Cranberry chicken salad recipe is for easy on-the-go lunches and the kids lunch box! The whole family loves this creamy, tangy and crunchy chicken salad! It keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days, but it probably won't last that long in your house!
You're looking at my new resolution to stop eating leftover kid food and scraps from my kids' plates for my meals. I take incredible care of my kids by putting a lot of thought into the meals they consume, so why don't I do this for myself? Why do I make sure my kids' meals each have protein, a carb, a fruit, and a vegetable, but I don't take care of myself in this same way? Enough, I say--I have to do better! No more crusts of bread and mushy kiwi slices for lunch, I say!
We can take care of our loved ones better if we take care of ourselves better. So, I dreamed up the perfect lunch for myself. I needed something healthy, crunchy, easy, fast, and of course, delicious. I love snacking on crackers with my kids, so this cranberry chicken salad with apples and pecans is something I can scoop on a cracker. And then, I can use the leftover dried cranberries to make white chocolate cranberry cookies while the baby naps!
I thought this recipe was overly simple, and I wasn't going to share it with you, but then my kids started gobbling it up, and I thought you might be able to use it for yourself or your kids' lunch boxes! Pack it with some homemade healthy fruit snacks, and the vegetable quotient for the day is reached.
Cranberry chicken salad ingredients:
- chicken: I use 2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts, just like I did for my avocado chicken salad. If you have leftover rotisserie chicken, use it here and save yourself a step!
- dried cranberries: Dried cranberries come with a small amount of sugar on them to balance out their tartness, and it's the perfect amount. If you're watching all sugar in your kids, use the unsweetened ones. If you have fresh ones, try my cranberry orange bread or my shortbread cranberry bars.
- apples: Any variety of apple that's sweet and crunchy works.
- celery: Celery brings so much crunch to the table! Chop it very finely for little kids.
- pecans: You can use pecans, slivered or sliced almonds, or even walnuts, if you prefer.
- mayo: I use the mayonnaise made with avocado oil, but it's really your choice here.
- Dijon mustard: A small amount of Dijon elevates the flavors here, but doesn't scare away the kids, I promise.
- salt and pepper: A good cooking lesson is to taste your food before serving, and add more salt and pepper. It almost always helps!
Steps to make chicken salad:
- First, you want to cook the chicken breast. While it cooks, gather and dice the remaining ingredients for the salad: apples, celery, cranberries and pecans.
To cook the chicken from scratch, place it in a pan covered with water or chicken broth. I always prefer chicken broth, and then sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil and then immediately lower the heat to the lowest setting, and place a lid on the pan. After 15 minutes, use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken is 165-degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the chicken, let it cool, and then shred it.
- To make the salad dressing, whisk together the mayo, Dijon, salt and pepper in a small jar.
- Pour the salad dressing on top of all of the ingredients, and toss. Yes, you can toss this salad with dressing for up to 2 days before serving, because it slightly softens the apples and celery as it sits, and the flavors improve.
- Toss the salad together, and then store it in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. If I pack this in a kid's lunchbox, I add an ice pack from the freezer to keep the mayo at a safe temperature.
And speaking of lunches, sometimes, I just have to pack myself one. It makes me more likely to eat it, and less likely to subsists on the crusts on grilled cheeses and grapes from the bottom of the bag. You know what I mean, moms!
If you like this, you might like my lemon aioli chicken salad with pistachios and dates! It's a little fancier than what a kid is used to, but your adult palate will love it!
Cranberry Chicken Salad
Creamy cranberry chicken salad is a family favorite!
- 2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
- 1 small apple, diced
- ¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
- ¼ cup toasted pecan halves
- For the dressing:
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (whole grain or regular)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place the chicken breasts in a 2-quart saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add 2 cups of chicken broth (or water)--it will almost cover the chicken, but not quite. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and place the lid on the pan.
- After 12 minutes, test the internal temperature of the chicken--it should be 165-degrees Fahrenheit. When the chicken is at temperature, remove it from the pan and let it rest until it's cool enough to shred.
- Place the shredded chicken into a serving bowl.
- Add the sliced celery, chopped apple, cranberries, and pecans to the bowl, too. Toss to combine.
- Now, mix together the dressing: whisk together the mayonnaise, Dijon, salt and pepper. Give it a taste, and if you think it needs a little sweetness, you can add a drizzle of honey.
- Add the dressing to the bowl, and toss everyrhing together.
- This chicken salad keeps for 2 days tightly wrapped in the fridge. For lunch boxes, use an ice pack to keep it properly cool.
chicken: I use 2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts, just like I did for my avocado chicken salad. If you have leftover rotisserie chicken, use it here and save yourself a step!
dried cranberries: Dried cranberries come with a small amount of sugar on them to balance out their tartness, and it's the perfect amount. If you're watching all sugar in your kids, use the unsweetened ones. If you have fresh ones, try my cranberry orange bread or my shortbread cranberry bars.
apples: Any variety of apple that's sweet and crunchy works.
celery: Celery brings so much crunch to the table! Chop it very finely for little kids.
pecans: You can use pecans, slivered or sliced almonds, or even walnuts, if you prefer.
mayo: I use the mayonnaise made with avocado oil, but it's really your choice here.
Dijon mustard: A small amount of Dijon elevates the flavors here, but doesn't scare away the kids, I promise. I like the whole grain Dijon, but either is fine.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 397Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 1056mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 3gSugar: 13gProtein: 21g
You can find juice sweetened cranberries at some health food stores. There is still sugar from the juice but is far less than the ones like Craisins.
This is one of the best chicken salads i have tasted. This recipe really satisfies craving for sweet and salty.
Thank you so much for taking the time to develop smaller recipes. I look forward to trying the apricot chicken next.
Christina Lane says
Thanks so much, Mary :) I'm glad you're here!
This is sooooo delicious! Adding it to my favorites! Thank you for the recipe & for tailoring them for two ❤
I just stumbled across your site. This recipe sounds fabulous!
One concern: it would be helpful if you would include a weight equivalent in your recipes wherever appropriate. For instance, in this recipe you call for two small chicken breasts. Here in Southern California it is irtually impossible to find b/s breasts that weigh less than 3/4 of a pound each, which is hardly small. How much by weight of chicken breast should I use in this recipe?
Christina Lane says
Hi Lynne! If the chicken breasts are large, just use one :)
Can you add instructions for doing the chicken in the instant pot? I’m an instant pot newbie but am pretty sure it would’ve gone a lot better in it. Thanks!
Christina Lane says
Of course! I would pressure cook on HIGH for 8 minutes for fresh, 10 minutes for frozen. Do a forced pressure release.
Mary Ellen says
Thanks for creating and sharing this incredible recipe! Such a great lunch idea. I made it today as part of self-care, rather than just eating some leftovers. Loved it!
Thanks again, love your site!
How many pounds of chicken breast did you use? Different brands are different sizes and weights. Would a pound be good?
Just wanted to say this has become a go-to for my husband and I! We both work, but throwing the chicken in the Instant Pot and doing the rest of the prep while it cooks makes this super fast. It's quick and healthy and we usually have leftovers for the next day. Thank you so much for posting this!