This healthy chicken pesto pasta salad is packed with flavour, veggies and 25g protein. Make it for meal prep, easy lunches or even summer potlucks.
Summer salad season is officially upon us! The weather is getting warmer, the sun is coming out more often and I am READY for picnics, patios and BBQs. The second the weather starts getting warmer I start instantly craving salads again. But not just any old boring salads, I want a salad that not only tastes AMAZING but will actually fill me up. Bonus points if I can use fresh basil from our plants.
Cue this healthy chicken pesto pasta salad packed with flavour, vegetables, protein and fibre. If you're like me and love pesto in everything from sandwiches to bowls, you're going to be obsessed with this recipe. It's got everything you want in a summer salad and more.
Why This Dietitian Loves This Recipe
Here's why this pesto pasta salad is a winner:
- It's actually satisfying. No boring salads here! My goal at Nourished is to create healthy recipes that satisfy both your mind and body, and this salad packs in flavour and nutrients.
- Ready in 30 mins. You don't need to spend hours in the kitchen for a healthy meal prep.
- Balanced meal. 25g of protein, lots of colorful veggies and fibre, plus healthy fats for taste and satiety. This chicken pesto pasta salad has got it all covered.
For pasta salad:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Feta cheese
- Red onion
- Jarred artichokes
- Sundried tomatoes
- Fresh basil
- Boneless skinless chicken breast
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Garlic powder
- Italian seasoning
- Red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat the chicken in oil and lemon juice and rub with the garlic powder, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Place chicken in a large glass dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until it is completely cooked through but not dry.
Allow to cool slightly then shred with a stand mixer on high, with two forks, or by hand.
Cook pasta according to the package instructions, until pasta is cooked to al-dente. Once cooked, drain pasta and set aside to cool.
In small bowl, combine pesto and lemon juice stirring until smooth. In a large salad bowl, add the cooked pasta, chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese and spinach.
Pour the pesto and lemon mixture over top, toss well to coat.
Garnish with more spices or feta cheese to taste and enjoy!
Substitutions and Variations
To make gluten-free: Choose a gluten-free pasta.
To make vegetarian: Swap the chicken for your favourite plant-based protein. This could be lentils or chickpeas (around 2 cups), crispy tofu, or a mock chicken.
To make dairy-free: Use a dairy-free pesto (without parmesan) and dairy-free cheese.
To make vegan: Follow the vegetarian and dairy-free swaps above.
To make nut-free: Traditional pesto contains pine nuts, so make sure you're checking ingredient lists or making your own with a nut-free recipe.
Missing/Switching ingredients? Try this:
- Pasta: I used a chickpea pasta for extra protein, but any pasta works. Whole wheat, gluten-free, legume-based... take your pick!
- Pesto: Use any kind of pesto you like- dairy-free, nut-free, pre-made, etc. If you don't like pesto, try this ranch pasta salad.
- Veggies: Swap out any of the vegetables with what you have on hand. Shredded carrot, bell peppers, and green peas would be delicious in this recipe.
- Spinach: Swap for any leafy green of choice, like arugula or massaged kale.
This chicken pesto pasta salad can stay fresh in the fridge if stored in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days.
To easily shred your chicken, I highly recommend using a stand mixer. Place your cooked chicken in the bowl of your mixer and using the paddle attachment turn your mixer on low-medium until your chicken is shredded.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Purchasing a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is a great way to make this recipe even easier. If you are using the stand mixer method to shred your chicken, make sure you remove the bones first.
I think so. With the pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil it's a great source of healthy fats, but also contains lots of micronutrients from the basil.
No you do not! I like adding in some chicken for protein to help make this pasta salad a full meal. However it can easily be left out of the recipe or replaced with chickpea pasta or one of the plant-based alternatives I listed earlier.
Yes! I love making pasta salad for meal prep. This recipe stores well in the fridge and as the spinach is chopped up it doesn’t get soggy.
More Easy Lunch Recipes
Make lunches more exciting with more easy recipes:
PS. I love seeing my recipes in action! If you decide to make this healthy chicken pesto pasta salad don't forget to tag me on Instagram- @nourishedbynic or leave a comment below!
Healthy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
For pesto pasta salad:
- 227 grams of dried pasta (8oz)
- ¾ cup pesto sauce
- 1 large lemon just the juice
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes sliced
- 1.5 cups cucumber quartered (about 1 medium English cucumber)
- ½ cup red onion thinly sliced
- ¼ cup feta cheese crumbled
- 2 cups spinach loosely chopped
- ¼ cup sundried tomatoes sliced
- ¼ cup jarred artichokes sliced
- Fresh basil leaves
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice optional
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tsp italian spice blend
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes optional
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Cook pasta according to the package instructions, until pasta is cooked to al-dente. Once cooked, drain pasta and set aside to cool.
- In small bowl, combine pesto and lemon juice stirring until smooth.
- Coat the chicken in oil and lemon juice and rub with the garlic powder, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Place chicken in a large glass dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until it is completely cooked through but not dry. Allow to cool slightly then shred with a stand mixer on high, with two forks, or by hand.
- In a large salad bowl, add the cooked pasta, chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese and spinach. Pour the pesto and lemon mixture over top, toss well to coat. Garnish with more spices or feta cheese to taste and enjoy!