Full of fresh vegetables (oh, and bacon!) and easy to make!
I always ask my kids what they’d like to eat on their birthdays, and usually it’s quite entertaining what they request. Box macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches usually make the list. Ha. So much to my surprise, my oldest son asked for this vegetable chicken pasta salad on his 7th birthday. He said, “I want that salad I like with the vegetables.” Every mother’s dream! Now, I’ll admit I’m lucky… my kids actually like a huge variety of vegetables. When my oldest were 3 and 4 years old, I found them under the dining room table sneaking grape tomatoes.
Speaking of grape tomatoes, I personally think this pasta salad is much better with them, I just didn’t have any today. I usually cut them in either half or quarters, depending on the size. But any tomatoes will do just fine! Here’s the thing with this chicken pasta salad…. any vegetable you like would probably work in here. My favorites: bell peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes and (a little bit of) celery.
As with any cold pasta salad, it’s best to make it ahead of time so it can chill for a few hours. But, since I’m not always the best planner, pasta salads are often done last minute. After cooking the pasta, drain it in a colander and rinse it with cold water until it feels cool/cold. I mix a little ranch dressing into the coldish pasta and let it sit in the freezer for maybe 10-20 minutes to get colder. Stir it every 5 minutes or so. You can use that time to finish chopping all of the vegetables and chicken.
Now, if you were a better planner than me… you’d have cooked chicken, crumbled bacon and chopped vegetables waiting in your fridge for such an occasion. I however, never have those things done ahead of time. So I was thawing chicken and frying bacon and chopping vegetables this afternoon.
I like using chicken tenders, but I have chicken breasts this time, and they worked just as well. When the chicken breasts are almost thawed (because I’m almost always taking meat from the freezer), it’s easier to slice. Slice evenly into strips. Lay them on a baking sheet and drizzle oil over the slices. Then sprinkle some Spike seasoning over the top. You can use quite a bit of it. Obviously you can use any seasoning you like the best on chicken, or even just some salt and pepper. I just happen to love Spike seasoning on chicken! (see Magic One Step Chicken!) Fry in a pan on each side over medium-medium high heat until done and there’s no pink in the middle. Or, you can make cooked chicken any way you generally like to do so. Baked, crockpot, leftovers, etc. I would just make sure that your chicken is seasoned well so the pasta salad isn’t too bland.
Time for the raw vegetables! I really like to add peppers, but I have made this with only cucumbers and tomatoes before. My boys LOVE the yellow, orange and red bell peppers. They eat them faster than I can chop them! I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of celery, but it does give some extra crunch. Which you could get from adding croutons… but since celery is healthier and I’m already adding bacon to this…. I used celery instead.
I don’t always add bacon to this salad, but since I had some in the freezer, it seemed like a lovely addition. And it was!
Once everything is cooked, cooled, chopped and crumbled…. it’s time to just throw it all together and mix it up. In the past I’ve mixed in the cooked chicken, but this time I had a request from one of my boys to not even have chicken. Ha. So, as a compromise, we served the chicken on the side. One of my boys ate all of the pasta and chicken, one ate just the vegetables. Between the two of them it was a whole meal…. that counts, right?