I grew up eating this Lemon Mandarin Orange Jello Salad at almost every single Thanksgiving, and now I make it every year for my own kids!
What is Jello Salad?
Jello salad (also called gelatin salad, jelly salad, congealed salad, or molded salad) is a salad made with flavored gelatin, fruit, and sometimes grated carrots or, more rarely, other vegetables. Other ingredients may include cottage cheese, cream cheese, marshmallows, nuts, or pretzels.
My favorite part of this Jello fruit salad is the lemon topping, which is just a lemon pudding mixture. My second favorite part of this Jello recipe is the little mandarin oranges floating around. Our kids love mandarin oranges, so this orange Jello salad is now one of their favorite recipes as well.
I’m curious, how many of you grew up with Jello on your dinner table or at holiday meals?
Lemon Mandarin Orange Jello Salad Ingredients
Unlike most Thanksgiving desserts, this Jello fruit salad recipe requires very few ingredients to make. Here’s what you’ll need to make this mandarin orange salad:
- Orange Jello
- Boiling water
- Frozen orange juice concentrate
- Mandarin oranges
- Instant lemon pudding mix
- Cool Whip
How to Make Jello Salad
This mandarin orange Jello salad couldn’t be easier to make! It takes quite a while for the salad to set, but the hands on prep work is minimal. Here’s how to make Jello salad:
- Mix the boiling water with the orange Jello in a 9×13-inch pan.
- Add the frozen orange juice concentrate and drained mandarin oranges. Stir to combine.
- Let chill in the fridge until set.
- Near the end of the chill time, combine pudding and milk and mix until thick.
- Stir the Cool Whip into the pudding, then spread it evenly atop the set orange Jello salad.
- Garnish with more mandarin oranges, then place back into the fridge to set.
Is Jello Salad a Dessert or a Side?
Do you think of Jello recipes as desserts or salads? Whenever it is served with whipped cream and marshmallows, it is a dessert. If it is served with tons of fruit added, it can be called a “fruit salad.” Yes, I realize this mandarin orange Jello salad should probably be a dessert, but my family always served it as a side dish when I was little so I serve it as a side today as well.
Can I Add More Fruit to the Jello Salad?
Of course! If there’s a specific fruit you grew up eating in your Jello salad, you’re welcome to include it. Just make sure to drain any canned fruits before adding them to the mandarin orange Jello salad.
Can I Make This Jello Salad Sugar-Free?
If you can find sugar-free versions of the lemon instant pudding and orange Jello mix, then yes, you can definitely make this Jello salad sugar-free if desired. Note that sugar-free pudding and Jello mixes typically tend to be smaller than the regular versions, so you may need to buy multiple packs to make enough Jello salad to fill a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Can I Prep Jello Salad in Advance?
Absolutely! This Jello fruit salad is a great make-ahead Thanksgiving recipe. You can assemble the salad up to a day in advance. Place plastic wrap on top and refrigerate it until ready to serve.
Tips for Making Lemon Mandarin Orange Jello Salad
It’s so important that you remember to use instant pudding powder and not the cook and serve kind. It won’t set up the same, so make sure you buy the correct box.
Also, you want to use mandarin oranges packed in water and not the kind packed in syrup. Mandarin oranges packed in syrup would make this Jello salad recipe far too sweet.
If you don’t have Cool Whip where you live, you can use another whipped topping or make a batch of homemade whipped cream if needed. Homemade whipped cream will deflate quicker than Cool Whip, but otherwise it’ll work just fine.
More Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes:
- Southern Grape Salad with Pecans
- Instant Pot Southern Macaroni and Cheese
- Strawberry Fluff Fruit Dip
- The Best Mashed Potatoes
- Southern English Pea Salad
- Roasted Root Vegetable Side Dish
- The Best Deviled Eggs
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- …All of our Thanksgiving Recipes!
Lemon Mandarin Orange Jello Salad
- 1 Box Orange Jello, 6 ounce
- 3 Cups Boiling Water
- 6 ounces Dole Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate, (half of a 12 oz can)
- 1 1/2 Cans Dole Mandarin Oranges, 11-ounce, almost completely drained and divided
- 1 Box Instant Lemon Pudding, 3.4 ounce
- 1 Cup Milk
- 8 ounces Cool Whip
- Mix the boiling water with the jello in a 9x13-inch pan until all of the granules are dissolved.
- Add the frozen concentrate and 1 can mandarin oranges with whatever juice is remaining and stir to combine.
- Place in the fridge until set, about 3 hours.
- In a bowl, combine pudding and milk until thick.
- Fold in the whipped topping and spread on the jello salad.
- Place remaining oranges on top as garnish and chill for about 20-30 minutes until set.
The mandarin oranges that go into the jello are they whole or do you chop them into pieces?
Hey Pam! I just leave them whole but you could half them if you want. Enjoy!
Thanks for a great looking Jello salad/dessert. We like Jello a lot and have it often. I think it is crazy that Jello gets so many bad comments anymore. It is so versatile.
I also have enjoyed you and your site over the years!!
Thank you so much Virginia! Jello rules!
Do you think this would work in a mold? Thanks. Am excited to try.
Yes, it definitely would work in mold! Enjoy!
I just realized I bought a 3oz package yellow and not a 6-oz. Do you think I could still make it and it be okay or do I need to wait to get more jello?
This recipe is a hit at every family function. Kids and adults love it and it’s so simple and fun to make!
Thank you so much Shauna! It is a hit in our family too!
Hi, I’m making this for my fiance for his birthday. He just loves oranges and lemons and this is the perfect for him! Just a quick question, for the milk – is it fresh, evaporated, or condensed?
Hey Rees! Just regular milk! Happy birthday to your fiancee!!
Love it !!!! Oh so yummy this way. I do remember growing up and having something similar but this is the best.!!! Thanks for the trip down memory lane
Thanks Roxy! This is one of those recipes that takes you right back to your childhood!
Love it !!!!
My mom used to make a congealed salad with orange jello, crushed pineapple, carrots, and pecans. She always served it when she made chicken and dumplings, but with other meals, too. I love it too this day.
This recipe more than any other reminds so many people of their childhood. I just love it! Thanks for sharing a piece of your story with us!
We’ve had this delicious orange salad at holidays since 1986 or maybe even longer! It’s a must and now my sons have made this their family tradition at holidays. All of our immediate and extended families have loved this as a side dish…and the next day if there’s any left!
We never have any left over either! So good! Thanks for the comment, Sue!
I grew up with jello at every holiday! Lime with pineapple chunks and shredded carrots made in a glass loaf pan. One way to get us to eat veggies ☺️. Recipe from 1950’s. It was years later in life I found the recipe book my mother got the recipe from. Mom’s gone but I still enjoy the memories of her love of cooking for her family of 11 children. She was an amazing cook! It’s the little things that matter. Your orange jello looks delicious… Pinned!
This is so sweet Lynn! Thank you for sharing! That is one of the things I love most about food and cooking. They carry such memories and meaning! Hope you enjoy this one!
Looks so good. Love the Mandarin orange one…
It is so tasty! Thanks LaRue!
I don’t understand your measurements on the orange juice . Also on the Mandarin oranges. Am excited to try this.
You want half of a 12 oz can of Dole Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate (so 6 oz) and one and a half cans of Dole Mandarin Oranges (11oz size cans, so about 16-17 ounces of oranges). Enjoy!
Well my family’s traditional Jello salad is called “ Sunshine salad “ and as northerners we look forward to it at Easter dinner .
Orange Jello , drained crushed pineapple , fresh grated carrots . My grown children long of it every Spring . It’s ymmy – give it a try .
A couple of questions:
1. You only use 1/2 can (12 oz) of orange juice correct? That would be 6 ounces
2. You buy two cans (11 oz each) of mandarin oranges. Use one 11 oz can to add to the 6 oz of oj and then 1/2 can of mandarin oranges on top of cool whip?
Yes and yes!
Wow, that looks so good! Thanks for sharing the recipe. I also grew up with a jello salad served as a side dish on Thanksgiving, but ours was blueberry salad. I think it was made with blackberry jello if available (or a mix of black cherry and grape if not), blueberry pie filling, and crushed pineapple. The topping was a mix of cream cheese, sugar, and cool whip, I believe. Definitely a family favorite!
That sounds pretty much like heaven!
Hello there , this looks amazing gonna try it but need more feedback on step #2 , do I add the concentrate with the can of mandarins together then with step 1 ? Thank you !
Yes exactly. It all goes into the jello and then is refrigerated.
I grew up in a Mandarin orange jello salad as well. Always at holidays and other special days. Always served with our meal. Not quite the same one, but close. It was my Moms specialty ssignature dish. Love it and still make it. I’m glad to hear someone else has the same fond memory of this dish. Definitely going to try this recipe. Thanks for the great memory.
One of my favorite things about food is how it ties so closely to some of our most treasured memories! It reminds us of certain people or certain occasion! I just love it! Thank you for taking time leave us a comment! Enjoy this salad!
I grew up with a version of this jello dish, but my mother did include grated carrots and also a small can of crushed pineapple. And certainly no sweet topping, since it was a salad. I still like to serve it as a refreshing counterpoint to chili.
It is such a classic jello salad! It is a perfect side dish for chili!
I love this jello salad! I always used it as a desert, though. Have taken it to many pot-luck dinners and it is always a hit!
It works perfectly as a side or a dessert! And we never have leftovers! Thanks for the feedback Chris!!
This is one of my families favorites though we make ours with the mandarin oranges and with crushed pineapple, not drained. Since there is some juice in the crushed pineapple we only use 2 cups of water for the jello. It is always a staple at Christmas and Easter as well as other times of the year. Yes we serve it as part of dinner 🙂
It is so so good! Merry Christmas to you and your family!
This looks amazing! Can it be made the day before? ?? I’d love to serve it for thanksgiving this year!
Yes it can be made the day before, though I do not put the topping on until the day we are going to serve it.
My mother loved Jello. One of my favorites was black cherry jello (set, then chunked up) with cool whip & sliced bananas stirred in. We had it often as a side dish growing up. Sadly my kids were never fond of Jello.
That sounds so good!
This looks delish! Will give it a try. Last week my sister and I made my mom’s jello salad we had eaten for Thanksgiving and Christmas growing up since the early 70’s in California. This may sound weird but was quite tasty – basically lime jello, some mayo, and lots of sliced jalapeño and put in a beautiful ring mold. My mom is no longer able to cook so it was fun to recreate this childhood memory.
I love how connected food can be to memories and traditions! Let us know what you think of this orange jello salad!
We make a slightly different version of this where we mix cooked lemon pudding with the orange jello. Here’s that version in case you want to try it:
1 can (11 oz.) Mandarin Oranges
1 large pkg. Orange Jell-O
2 cups boiling Water
4 1/4 cups Water, divided
1 large pkg. Cook and Serve Lemon Pudding
2 Egg yolks
1/2 cup Sugar
1 small pkg. instant Lemon Pudding
1 cup Milk
2 cups Cool Whip
Drain the mandarin oranges. According to the package directions, dissolve the gelatin in 2 cups of boiling water, then stir in 2 cups cool water. Set aside.
Prepare the Cook and Serve Lemon Pudding with the egg yolks, sugar, and water indicated in the ingredient list.. Add it the orange gelatin and whisk to combine. Pour into a 9×13” pan. Fold in drained mandarin oranges. Refrigerate until set.
Topping: Combine instant pudding mix and milk and stir for 2 minutes to dissolve pudding mix. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread over first layer.
Note: Alternatively, use a larger 15 oz. can of mandarin oranges and reserve several for garnish on top.
That sounds amazing! Trying it for Thanksgiving this year!
Do you wait until the jello is set, before adding the lemon pudding, and the Mandarin oranges? Thank you.
Yes, wait until the jello is set. Enjoy!
I was talking about the Mello-jello recipe, when I asked if you wait until the jello is set, before adding the pudding to the jello. It didn’t sound like it had to be set first. And also, do you only add 2 1/4 cups water to the pudding, since you add 2 of the 4 1/4 cups water to the jello?
Oh gotcha! I’m not sure since it isn’t our recipe. You’ll have to see if the person who made the comment responds.
Oh yeah, we had jello in various versions often, but had a special recipe we only used for Thanksgiving and Christmas:
Cranberry Jell-O Salad
3 3oz pkgs. Strawberry Jell-O
3 cups boiling Water
2 small pkgs. frozen Strawberries in Sugar Syrup (10 oz. Each) (without sugar syrup probably ok too)
1 can jellied Cranberry sauce (the smooth kind, not the one with chunks of cranberries)
1 small can crushed Pineapple, drained
4 Bananas, sliced or mashed (I don’t like slimy bananas, so I mash mine. Mom always sliced them)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
6 Tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 pint Sour Cream
Dissolve Jell-O in water. Stir in fruits and nuts. Pour mixture into a large pan, and let it set up in refrigerator.
When set; mix sugar and vanilla into sour cream. Spread over salad.
Knox unflavored gelatin may be added to the sour cream mixture to thicken it.
If you want a top layer of Jell-O, save 1 package of Jell-O for the top. After the sour cream is on top of the set Jell-O, mix the last package of Jell-O according to the directions and let it cool and start to thicken. Carefully pour it over the sour cream layer. You may want a deeper layer of Jell-O on top…so you may want a large box for the top rather than a small. It’s a bit tricky to cover the sour cream with jello without drilling a hole in the sour cream. I try to pour the jello onto a spoon or spatula so that it doesn’t go straight down in a stream. I also tend to start in a corner and flood the top from there.
This sounds amazing! Can’t wait to try it!
I grew up in a large rural family in the 60s and Jell-O (in many different forms and salads) was on our table frequently. I love it! I have to also say that when I was nursing my babies and it seemed like everything I ate gave them horrible gas I often ate Jell-O just to fill me up.
Oh that would have been so good to know as my babies suffered too! Wish I’d thought of that.
Yes, I am one of those who ONLY had Jello for holidays and like you, I like to include it in our menu. I have several of those rolling eyes in my family too!
Sadly, I can’t tolerate instant pudding so will have to improvise somehow.
I loved your post and it brought back many happy memories!
I’m so glad to hear that! I’m sure you could whip together a cook, homemade pudding or lemon curd with whipped cream would be even better!
You did not indicate what size can of orange juice concentrate…….6 oz or 12 oz?
oh! 12 Ounce, thank you!
Could sugar free gelatin & pudding mix be substituted for this recipe?
Yes if you can find the flavors in sugar free. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sugar free orange jello or sugar free lemon pudding. Sugar free packets also usually tend to be smaller in ounces than the regular, so be sure you buy enough! Enjoy!