This easy lemon pasta salad is a great side dish – or toss in grilled chicken for a full meal that’s perfect for meal prep! I love the sweet and tangy lemon-honey vinaigrette on this healthy pasta salad recipe.
I’m pretty good about meal prep and menu planning during the week, but weekends are another story — especially in the summer when we’re out and about enjoying the nice weather.
When leave in the morning for a hike or day exploring, I don’t even know if we’ll be home for dinner or not (or how much energy I’ll have left). A lot of times, we’ll end up stopping at the butcher on the way home where we’ll grab something to throw on the grill and a prepared salad to serve on the side.
A few weeks ago we bypassed the local butcher and ended up at the Fresh Market instead. We grabbed a package of bratwurst, a container of mixed berries, and a tiny package of honey and lemon pasta salad.
Everything was delicious, but I knew right away that I needed to recreate that pasta salad myself. It was so good! It was full of crunchy summer vegetables and I love the addition of sunflower seeds and the tangy lemon vinaigrette dressing. However, their version was a little too sweet and it had some ingredients that I wasn’t crazy about (corn syrup and mandarin oranges, I’m looking at you.)
How to make simple lemon pasta salad with chicken
I pared the salad ingredients way back, keeping things simple with just bell peppers, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds. Then I added grilled chicken for a protein boost that transformed a simple side dish into a full meal I could keep in the fridge for lunches all week.
This lemon chicken pasta salad recipe is so easy to adapt and make your own! If you like, add halved cherry tomatoes or steamed broccoli.
You can also try making it with rotisserie chicken instead of grilled chicken breasts. Or even replace the chicken with grilled shrimp or canned tuna. It won’t be pasta salad with chicken then, but it will still be delicious!
For me, the highlight of this pasta salad is the lemon vinaigrette salad dressing. It’s light and tangy with just a hint of sweetness from the honey. I based this dressing on this cilantro-lime dressing, which is one of my absolute favorites.
To make it, whisk together the juice from two lemons, olive oil, and a teaspoon of honey. The honey will help emulsify the dressing, giving it body in addition to adding a touch of sweetness.
Looking for more simple summer salads? Try one of these:
- Lobster Farro Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
- Simple Cucumber Salad
- 5-Minute Summer Corn Salad with Curry and Lime
- Carrot, Quinoa, and Pistachio Salad
- 1 box 16 ounces farfalle pasta
- 1 pound chicken breast tenders
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 seedless cucumber diced
- 4 green onions sliced
- ¼ cup sunflower seed kernels
- 2 lemons juiced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Sea salt
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions until it’s al dente, usually about 8-10 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water.
- While the pasta cooks, prepare the chicken: Brush the chicken with olive oil and season with Italian seasoning. Grill over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes or until cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
- Add the cooked pasta to a large mixing bowl. Add the chicken, peppers, cucumber, green onion, and sunflower seeds.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, remaining olive oil, and honey. Season to taste with sea salt.
- Pour the dressing over the pasta salad. Mix well until everything is combined. This salad can be served immediately but is even better when refrigerated for at least 1 hour.