A 30 minute meal, perfect for meal prep! This healthy chicken pesto pasta salad is packed with flavour, and nutrients making it the perfect easy lunch, dinner or summer party recipe!
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. Que this healthy chicken pesto pasta salad packed with flavour, vegetables, protein and fibre this is the PERFECT summer salad to make on repeat this year.
What makes a filling salad?
I go through phases with salads. For a few day, weeks or even months I love them and crave a big fresh salad every day. Then randomly one day I hate them, and think they are the most boring food on the planet. Hopefully someone else can relate to that feeling! I personally think as with any food, too much of the same thing can get SO boring.
That's the challenge with salads it's so easy to fall into what I like to call the 'salad rut.' The period of your life when you get stuck eating the exact same boring lettuce and chopped veggie salad with balsamic dressing every single day of your life. HOW BORING? Not only is it boring and taste super lame but it also just doesn't keep you full.
So then the question becomes how can I create a salad that tastes good but also keep me full for at least a few hours? The answer is every salad needs a combination of Satisfaction, Crunch, Flavour and Nourishment.
- Satisfaction- The problem with a regular salad is they just don't keep you full. That's because theya re 99% just vegetables which are great to fill you up for a short period of time but soon enough your body is going to be craving some long lasting energy- and that comes from CARBS! I love adding quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta or even potatoes to my salad to help keep me full.
- Crunch- Don't ask me why but I just believe salads are just 100% better when they have that little crunch factor. This can come from nuts/ seeds/ croutons/ or even crushed tortilla chips!
- Flavour- Dressings, sauces, or even salsas. I like to really switch up what I'm using to bring flavour to my salad.
- Nourishment- ALL the veggies! This is where your typical "salad" toppings come in. But just because it's a salad doesn't mean you need to throw in every single vegetable you have in your fridge. Choose a base leafy green and 2-4 vegetables that you actually enjoy and stick with those!
ps. another good salad option is this crunchy dill pickle salad or this smashed chickpea salad
What ingredients do I need for healthy chicken pesto pasta salad?
Pasta- For this recipe I wanted a little more fibre to help keep me full throughout the day so I opted to use this Chickapea spiral pasta (my favourite chickpea pasta in Canada). However literally ANY pasta will work, you can use gluten free, whole wheat, and any shape you wish!
Pesto- You can use store bought or homemade pesto sauce for this healthy chicken pesto pasta salad. I personally just use store bought but the choice is yours!
Lemon- Lemon juice brings all the fresh flavours together perfectly, while adding a touch of acidity to really spice up this pasta salad.
Cherry tomatoes- I'm going through a cherry tomato phase and love them (but they have to be perfectly ripe and not squishy). However if you prefer another type of tomato you can use those just chop them up into small pieces!
Cucumber- Cucumber is just a staple in any salad is it not?
Feta cheese- Arguably the best salad cheese. Feta just takes a salad and levels it up with a touch of salty flavour (I also love that you don't need to grate it and can just crumble it with your hands). I personally use light feta cheese but any feta will work!
Red onion- Red onion just goes perfectly with tomatoes and cucumber. However feel free to use any onion you desire!
Spinach- Every salad needs some sort of leafy green. I love spinach because you can chop it up into such small pieces it doesn't even feel like you're eating a salad!
Chicken breast- I felt like chicken was the perfect protein for a pesto pasta salad. HOWEVER if you are vegetarian or wanting a more plant based meal feel free to use crispy tofu, chickpeas (I love these crispy chickpeas) or even lentils!
Kitchen aid mixer- Obviously this is not an ingredient BUT it is my secret weapon to making perfectly shredded chicken. This is the one I have (in majestic yellow) and I LOVE it! All you have to do to shred your chicken is add in the baked chicken breasts, use the paddle attachment, turn it to the high setting and voila!
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
- 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
- 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!
What is the portion size? For weight watcher reference, added up to 10 points per serving.
It depends how hungry you are but I would say about 1.5 cups would be a great meal!
This is so so good!! I subbed the chicken for chickpeas and used the same seasoning and toasted them in a pan. I also subbed spinach for arugula cause that’s what I had!
Would 10/10 make again
I am so glad you like this one!! Your substitutions sound AMAZING, I love finding ways to make the most of what I have on hand!