Chicken Pesto Salad and…Critically Fed

There’s a lot of criticism around here at the moment and it’s all to do with lunch boxes.

I try and I try and I try but the children are proving difficult to please and I don’t think I’m alone because I know so many mums who are like me and dread the daily chore of packing a lunch box.   I thought the simplest way around this nightmare would be to make all lunch boxes identical.  Everyone gets a sandwich, some cheese and biscuits, a juice box, some sort of a treat and some fruit.  But I’m not winning.

Chicken Pesto Salad

Archie doesn’t want two sandwiches, he just wants one and instead of a second sandwich he’d like a can of tuna and a plastic fork.  Arabella won’t eat tuna.  She says,  ‘It makes your breath stink’.  She also doesn’t want all those carbs that are delivered in a sandwich so would prefer a wrap but not a wrap with ham because she’s not eating meat at the moment.  Alfie doesn’t want any sandwich except for peanut butter but he can’t have that because nuts have been banned from all schools.

Archie doesn’t want juice, he wants bottled water.  Arabella only drinks orange juice.  Archie wants apple and blackcurrant juice but, ‘Can you put it in the freezer overnight?  Archie doesn’t want any treats.  ‘Have you cooked any sausages?  I’ll take two of those.’  Arabella doesn’t want treats either and, as she’s not eating meat, she won’t take any of those sausages I’ve just cooked.  She wants carrot sticks with homemade hummus.  ‘We haven’t run out of hummus have we mum?’  Alfie loves treats, doesn’t want a sausage and won’t eat carrot sticks.

Archie will have crackers and tasty cheese, Arabella won’t eat cheese and Alfie wants crackers and cheese but the cheddar, not the tasty.  Or was it the other way around?  Archie likes green grapes, Arabella says, ‘Yes, I’ll have grapes but not too many of them’, and Alfie says he’ll have grapes but not green grapes, ‘I want the purple ones without the stones’.

Fortunately, I’m only putting myself through this four days a week.  Friday is always lunch order day.  In this house we thank God for Fridays.

Do you struggle with lunch boxes?

Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

Here’s something I occasionally make on a Sunday afternoon, then pack it into the lunch boxes for Monday so I’m all organised for the start of the new week.  Now this pasta salad is a complete success and something that Archie, Arabella and Alfie all enjoy.  You can take a few short-cuts by substituting barbecue chicken instead of poaching chicken breasts and you can buy pesto from a deli instead of making your own pesto.  I usually buy a barbecue chicken but make my own pesto.

Serves:  4-6

Degree  of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  This is lunch for around $5.00 per person

  • 500gms spiral pasta
  • 1 barbecue chicken, shredded into bite sized pieces (or 500gms chicken breast fillets poached for 15 minutes)
  • 1 quantity of pesto – either from a deli or you can make your own (recipe to follow)
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Cook pasta according to directions on packet then strain and place in a large bowl.  Add chicken, pesto and pine nuts and stir well to combine.  Season.  Serve either hot or cold.


  • 1 large bunch of basil, leaves only
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 3 tbspns grated parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor add the basil, almonds, garlic and cheese and process until fine.  With the motor still running gradually pour in the olive oil.  Continue processing until the oil is well incorporated – about 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper.

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  1. Oh, lunch times sound like a nightmare! This salad looks delicious, and leftovers are always great for the lunch box!

  2. Looks nice, my kids love butter chicken

  3. Oh goodness me-I didn’t realise now that all nuts including peanut butter are disallowed in school lunch boxes…

  4. Yummy looking chicken – thanks for sharing the recipe. I avoid the lunch box complaints around here by ordering the school’s over-priced lunch every single day. It’s worth the money to let the school be the bad guy, in my opinion.

  5. Hi,
    Fancy schools banning peanut butter that to me sounds so ridiculous, I know some kids are allergic to nuts, but truly that is going too far.
    Love your salad looks very nice. 🙂

  6. That was exhausting to read. I cannot imagine living it. No wonder our Mom told us to pack our own lunches. Our schools have also banned peanut butter – ridiculous.

    Love that you can serve this one hot or cold.

  7. You are such a wonderful mother. I was a single mum when my kids were young and I didn’t have a lot of time. Like you, I organised their lunches until I started getting the, “I want this instead of that and not this but one of these and I need enough to share…”

    So I said, “fine, if you don’t like the way I’ve packed your lunch, you must make it yourself before you go to bed OR you’ll take the lunch I pack.”

    The transformation was incredible. All of a sudden they liked my lunches. 🙂

    Your chicken pasta salad looks delicious.

  8. I think there should be a software that takes care of this lunch box dilemma. This is probably tougher than pleasing the most annoying guests at restaurants – you can throw them out if necessary:)

  9. Thinking about what to pack for my own lunch drives me nuts sometimes- I can’t even imagine catering to the needs of others…you’re a good mother/wife!

  10. Nuts are banned? I wonder why?
    Sounds like you are managing the best you can, they will appreciate it later in life wen they realize how great of a mother & cook you are 🙂

  11. what a beautiful dish you create there 🙂 green enough to look healthy for all

    Latest: Of Latest Hit: Sesame Ramen

  12. I love pasta salads and this one looks exceptionally good.
    You have a patience and nerves of a saint! When we didn’t want to eat what our mum prepared she would tell us to cook for ourselves. This is how my brother learnt how to cook his favourite meals at 9 and when I had a short stage of vegetarianism I cooked practically 99% of my meals at 17. We now both cook a lot and with a lot of pleasure, so I am very grateful my mum reacted this way.

  13. Ha! I was thinking how to use up my pesto sauce. This is a great idea!

  14. Charlie, you are a Saint! I hope your children appreciate you–and one day they will. Certainly, they will. My son is now 22 and lives in the US so lunches are a non-issue, but I remember once when he was in primary school he told me that he was the only kid who took a healthy lunch to school. He was actually horrified at the junk some parents sent. I can see that your kids have no reason to complain!

    The recipe looks great. You can never eat enough pesto in my house.

  15. Now that’s a challenge Charlie,that I sure don’t envy. Why not have the kids make their own lunches the night before? You can set some ground rules (no candy lunches, must contain one protein, etc) and inspect the lunches when done. Then, they might appreciate the trouble you go through for them.
    Fortunately, we were able to walk home for lunch from all our schools (funny, the smell outside today totally reminded me of the smell of spring during that short walk home; the smell of mud from a light rain or perhaps some of the last snow melting). Sometimes Mom would put a bowl of soup in front of us and we either ate it or went back to school hungry. Once in a while she would make tomato soup, which my brother adored, but I was not that fond of. I still ate it. We always watched The Flintstones and when we got older, we watched reruns of the Twilight Zone and then we were sent back to school.
    That salad looks wonderful, I would love your home made pesto (I honestly don’t understand why people buy it, it’s so easy to make). We make our pesto with toasted pine nuts, but the almonds are likely healthier. I have also made a wonderful pesto using tofu as the binder without olive oil or nuts, which worked out incredibly well (you left a very nice comment on it). Which reminds me that I have some basil in the fridge, so I’m hopping downstairs to make some pesto.
    Hope you had an amazing weekend.
    Eva xoxo

  16. Sounds like you have a daily dilemma on your hands. TGIF on Fridays!

  17. Oh.. I solo don’t miss those days! I hated not being able to send peanut butter, my sandwiches were ghastly because I was working at the time. I wish schools had cafeterias.. This sort of dish is the perfect solution!

  18. You are such a kind mother to try put everything your kids want exactly in their lunch boxes 🙂
    Kind of like my own mum – oops 😉
    This dish looks like a great compromise for all!

    Choc Chip Uru

  19. This sounds totally familiar! And what’s good for one week invariably becomes inedible the next. Love this pasta salad though – especially because you can make it ahead. 🙂

  20. Thank goodness school lunch is pretty much compulsory at the Youngest Glam Teens school. I don’t have the trauma of lunch boxes and he gets a reasonable choice about what he eats. I admire your patience. GG

  21. My littlej has to be practically forced to eat anything other than a peanut butter sandwich, I think we would need to change schools if they Banned nuts at her school! I get in a nice selection of meats and cheese, but to no avail.
    If there were fridges available to hold lunches, I would make the most awesome meals for her, but as its a looong time from 8am to 1pm, thats tempting food poisoning to close for comfort!
    I’ll save this lovely salad for weekend lunches instead 🙂

  22. Oh, I can’t imagine! I’m down to making lunch for just one…and he eats the same thing day after day. You are super woman!!!

  23. I loved it for myself too… Thank you dear Charlie, with my love, nia

  24. The pesto pasta salad looks wonderful! I could give this to my hubby in his lunch box. My daughter is fussy. I pack sandwiches for her too, but many times she comes back with it. Untouched. It just drives me crazy. So, once she comes home I make sure she eats.

  25. My dort is at the age when she won’t have anything at all to do with me, so lunch boxes are off my list-of-things-to-do at the moment. But I’ll have some of that salad for myself, thanks.

  26. Oh geez, I have enough trouble making my own lunch, never mind going through the ordeal you go through!! How about they make their own? 😀

  27. My mind went spinning with who was eating what… Arabella likes tuna, Archie wants sausages, and Alfie is keen on green grapes….right?
    Vegemite sangas?

  28. I only have one complainer , and he now has to make his own as I got sick of finding the cling wrap on the dogs bed…… this means there is not lunch boxes and a very hungry ( I suspect) teenager. You must be a saint

  29. I never did eat a lunch at school until I was in high school. Living less than a block away from our grammar school, it would have taken a note from the US President to allow us the privilege of eating a sandwich at our school desks — there was no cafeteria. How we longed to be able to do that! Imagine. Mom fixing us lunch everyday, very often a hot meal, and we secretly wanting to sit in our desks, eating a sandwich. I don’t envy you your lunch-related hassles but, if you’re at all like Mom, one day you’ll comment how much you miss it. 🙂

  30. Hmm. The funny thing about all of this is that, growing up, I never got a say in my lunchboxes. I didn’t really like much of what mum packed (usually just ham sandwiches with too much butter, salami sandwiches were okay, I liked cans of tuna, didn’t like the store-bought cookies that occasionally showed up), and often gave it away to a friend, but I also never went hungry. I can’t quite remember what happened, but I guess… hmm. I didn’t starve, even though I didn’t really like what I got. I would’ve been in heaven if my mum had acquiesced to my demands for fairy bread! And if I’d ever got pasta in the lunchbox? ZOMG!!

  31. I only do one lunch box and fortunately he is very easygoing. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to please three children!

  32. I’m so thankful I don’t have to make school lunches anymore. By high school, our daughter mostly went out to lunch or came home and rummaged through the pantry. Our son went to a residential high school, so no lunches for him those last three years!

    The salad looks fab.

  33. ha ha – oh yeah – the dreaded lunch box and worse still lunch box envy.
    Mine get sandwiches or left overs and if they dont like it, they can have a bigger dinner. Thankfully they like most of the sandwiches, however mind you they are things like smoked salmon and toffuti or turkey, cream cheese and cranberry. Yes I have little fuss pots too! 🙂 xx

  34. I’m sorry, Charlie, but I’m laughing out loud at this post because I can relate. My kids mostly ate prepared school lunches, but two of the three are quite picky eaters. Only one is still at home; the other all grown up and thankfully not as picky anymore. Still, when she comes home for a visit, I can’t recall what she likes and what she doesn’t. My son, the only one still at home, is picky. I long ago gave up trying to figure out meals that he would eat. If he doesn’t like what I serve, he has to find his own food. Of course, that’s not going to work with the lunch packing. Can you make your three pack their lunches themselves? Or would that equal totally unhealthy meals?

  35. Oh my gosh… i never knew lunch boxes would be such a nightmare hahaha as a kid and teenager i ate everything and as long as my mum gave me some treats I was happy hehe 🙂 I better start learning how to cook more varieties of food if not I wouldn’t survive when I really do become a mother hehehe
    This pasta sounds and looks great 🙂 thanks for sharing Charlie!

  36. I’m going to make this pasta this week! It looks so good and I love pesto.

    It’s funny how picky kids are “nowadays”! I don’t remember ever really minding at all what my mom placed in my lunch box. And on hot lunch days at school the lunch ladies loved the fact that I went for seconds on vegetables.

    Ahhh…the good old days. 😉 Our son, on the other hand, has always been a picky eater. Packing a lunch for him was a nightmare. I used to try to talk him into eating the hot lunch at school, but he wouldn’t do it. He’s never eaten a sandwich. Yep. Still, and he’s almost 20. He’ll eat all of the meat inside, but never the bread and meat together. He didn’t try pizza until the 3rd grade and didn’t discover that he liked spaghetti (and my husband is Italian!) until around the 5th grade. Now he’s living on his own and called me the other night to ask how to make mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. Shocking! At least I know he’s eating a vegetable every now and then. Haha!

  37. Pesto pasta is definitely a hit with my nephews! Actually, it’s a hit even to me! Haha. I can’t even think of what to pack my kids for lunch (whenever that time does come – no kids for years to come) but i wonder how my parents did it back those 15 odd years ago. I got a sandwich, a juice box and 2 pieces of fruit. Lol.

  38. Haha my mum usually made us kids pack our own lunches. Yep, even when we were still in primary school! She was very mean 🙁

  39. Lovely recipe! I would gladly take that to lunch! I don’t have children at home to pack for, and it is one aspect of motherhood I don’t miss! I think the whole lunch routine has always been a chore, but the nly thing that’s different today is that when I was doing it we didn’t pay as much attention to the differently nutritional aspects as we do today. Peanut butter was also not on the “banned” list.! I still struggle for myself, though. It’s one more thing to do…and so often I end up eating something I don’t really even want. I need to rethink that plan…or lack of plan! Debra

  40. That looks delicious! I love pesto and I love salads. I tried making pesto once but it wasn’t very good (too lumpy) – but now I have a beter food processor so that will help. I must try this – and good idea buying the chicken cooked. I rarely make the kids lunches…though I do for my husband…when I remember!

  41. Ha, my wife laughs when I talk about lunch boxes – it’s a rather alien concept in Swedish schools, but back in England where I grew up, until I changed to the school I’d stay at from 9-18 years I had lunch boxes each day and it was invariably the same: a sandwich with some obnoxious fish-paste filling (or sometimes marmite and cucumber which is actually delicious!) a cookie and an apple. I had a small flask in which I got orange drink (not juice… drink!) – my parents weren’t the richest back then so I had to make do with what I was given!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      My mother used to give me marmite and lettuce sandwiches and they were my favourite. My friend used to be given marmite and walnuts. Another friend was given marmite and cheese. It seems marmite can be paired with a lot of things. I haven’t tried it with cucumber but I imagine it would be similar to the lettuce with the crunch factor. I was also given orange drink (juice was far too expensive). The drink I was given was called Tang – made from a powder. I hated it then and I hate it now. Foul stuff xx

  42. I made this on Monday (great minds think alike) using leftover roasted chicken legs/thighs from a rotisserie bird I bought at CostCo (big box grocery store chain in Canada and US) and the last of the basil/walnut pesto I made with last year’s crop of basil. Very tasty stuff. 🙂

  43. pff difficult people.. I know what r u going through. why they have to make our lives so complicated?!

    but it seems u found a greta solution to the problem. chicken pesto salad is a must try dish. I love pestos, so looking forward to give your recipe a try!

  44.  hy, What you wrote was very nice, and really helped me, thanks for sharing

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