This caprese pasta salad is the perfect lunch for a busy work day, and you can make it the night before!
Even though I love eating out, I’ve really grown to enjoy bringing my lunch to work (including leftovers — yum!).
Some might say you know you’re getting older when “Leftovers for lunch!” is exciting and something to look forward to.
Though, I’d argue those of you who refuse those lunch leftovers are sorely missing out (so long as you have a microwave).
In addition to feasting on leftovers, I like to whip together stand-alone lunches, too.
Meals that balance protein and flavor with all the goodness of salad.
One thing I love about salad is that it’s crunchy and fresh and doesn’t leave me dragging all afternoon.
One thing I don’t always love about a traditional salad made with lettuce is that it doesn’t necessarily travel well, especially if it’s dressed.
Wilted lettuce, anyone? Nope. Nope. Nope.
Know what does hold up well to night-before prep, or several hours in a lunch bag? Spinach!
My parents are lucky to have fresh spinach and other greens like kale, chard and lettuces growing on their property, pretty much year round, thanks to the high tunnel my sister and her husband built when they lived there and were operating Truffula Seed Produce.
My sister moved a number of years ago now to do cool things with urban farming and parks in New York City; however, that high tunnel still exists. And, thanks to my master gardener mother, we were able to enjoy fresh spinach in January for the years we lived on the property, too.
BUT, even if you don’t have that same “grown your own” luxury, baby spinach is super easy to locate at any grocery store these days. Even organic!
Back to lunch.
If you’re smart, you’ll keep your fridge, freezer and pantry stocked with foods that make meals easier.
I’m a big proponent of having a well-stocked pantry, as well as other staples in the kitchen (e.g., frozen chicken stock, rice, potatoes, onions, garlic, etc.), so that I keep any “mulling over what to cook” to a minimum.
During the week, when things are nutso busy, it has to be that way.
Grilled and ready chicken strips from the fridge section of your grocery store and regular bottled Italian dressing are two more things that can help make throwing together a lunch and dinner a breeze!
They’re both so versatile.
Since the chicken’s fully cooked, it makes quick meal prep a breeze.
We’ve added it to pasta, used it for chicken soup, heated up on its own with sides, and thrown into a quesadilla with cheddar cheese and a side of sour cream. Super versatile.
(And — bonus! — most varieties have no preservatives. Yay!)
Italian dressing can be used as … well … salad dressing, but it also acts as a great marinade for chicken, shrimp, roasts and even grilled veggies!
This Italian caprese pasta salad I made the other day for lunch took all of fifteen minutes to throw together, which is basically the time it took for me to cook the pasta from start to finish.
I used these big ziti shaped noodles, but you can really use any type of short pasta you like. Even orzo would be yummy!
I tossed together the cooled pasta, fresh baby spinach and tomatoes, a sliced mozzarella stick (but fresh mozzarella would be SUPER tasty, too — sticks are what I happened to have in my fridge), freshly diced basil, a few diced chicken strips, and 1/4 cup of Italian dressing.
The terrific thing about this salad is that you could make a BIG batch of it, and then portion it out for easy work lunches throughout the week.
The spinach will stay fresh and not wilty, and the dressing will give the pasta an even more robust full taste the longer it sits because it’s full of herbs, seasonings and other zesty flavors. Mmm…
Make a big batch to serve on game day — a healthier option for those who might not want to gorge on cheese dip and wings (though … that’d be hard to pass up).
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 mozzarella stick, sliced
- 3 basil leaves, diced
- 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 fully cooked grilled chicken strips, diced
- 1/4 cup Italian dressing
- 1 cup cooked short pasta, cooled (like ziti)
- Toss everything together in a large bowl and then serve immediately!
Keep leftovers refrigerated.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 733Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 202mgSodium: 1269mgCarbohydrates: 59gFiber: 5gSugar: 11gProtein: 67g