Grape Salad with Cream Cheese-Vanilla Dressing

~ Grape Salad with Cream Cheese Dressing is a must-have classic at summer picnics, and at many families’ holiday buffets, too. Our updated version features a lighter, healthier vanilla-cream cheese dressing (yay – no guilt here)! But it’s still every bit as refreshingly sweet and delicious!

This Recipe Is:     Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegetarian    Gluten Free  

overhead photo of about half the serving bowl, sitting on a wooden cutting board with a few extra grapes and pecan pieces scattered around

You know how, every time you go to a potluck or family reunion, there’s always that one dish that’s the absolute best thing there? You kind of wish you hadn’t taken so much of everything else (curse you, baked beans!) … because all you really want to do is eat more of THE.ONE?

And, oh no! What if it’s gone before you make it back through the line for seconds thirds?!? *EGADS*

You wonder if anyone will notice if you pull a chair right up to the buffet table and scoop straight from the bowl. (Errrrr … wait … maybe that’s just me?)

Well, anyway, that’s how my Grape Salad recipe was born.

At a huge potluck party a couple summers ago, the buffet tables were practically groaning with piles of lovingly prepared food. But hands-down, the Grape Salad was THE.ONE. I knew I needed to find a way to have it in my life. Like all the time, happily ever after. 

closeup photo of one little bowlful of Grape Salad, on a metal serving tray with a spoon slipped into the salad to begin eating

I have no idea who brought it to the party that day, but whoever you are, somewhere out there – thank you for inspiring me to create my own version of that amazing salad! 

  • It’s so completely refreshing, with perfectly juicy, sweet grapes.
  • The luxurious vanilla-cream cheese dressing is just rich enough to make it decadent, without bogging it down. So irresistible, especially with the caramel-y background notes from a little brown sugar.
  • And the pecans are a perfect bit of crunch. 

It’s quick and simple but so, so good. 

And honestly, I think my version is even better than most of the ones you might’ve come across through the years!

How This Grape Salad with Cream Cheese Dressing is Even Better Than the “Classics”

Grape Salad recipes are old-fashioned classics. Lots of families consider them to be absolutely essential must-haves at every summer party, and even at Thanksgiving dinner.

large serving bowl filled with Grape Salad on a wooden board with a big serving spoon dipping in

But, even a classic can sometimes use a little updating. After I fell in love with THE.ONE, I knew I’d have to do some tweaking if I wanted to concoct a version I could actually feel good about eating all the time.

Why? Well, sadly …

  Lots of “classic” Grape Salad recipes use full-fat cream cheese and full-fat sour cream to get that perfect balance of sweet and tangy flavors in the cream cheese dressing. Full-fat dairy products aren’t considered quite the nutritional evils they used to be a few years ago, but they definitely do carry a lot of additional calories along with the extra fat.

  And, many typical recipes rely on ingredients like Cool Whip, marshmallow creme, and dry pudding mixes. One look at the ingredient list on a Cool Whip container, and it’s pretty hard to want to feed that stuff to your kids. Or yourself. Or anyone you like even a tiny bit, actually.

  Some traditional Grape Salad recipes also add loads of sugar. One recipe I googled used an entire cup of sugar, and another called for 1 1/2 cups! Plus, I’ve seen some that add sweetness and crunch with things like toffee bits or Heath bars. At that point, we’re heading out of salad territory, and into dessert land! 

I knew I could do better! (And, spoiler alert … I did!!! 😉 )

closeup of about half the large serving bowl of salad, so you can really see the textures of the salad with the cream cheese dressing and pecans

A couple of little tricks I used:

Trick #1 – Greek Yogurt

When I started testing out my new Grape Salad recipe ideas, I knew I could probably use our popular Sugared-Vanilla Yogurt Fruit Dip as a starting point (like I did with our autumn-y Hearty Fruit and Nut Salad).

That simple dip is super-easy to make and always really popular! And, I’ve used the dip, absolutely straight-up, as a dressing for other fruit salads in the past, too. Works like a charm.  

But what’s extra-awesome about that dip is that it features Greek yogurt, instead of things like Cool Whip and pudding.

Nonfat Greek yogurt is actually a healthier swap in many of our recipes because it slashes fat and calories while pumping up the protein. Still, it’s sweet and creamy enough to easily replace a lot of things with “questionable” ingredient lists (yes … I’m looking at you again, Cool Whip).

bowl of dressing ingredients being combined with a wire whisk

But for my Grape Salad recipe, the dressing needed a little something more. Cream cheese was the answer!

Trick #2 – Neufchâtel Cream Cheese (aka Reduced-Fat Cream Cheese)

Lower-fat Neufchâtel cheese (marketed in America as reduced-fat cream cheese) tastes so much like full-fat cream cheese that nobody will ever, ever notice the difference. I totally pink swear.

My version of Grape Salad Cream Cheese Dressing has got just enough cream cheese to make you wonder “mmmmmm … what is that special something goin’ on here?” but not so much that you feel like you’re eating a mile-high slice of New York Cheesecake (not that a mile-high slice of cheesecake wouldn’t be great, but, you know, we’re trying to make a Grape Salad here).

Through all of my different test batches and side-by-side taste tests, my family tried various amounts of cream cheese in the dressing, and this formulation was a clear favorite!

large serving bowl with red grapes to the left, green grapes to the right, and pecans down the middle - with cream cheese dressing being poured on top

With this lighter, healthier Grape Salad dressing, I don’t feel like I’m skimping one bit, though.

Trust me – you won’t eat this and think “oh, how healthy.” Nope!

You’ll just think, “OMG, get in my belly!” (But yay, you … you also won’t feel guilty snagging seconds thirds.) 

I’ve got a few tips for you that I’ve learned through all the times I’ve made this … and then you’ll be on your way …

Ingredient and Prep Tips

  Whole Grapes … or Halved?

Many other grape salad recipes I’ve seen leave the grapes whole.

ingredients for the salad - a bunch of red grapes in the foreground with a bowl of pecan halves and a bunch of green grapes behind

That’s definitely an option, but I like the way that cutting them in half allows the juice from the grapes to mix and mingle a little with the dressing. Yum!

Plus, I just think it’s a lot easier to eat, especially for kiddos, or if the grapes are large. 

√  But, Halved How Exactly??

Ok, I know this is getting pretty nit-picky on ya, but I really prefer cutting the grapes in half horizontally, instead of longways (vertically).

red grapes on cutting board, showing how to cut them in half horizontally instead of vertically

You do you here – whatever you prefer. But, to me, cutting them horizontally is somehow much more pleasing.

√  Use the Very Best Grapes You Can Find

Grapes are (obviously) a really important component in this recipe. So, terrific grapes will (again … obviously) give you a better final dish. This is the exact same advice I gave you for choosing grapes for my ultra-refreshing Grape Popsicles. In such simple recipes, good grapes make a difference.

Mushy, sour grapes that have passed their prime will only lead to disappointment. Even the amazing dressing can’t salvage a terrible batch of grapes!

  Red or Green or Both?

I definitely prefer to use both red and green grapes, because the combination is much more flavorful than using only one type. But you can use more or less of either, depending on your preference, and on which grapes look best at the grocery store.

√  Including the Pecans

If nut allergies are a concern, you can certainly leave the pecans out. But, in that case, I’d still recommend setting a bowl of the pecans to the side, so people who don’t have allergies can add them.

chopped pecans scattered on a cutting board with my Grandmother's antique nut chopper laying alongside

That crunch and little hint of nutty flavor makes a great salad even better!

√  Adjusting the Yield

The recipe, as written, makes a medium-sized batch that’s nice for my family of four, with leftovers to last a couple days.

If you’re making this for a crowd, or taking it to a really large potluck, it’s easy to double the recipe (or triple it … or whatever …). Handy tip for those epic, multi-generational family reunions, or if you love making Grape Salad for Thanksgiving.

Can You Make This Grape Salad Ahead?

You sure can!

For one thing, you can make the dressing a day or two before assembling the salad.

And, once the salad is finished, it refrigerates well for 3-5 days.

A note about the pecans, though: The pecans do change the flavor of the salad a little as it sits. It’s not bad at all – it’s just different. The flavor gets more … ummmm … pecan-y.

Surprisingly, the nuts still stay relatively crunchy, though, even added a couple days ahead.

Totally up to you, but you can add the pecans to the grape mixture just before serving, if you’d rather.

THE.ONE. (My Favorite … and Now Yours, Too!)

Even if you think you know Grape Salads … definitely give this refreshingly lighter version a try!

I bet you’ll enjoy it just as much as other versions you’ve had, and you’ll feel a whole heck of a lot less guilty sharing it with loved ones at the next potluck (and elbowing your way to seconds thirds).

individual bowl of Grape Salad on metal serving tray with spoons and other bowls nearby, ready to be served

But be ready. (Maybe plan to skip the baked beans right from the start, before you even hit the buffet table.) Because, you know … you’ve gotta leave plenty of room for THE.ONE. 🙂

One small serving bowl of grape salad, on a serving tray with spoons and other small bowls in the background

Grape Salad with Cream Cheese-Vanilla Dressing

Yield: 6 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This addictive Grape Salad with Cream Cheese Dressing is deliciously lighter and so refreshing. It's an updated spin on a classic recipe that's an absolute must-have at both summer picnics and also Thanksgiving dinner!

  Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegetarian    Gluten Free  

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups green seedless grapes (about 1 pound) that have been sliced in half horizontally
  • 2 1/2 cups red seedless grapes (about 1 pound) that have been sliced in half horizontally
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans (plus a few extra to sprinkle on top, if desired)
  • 3/4 cup nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel cheese), softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/16 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Place grapes and pecan pieces in a large bowl.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk yogurt, sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt until smooth.
  3. Pour dressing over grapes and nuts and stir until the dressing is evenly distributed.
  4. Top with a few extra nuts for garnish, if desired. Serve immediately (or refrigerate up to 3-5 days – see note about making ahead).

Notes

Make-ahead tips: This salad refrigerates well for 3-5 days. Stir before serving to redistribute the dressing evenly (it may thin slightly during refrigeration). Also, note that, although the pecans stay relatively crunchy during refrigeration, the salad does take on a more notable pecan flavor after sitting for a day or two. So, you can choose to stir the pecans in (and optionally sprinkle some on top) just prior to serving, if you prefer.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 servings Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 127Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 26mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 16gProtein: 3g

Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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25 thoughts on “Grape Salad with Cream Cheese-Vanilla Dressing”

    • I’m so thrilled you loved it! And I agree – although this recipe is always called Grape SALAD (and although my version is much healthier than all those variations that have dessert ingredients like Cool Whip), it really would be lovely served as a dessert, too. Especially on a hot summer evening! It’s cool and refreshing, light but sweet. Great idea to have it do double-duty – thanks for sharing that suggestion! ~Shelley

      Reply
  1. Yum, this looks delicious! I can’t believe I have never made a grape salad before! I will need to pick up a few ingredients for it tomorrow and am going to try it out.

    Reply
    • It’s definitely one of those recipes that, after you make it, you think, “Oh my goodness, how have I gotten this far in life without making THIS!?!?” At least, that’s definitely how it went for me! I hope you’ll love it just as much as I do, Sam! So nice to hear from you! 🙂 ~Shelley

      Reply
    • Oh, I’m so excited for you to give this a shot. I definitely think you’ll be hooked! Here in America, it’s an ideal picnic food for hot summer days because it’s so refreshing. I’ve learned that Grape Salads are very traditional in some families for potlucks and family get-togethers (it hadn’t been traditional in mine … until now LOL!). But, apparently, it’s also common here in the States to have Grape Salad for Thanksgiving, which surprised me! Honestly, though, I’d be happy to eat it ANY time of year! I hope you’ll have a minute to pop back and tell me what you think! ~Shelley

      Reply
  2. Oh my word I haven’t had this dish since I was little and we’d have our huge neighborhood picnics. Mom always made hers with the full fat stuff and also put mandarin oranges in but I’m LOVING the healthier spin you put on it! Definitely can’t wait to try this!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Lori! I hadn’t realized what a vintage throwback recipe this was until I’d gotten the recipe all tested and finalized and starting writing about it … and then a little research led me to realize that Grape Salad is actually VERY vintage. I guess my immediate family somehow missed out on the trend waaaaaay back when, as we never seemed to have it when I was growing up … but we sure are all in now! We adore this version so much, and I’m really eager to hear what you think, compared to your childhood memories! Great to hear from you, Lori – have a lovely week! ~Shelley

      Reply
    • Haha – you and me both, Maggie! 😉 Actually, you got me thinking … I have everything I need in the fridge to make this for dinner tonight! I’m was already planning to make our beloved Caprese Grilled Fish and probably some Blistered Green Beans. And gosh – this Grape Salad would be wonderful along with all of that! Thanks for the nudge – I can’t wait to have this tonight! If only I could send you some LOL! ~Shelley

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Published on
Updated on August 1, 2021
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