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Even purchased for pennies with a coupon, I felt cheated!  In the time it took to open up all the packages, I could nearly whip together a home made version!

I decided to try one of these Hidden Valley Salad Kits a few weeks ago; they were on sale with a coupon, so why not? I bought the spinach package, normally $2.35, and used a coupon. It was a pretty large “kit” so I thought perhaps it might even be a frugal way to work more nuts, some oatmeal, and sunflower seeds into my salad with a minimal effort.

The kit includes:

  • Cranberry Almond Clusters – I’m trying to work more almonds into my diet.
  • Sunflower Seeds – I really like them with spinach.
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette – One of my favorites.

How could they go wrong?

Hidden Valley Salad Kit & Contents

Hidden Valley Salad Kit & Contents

Well, I opened it, and saw what was inside – that’s how they went wrong. I was actually angry that I’d spent my money on this…I felt duped and when I feel duped, being all about personal responsibility, I felt stupid. I don’t like feeling stupid, I just want to eat a salad. That’s all. Just a salad. I shouldn’t have any feeling but anticipation.

Grant you, Hidden Valley made NO health claims on their packaging – but as a consumer, I saw what was in the package and had an assumption in my head. I wasn’t expecting a miniscule package of sunflower seeds, nor was I really expecting a super sweet rice cereal granola with the teensiest bit of almonds and what looked like what amounted to maybe five shredded cranberry pieces.  Remember, that’s a tablespoon of sunflower seeds for four people.  It really does look pretty good in this photo, but keep in mind the very small amounts for the price, listed below!

4 tablespoons dressing, 1/3 cup cereal and less than a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, all for $2.39

4 tablespoons dressing, 1/3 cup cereal and less than a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, all for $2.39

The sunflower seeds weighed 3/8 of an ounce, a little bit less than a tablespoon. The cranberry almond clusters were actually cereal, and weighed 1.25 ounces, measuring 1/3 cup. The vinaigrette weighed 2.45 ounces, measuring about 1/4 cup.

I took apart the cranberry almond nut clusters (see, I really was angry – and on a mission!) to see what they looked like: 1/8 teaspoon of nuts – do you see them between the cranberry bits and the sunflower seeds? Less than a teaspoon of tiny, dried up cranberry, slightly more than a teaspoon of oatmeal, to the left of the cranberry, and the rest looked and tasted like rice krispies – everything was covered with a sticky sweet corn syrup.

Dissected Almond Nut Clusters

Dissected Almond Nut Clusters

Here’s a close up of the Almonds, which the package said may not even be almonds, but peanuts and other nuts. I’m pretty sure the nut piece on the top of the spoon and the other piece to its left are peanuts.

Nuts in the Kit

Nuts in the Kit

I could, perhaps, forgive all of it the taste was fantastic. It fell so short of what tasted like something that should be a part of a salad or even what tasted like “real” food that I literally didn’t finish my salad, thereby wasting more money. I thought perhaps my son would eat his salad: that all this extra sweetness and crunch would help him be more excited about fresh spinach. Nope, one bite, and one bite only, and he was done. Usually he’ll get through a small bowl of spinach salad with only a minimum urging.

I checked was the Nutrition Fact area. Serving size 31 grams, servings 4. That checked out roughly with my home measurement. The amount calories in 1/4 of the kit is 130, which really surprises me. I thought given the sugar content alone in the dressing and clusters, it would be higher. It’s 10g fat, 1.5 saturated, 9g carb, 1g protein and the fat percentage is 69 percent (not given on the package.) Good thing it’s small amounts. There is also hydrogenated soybean oil, meaning there is trans fat in this product, but it’s under 1/2 gram per serving.

Additional ingredients include: Xantham Gum, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, propylene glycol alginate, sulfites, calcium disodium edta, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, bht.

So many, many additives! I had to take a look to see what they all were. Several are considered safe, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest had a bit to say about some of them – here’s my summaries: Sodium Benzoate may cause hives and asthma in certain people, sulfites destroy vitamin B1 and may cause severe reactions and even death to sensitive individuals. Edta is used to trap the trace amounts of metal that come off rollers and blenders, which could cause rancidity in foods; it’s considered safe. BHT is to be avoided whenever possible, residues build up in human fat and there are many substitutes available. In additions, High fructose corn syrup is often under question, but the CSPI considers it no more harmful than sugar. Partially hydrogenated oil IS trans-fat.

Well, after tonight, I think I’ll be staying away from this Hidden Valley product.  I’ll go to Frugal Valley, and make my own dressing, The Most Amazing Balsamic Vinaigrette.  I’ll even throw a few dried cranberries from Frugal Bog and some slivered or chopped almonds from Frugal Forest into the salad for a lot less, and I won’t have to think about what they’re doing to my health.

Here’s what I threw together from my pantry and freezer: An ounce of nuts, an ounce of cranberries, an ounce of sunflower seeds, a few home-made croutons made from leftover bread for additional crunch in the salad and a cup of balsamic vinaigrette. Cost: $1.00 or so.

Bonus:  Leftover dressing for later…if your life is hectic, by all means, chop your almonds, mix with your ingredients in a Ziploc and bag enough for more salads later. (I’d put the croutons in a snack bag and then put all ingredients into a regular Ziploc.)  Oh, yeah, and put the dressing in the fridge in a jar – no nasty preservatives in this!

My Favorite Croutons?  Oh, yeah….what can I say?  Home Made Croutons.

Home-Made Croutons

If you’re interested on buying other salad ingredients at great prices, check out Saving on Basic Ingredients, Fruits and Vegetables.

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