. While it’s a common meal, there are a lot of factors that go into creating the ideal salad.

Commissioned by Fresh Express and conducted by OnePoll, the study discovered that 48% believe there’s such a thing as the “ultimate salad” and what it should include.

According to respondents, the ultimate salad should be chopped (78%), tossed with dressing (60%), presented as a side dish (58%), and needs to be “loaded” with toppings (51%), such as fruit (57%) and roasted vegetables (52%).

Starting with the salad base: the ultimate salad should use iceberg lettuce (15%), spinach (14%) or romaine (13%) as the foundation.

Next, it needs to include a crunchy topping like croutons (36%), walnuts (33%) or almonds (33%), along with a savory topping like eggs (46%), seeds (45%) or cheddar cheese (45%).

Then, it needs fruit or veggie toppings like tomatoes (18%), cucumber (17%) or carrots (16%), and should be completed with the perfect dressing: balsamic vinaigrette (13%), blue cheese (12%) or ranch (11%).

The survey also found salad preferences vary by generation. Gen Z, for example, opts for fruit like blueberries (22%) and strawberries (22%) as their preferred topping, while croutons are number one amongst millennials (43%), Gen X (47%) and boomers (43%).

Additionally, Gen Z thinks salad should be a main dish (56%) while all other generations consider it a side.

Respondents said salads need to have an average of three toppings, with 69% stating no salad is complete without toppings. Likewise, 65% can’t have a salad without dressing included.

Most like to either mix dressing into their salads (35%) or drizzle dressing on top of their salad (34%). Only 14% keep their dressing separate from their salads, using it as a dip.

Meanwhile, the survey also uncovered the toppings that should never make an appearance on salads: seeds (32%), popcorn (29%), beans (28%) and rice (25%).

“People continue to eat at home more often but are feeling recipe fatigue. Salads are a great way to not only eat fresh, healthy, ingredients but also encourage variety in everyday meals,” said Fabian Pereira, vice president of marketing and innovation at Fresh Express. “The base, toppings and dressing combinations are endlessly customizable. For those that want to keep mealtimes simple, salad kits are a great way to get everything in one convenient package.”

The primary reasons people eat salads are to get all their veggie servings in one meal (27%), it’s a healthy option (24%) and convenient to make (15%).

Nearly a third (31%) said salads are the perfect lunchtime meal for them.

More than six in 10 (62%) said the toppings and greens they use depend on their nutritional value. Meanwhile, nearly as many (61%) said toppings and greens vary depending on the season.

Summer, according to 43%, is the best season to eat salads, while winter was found to be the worst (5%).

“It’s great to see so much creativity and variety in the salads people make at home,” said Robin Bell, marketing manager at Fresh Express. “The survey showed people think there is an 'ultimate salad,' but we think any salad that is nutritious, delicious and convenient and gets people excited to eat more vegetables is the ultimate!”


Salad base

  • Iceberg - 15%
  • Spinach/Baby spinach - 14%

Crunchy toppings

  • Croutons - 36%
  • Walnuts - 33%

Savory toppings

  • Egg - 46%
  • Seeds  - 45%

Fruit/veggie toppings

  • Tomatoes - 18%
  • Cucumber - 17%


  • Balsamic vinaigrette - 13%
  • Blue cheese - 12%

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