I don’t know about you, but for me, nothing is better on a hot, summer day than a cool refreshing salad. And if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you already know that I love to make meals ahead so I don’t have to cook every single day.
During the school year, I usually make a big salad on Sunday afternoon and package it in containers so the kids and I can grab and go in the mornings. I really am blessed that both of my kids love things like couscous, pasta salad, and spinach salad. It’s a great, filling lunch – and in this day and age, it’s nice to be in control of what they’re eating.
The Redhead loves anything that’s different. She’s an original and rarely follows the crowd. She loves it when all of her classmates are eating meatloaf and she has tortellini in romesco sauce.
The Boy enjoys pasta salads – especially during football season. We really try to watch his nutrition during those hot fall days when he has football practice after school. Plenty of water and Gatorade and lots of carbs. I recently found out that, during the off-season, he often uses his lunches as currency. Did you know that a large, hungry, eighth-grade boy will pay real money for a home-cooked meal? I asked The Boy one day where he got the money to buy something at the school’s canteen and he shrugged and said, “I sold somebody half of my grilled chicken salad.” What?
Anyway, here are a few of my family’s favorite make-and-take salads:
Taco Tortellini Salad
- 20 ounce package of 3-cheese tortellini
- 1 – 15.5 ounce can of dark red kidney beans, drained
- 1 can of sliced black olives, drained
- 1 8-ounce jar of salsa
- 2 cups of cubed, cooked chicken breast
- 1 package of taco seasoning
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ½ cup cooking oil
- 2-3 tbs. brown sugar
- 2 cups of 2% shredded Mexican cheese
Cook tortellini according to package directions – making sure to salt the water really well! While the pasta is cooking, in a large bowl, whisk together the taco seasoning, brown sugar, vinegar, and oil until well blended. Set aside. When tortellini is done, drain and rinse with cold tap water until pasta is cooled. Add pasta to the taco vinaigrette and toss to coat completely. Add the chicken, beans, olives, and salsa and toss. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Before serving, add the cheese and stir to mix. Serve cold. You can top each serving with light sour cream and additional salsa, if desired. As you can see from the picture, I used whole wheat tortellini for this recipe.
Chicken Tortellini Salad
- 20 oz. package of tortellini, any variety
- 3 cups of cooked, cubed chicken breasts
- 1 bunch of green onions, sliced
- 1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1 cup of grape tomatoes, halved
- Ranch dressing
Cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until tortellini is completely cooled. In a large bowl, combine chicken, onions, artichoke hearts, and tomatoes. Add tortellini and combine. Add ranch dressing, as much as you would like. It’s ready to serve. If you have made it in advance, store in the refrigerator.
*In our house, we like to add baby spinach leaves to this salad. If you do this, don’t add the spinach to the whole bowl of salad. Add to each individual bowl. If you add the spinach to the whole bowl, if will wilt before you eat the entire bowl of salad. It’s so much better if it’s fresh!
Rotini Salad with Grilled Chicken and Edamame
- 1 pound of rotini pasta, cooked in salted water according to package directions, drained, and cooled under running water
- 16-ounce bag of frozen, shelled edamame, thawed in a colander under cool, running water
- 1 can of quartered artichoke hearts
- 1 jar of roasted red bell peppers, chopped (approximately 2 whole peppers)
- 2-3 grilled chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- Ranch dressing
Combine all ingredients and chill completely in the refrigerator.
- 2 boxes of Far East Parmesan couscous, prepared according to package directions and cooled to room temperature
- 1 cup of diced cucumber
- 1 cup of halved grape tomatoes
- 3-4 sliced green onions
- 4 ounces of crumbled feta cheese
- 1 8-ounce jar of chunky salsa
Combine all ingredients and chill until refrigerated.
Mandarin Walnut Salad
- Baby spinach leaves
- Grape tomatoes
- Mandarin oranges
- Toasted walnuts
- Freshly grated or shaved Parmesan
Toss together with orange vinaigrette. If taking this salad to be eaten later, pack the oranges and dressing in separate containers.
- The zest and juice of 1 large naval orange
- ½ tbsp. of minced garlic
- ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup of sugar
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients except the oil in a blender until completely blended. While blender is running, add the oil in a thin stream. Blend for 1 minute. Can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to a week.
Well Duh #1: I use a variety of containers to package these salads – everything from sealable containers to glass jelly jars. I make sure to pack the kids’ salads in something unbreakable.
Well Duh #2: Most of these salads are good to go as is. If you’re planning to add fresh baby spinach to any of them, you probably want to take it in a separate container and add it just before eating. Otherwise, the spinach may wilt. With the Mandarin Walnut Salad, toss together the spinach, tomatoes, walnuts, and Parmesan. Take oranges and dressing in a separate container and add to the salad just before eating.
Well Duh #3: I usually make at least two of these salads at a time so that we aren’t taking and eating the same thing every day.