This Gluten Free Italian Chicken Pasta Salad will be your easy, go-to, make ahead dinner or lunch that lasts for days in the fridge. The only thing you have to prep is the chicken.
You know what today is? SUNDAY, FUNday!
Okay, I’d like to say that I absolutely love Sundays; going to church, spending time with my cute little family, exploring the island we now call home…BUT, truth of the matter is that Sundays can drag on, and on, and on, and…well ON.
By the end of the weekend, Ben and I are usually too exhausted to do anything that requires a whole lot of energy and we’re quite ready for a quiet day at home. Unfortunately our children are not blessed with this same kind of declining energy level. So, it’s up to us to get creative and find activities around the house to keep them busy and ourselves somewhat sane.
One thing my children love to do is cook, or bake, or BOTH. If it was up to them, they would bake a new treat everyday of their lives.
Ummm, actually if it was up to me, I would bake a new treat everyday of my life as well. Only problem is that I DON’T have 19 kids and counting, so treats would be piling up in the corners of my kitchen left and right. Not typically my kind of kitchen decor.
So on days like today where my kids are itching to do a project, and I’m itching to be productive rather than make another mess to clean up, AND we already have half a pan of goodies to finish eating…I like to have my kiddos help me in the kitchen without all the sugar. I put them to work helping me meal prep for the week.
Well, as much “meal prep” as I do. My meal prep equates to very minimal. Occasionally I will make something a day in advance if I know we have a full schedule the following day. Some great make ahead meals that you can prep and cook the next day are:
- Lasagnas/pasta based casseroles
- Hamburgers (the patties can be formed ahead of time so they’re ready for the grill the next day)
- Loaded or twice baked potatoes
Aside from prepping for the main meal, you can always prep for sides as well. Some tips are:
- Cut, wash, and spin lettuce or other greens
- Chop, peel, and seed veggies
- Prebake potatoes or sweet potatoes if using in hashes, soups, or casseroles
- Mix up dressings so they have time to marinate and chill
So with today’s lazy Sunday I rounded up my kiddos in the kitchen to meal prep one of my favorite pasta salads: Gluten Free Italian Chicken Pasta Salad.
It’s your classic Italian dressing based pasta salad filled with a colorful mixture of chopped bell peppers, grape tomatoes, and cucumbers. Toss in some bite sized pieces of mozzarella and some sliced up olives and you have a perfectly perfect pasta salad that you can use as a weeknight meal or a side dish for a fun picnic or potluck.
This is a great option to send in school lunches (or your spouse’s lunch if you’re so kind to make them one) that is different from the humdrum meat and cheese sandwich.
It also helps that pasta salads like this one GET BETTER the longer they sit. The noodles absorb more of the dressing and the flavors marry and unite into a bowlful of pasta salad goodness.
I had to laugh when I made this because right at the last step, I realized I was out of cheese. I looked at my girls in a bit of a panic that our pasta salad wouldn’t be quite perfect, and then I realized…“Wait a minute! I have cheesesticks!!!”
Cheesesticks are mozzarella, so there you go. I guess it helps to have kids around that you are always packing lunches for. Plus I thought they ended up pretty cute in there perfectly little sliced circles. I may just use cheesesticks all the time now!
This recipe really is super simple. The only thing that takes a little extra work is pan frying the chicken breasts. It may be an extra step, but it really is worth it. The golden brown, crisp outside of the chicken breasts are coated in a blend of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Diced and tossed into the pasta, they bring so much flavor to this dish. If you have the extra time, I highly recommend using this chicken over plain shredded chicken or canned chicken.
Besides cooking the chicken, the only other prep is chopping up the veggies and boiling the pasta. You choose your favorite Italian dressing and just pour it in at the end of cooking. BAM! Done-zo!
See, now you have plenty of time and the rest of your day to do absolutely nothing or absolutely EVERYTHING! Bon appetite!
What weeknight meals do you prep ahead of time?
- 1 cucumber, chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
- 2 cups diced mozzarella cheese, or 8-9 diced mozzarella cheese sticks
- 2 cans sliced olives, drained
- 2 large (3 small) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- garlic powder
- Italian seasoning
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 12 oz. box of Barilla brand gluten free penne pasta
- 1½ cups Italian dressing
- ¼-1/2 cup pasta water
- Heat skillet over medium heat with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Prepare chicken by trimming fat. While skillet is heating, generously season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly season each side with garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Once skillet is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles, place chicken breasts in an even layer in skillet. Cook for 8-10 minutes on each side until outside is a crisp golden brown and chicken is no longer pink in middle. Remove chicken from heat and set aside to cool.
- While chicken is cooking, heat water in pot and cook pasta according to package directions.
- Prepare vegetables by peeling and dicing cucumber. Seed and dice yellow and orange bell peppers. Slice grape tomatoes in half and dice mozzarella or cheese sticks into bite sized pieces. Drain olives. Place all veggies and olives in a bowl and set aside, reserving cheese for later.
- As soon as pasta is done cooking, drain (reserving ½ cup pasta water if needed) and toss into bowl with veggies. Add Italian dressing and stir.
- Dice chicken into bite sized pieces and toss into pasta mixture. Stir to evenly coat. Add reserved pasta water if mixture is too dry.* Chill pasta salad for at least 6-8 hours. Stir in cheese before serving.