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A fresh take on a classic lunch staple: a mayo free chicken salad, partly made in the slow cooker, and mixed together with fresh pesto made with basil, spinach and cashews. Perfect for meal prep!

Chicken salad with pesto on a plate served over a bed of lettuce and tomatoes.Slow Cooker Pesto Chicken Salad

Chicken salad for meal prep is a classic recipe for a reason, and we’re all for that here. We’ve got a few recipes for chicken salad on this site such Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Salad, Taco Chicken Salad and Apple Dill Chicken Salad, but this Pesto Chicken Salad is sure a favorite! This version is a mayo-free chicken salad made with dairy-free pesto! It packs an herby punch and is so delicious.

While you can certainly use either leftover chicken or grab a rotisserie chicken to make this, we’re opting to make it in the slow cooker for this recipe! It means hands-off cooking time, and we love that. You can also make shredded chicken in the Instant Pot using these directions!

Pesto ingredients in a food processor, including nuts, garlic, spinach and basil.Making the Pesto

This pesto is optionally dairy-free. If you tolerate dairy, go ahead and add in some of the parmesan. The pesto is made in a food processor or a blender. To make it simply add all the ingredients to the machine and process until the pesto is smooth. If needed, add in a tablespoon of hot water or olive oil more to make a smooth pesto. Of course, taste and adjust seasoning if needed! 

Shredding chicken with two forks.Ways to Use Chicken Salad:

  • Make it classic with a sandwich! Add baby spinach and avocado if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Wrap it up! There are luckily now a lot of gluten-free wraps, or you could try using a gluten-free tortilla, like Siete brands.
  • Serve it over a bed of lettuce. Any lettuce would work here ranging from classic romaine to baby kale or spinach.
  • Or wrap it up with lettuce! Check out our post all about making Lettuce Wraps.
  • Put it in an avocado! This flavor combo will be pretty awesome.
  • Serve it with crunchy crackers. There are lots of gluten-free brands, and also some seed based or cheese crackers for low carb.
  • Stuff it in a scooped out cucumber. Scoop the seeds out of the cucumber and stuff in the chicken salad! We’d recommend a traditional cucumber here, which tend to be larger than the European or greenhouse cucumbers.
  • Or just eat it! It’s that good.

How many days can you keep homemade chicken salad?

Homemade chicken salad stays good for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator!

Shredded chicken in a bowl with homemade pesto.

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Pesto Chicken Salad

A fresh take on a classic lunch staple: a mayo free chicken salad, partly made in the slow cooker, and mixed together with fresh pesto made with basil, spinach and cashews. Perfect for meal prep!
Servings 6
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours


For chicken:

  • 1-1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1 small onion diced
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

For Spinach Pesto:

  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews or nut of choice
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese grated (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup pine nuts


  • Place chicken in the insert of a slow cooker. Pour broth over the chicken. If the broth doesn’t cover all of the chicken, add more. Add in garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.
  • Remove the chicken and either dice it, or shred it with two forks. Let cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile make pesto: Add basil, spinach, cashews, parmesan cheese (if using), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper to a food processor or a high speed blender. Process until pesto is smooth. If needed, add in a tablespoon of hot water or olive oil more as needed to make a smooth pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • Combine the diced chicken, the pesto and the pine nuts and serve on a sandwich, over a bed of lettuce or in a wrap.


This recipe was updated with new photos in 2020.


Calories: 353kcalCarbohydrates: 6gProtein: 36.6gFat: 20.2gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 488mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1.3g
Course: Lunch
Author: Lexi

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  1. This recipe sounds amazing but my family prefers chicken thighs, would you alter the recipe if you were using thighs or still use 1.5 lbs for 3hrs?

  2. Is this a recipe that could be freezer friendly? Could I make it and then put it in the freezer and prepare it in the crockpot later?

  3. Made this tonight for our lunch for the rest of the week! Soooooo good!! Love that your recipes are so simple and tasty!!

  4. Oh yum! This looks deelish and sounds so easy to make! We’ve never seen a recipe like this before so we’ll have to give it a go, thanks 🙂

  5. Hi Lexi,
    I just came across your blog. I started eating clean one week ago today. 🙂 I decided to do so for all the same reasons you did – but I’m hoping for a nice side benefit of -50 lbs 🙂 Wish me luck!

    I’m looking forward to trying your recipes and I’m starting with your crock-pot pesto chicken salad.

    Everything looks amazing! Thanks for sharing your passion with the world!

  6. Hey found you through facebook and I like your website a lot. I like your recipes too and I just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  7. This looks amazing – I would have never thought to just use crockpot shredded chicken and pesto. Such a great staple to have on hand all week!