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Jello Salad – A Beautiful Mess

When I think of Jello salad, this is the recipe that comes to mind. This Jello salad is something my late great-aunt Ina used to make for big family dinners.

To me, this feels like the quintessential Thanksgiving (or Christmas) side dish, as it just feels very retro and Midwest to me. And speaking of retro by still-delicious side dishes, have you made my Ambrosia Salad yet?

There are many variations of Jello salad, so here is what you can expect from this recipe. This is a dessert OR sweet side dish in three layers: pretzel crust, cream cheese center, and a strawberry-cranberry Jello top.

I like to add a sugared cranberries garnish along the edge just for a festive look, but it’s not necessary.

As I mentioned, this is my great-aunt Ina’s recipe. I had to get it from my grandmother who delivered it to me as a handwritten photocopy, which I loved. I pretty much stick to her Jello salad recipe with one major variation which I’ll share below.

Jello Salad Ingredients:

How to Make Jello Salad:

This is a layered dessert that requires some setting time. So, it’s best to make this the day before you plan to serve it. Personally, I love a make ahead recipe, especially when I’m prepping for a big meal.

Layer 1 = Crushed pretzels and melted butter that get baked into a crust.

Layer 2 = Softened cream cheese, Cool Whip, and sugar get blended together and then layered over the cooled crust.

Layer 3 = Strawberry Jello mix made with cranberry juice and frozen strawberries are added to the top layer. Then, allow the dessert to fully set (covered in the refrigerator) before serving.

Tips for Making Jello Salad:

  • For the strawberry Jello, I follow the directions on the box, substituting the cold water for cold cranberry juice instead. This adds more flavor and a tartness to this sweet side dish.
  • I like to pulse the frozen strawberries in a food processor a couple times before adding to the Jello mix. My aim is not to completely puree them, but leave some variance in texture, as you can see in the photos here.
  • This recipe is best made in a 9×13 pan. However, as you can see, I made it in a slightly smaller dish as pictured here. This is totally fine—it just means your layers will be a little thicker and it may take a little longer for the Jello to fully set.

Serving Suggestions

Is Jello salad a side dish or dessert? Honestly, I’ve had it served both ways before, so it’s entirely up to you. Here are some other holiday desserts you might like:


How long does Jello salad last in the refrigerator?

This Jello salad recipe will last at least 3-5 days in the refrigerator. After around 5 days, the Jello layer will begin to run into the cream cheese layer, making it pink, and the crust will be become soggy.

Can I make Jello salad ahead?

Yes. In fact it’s best to make this Jello salad recipe the day before you plan to serve it.

Is Jello salad a dessert or side dish?

It depends! I’ve had this Jello salad recipe served as both a side dish and a dessert at different meals. I actually think the cranberry strawberry Jello tastes great alongside turkey, but this recipe most closely resembles a dessert by the ingredients.


get the recipe
Get the Recipe

a sweet dessert salad made in three layers

Yield 12

Prep 10 mins

Set Time 4 hrs

Cook 25 mins

Total 4 hrs 35 mins


  • To make the crust, crush the pretzels. This is easy to do in a food processor.

  • Add the pretzels and melted butter to a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir to combine.

  • Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.

  • Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes. Allow to fully cool.

  • To make the cream cheese layer, whip together the softened cream cheese, Cool Whip, and sugar.

  • Spoon this mixture over the cooled crust and seal the sides completely.

  • To make the Jello layer, chop up the frozen strawberries. I do this by pulsing a few times in the food processor.

  • Follow the box instructions to make the Jello. This will include boiling two cups of water and also adding two cups of cold water, which you should substitute for cold cranberry juice instead. Then, add the frozen strawberries.

  • Let the Jello partially set before adding to the top of the cream cheese layer.

  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours so the Jello fully sets. I usually make this the night before I plan to serve it.

  • Optional: Toss fresh cranberries in a little water and then toss in 1/4 cup granulated white sugar to make quick sugared cranberries for a garnished edge.


Nutrition Facts

Jello Salad

Amount per Serving

% Daily Value*

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Notice: Nutrition is auto-calculated, using Spoonacular, for your convenience. Where relevant, we recommend using your own nutrition calculations.

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