Cranberry Chicken Salad with Apples is an easy lunch that’s a staple in our house. It’s great in a sandwich, over greens, or wrapped up in a tortilla for a quick, tasty meal.
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Cranberry Chicken Salad with Apples Recipe
This light and healthy Chicken Salad with Cranberries and Apples may just be your new favorite lunch dish. It’s made with a yogurt dressing, dried cranberries, crunchy apples, and celery for plenty of flavor and crunch. It’s one of our favorites along with this Blackened Chicken Salad and Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad.
This healthy chicken salad packed with dried cranberries and apples really is the best. We have been eating for lunches the last couple weeks and the whole family is hooked. Chicken salad can be made a million different ways but this sweet and savory version is one of our favorites.
It’s also the perfect recipe for meal prep since it only gets better after having a night in the fridge. Make up a batch on the weekend and you can enjoy it all week for lunches. Make a classic chicken salad sandwich one day, a big green salad the next, serve it in lettuce wraps after that, and with crackers another day. It’s versatile, affordable, and good for you with lots of protein, calcium, and vitamins.
How to make healthy chicken salad?
When it comes to chicken salad, the difference between a healthy option and not so healthy option all comes down to the dressing. Classic chicken salad is normally made with a ton of mayo. As someone who doesn’t really love mayo, this has never been a favorite for me. However healthy versions usually sway completely in the other direction and just use Greek yogurt. In my opinion, this option has way too much tang. So the happy medium – using both!
After experimenting with tons of different combination, I found the perfect ratio is using a little more than half Greek yogurt. Here’s the basic recipe for a healthy dressing for chicken salad. This is enough for 2 cups of cooked chicken and can be used to make all different kinds of chicken salad.
- 4-5 tbsp Greek yogurt (depending on how creamy you like it)
- 3 tbsp light mayonnaise
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
- 1/2 lemon, juice only (optional but adds a great flavor)
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
Can I add pecans or walnuts?
Absolutely! Many people love the crunch of nuts in their chicken salad. Pecans and walnuts are the most popular, but I have also used almonds, pine nuts, and even hazelnuts. One important note, if you are making this for meal prep, I like to add the nuts right before serving so they don’t lose their crunch. You will want to use about 1 tablespoon per serving. There are 50 calories and 2 Freestyle Smartpoints in a tablespoon of chopped walnuts or pecans.
How to cook chicken for chicken salad?
When it comes to cooking chicken for chicken salad, you have all kinds of options from the slow cooker to the stove-top to the oven to the Instant Pot. You can also take the shortcut option and use rotisserie chicken or store bought frozen cooked chicken breast slices. That’s usually my approach since it is such a time saver. For 2 cups of chopped chicken breast, you will need one pound of raw chicken breasts.
- Slow Cooker Chicken Breast: Place the chicken breast in a single layer on the bottom of your crockpot. Season with salt, pepper, and anything else you like. Cook on low for 2.5-4 hours. This range is because different slow cookers cook chicken in different amounts of time. You will need to figure out exactly how long your slow cooker takes. Mine takes 3 hours. You do not need any liquid in this method, there is enough in the chicken.
- Instant Pot Chicken Breast: Add the chicken to the Instant Pot and season with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of chicken broth. Close and cook on manual mode for 7 minutes. Let naturally release for at least 5 minutes. This works for up to 3 pounds of chicken. It also works with frozen chicken breasts, but they will need 11 minutes to cook. For larger, really thick chicken breasts, you may need to add 1-2 minutes of cooking time.
- Stovetop Chicken: To cook the chicken on the stovetop, add the chicken breast in a single layer in the bottom of a large pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with broth or water until there is about a half an inch of liquid above the chicken breasts. Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the chicken continue to cook, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Baked Chicken: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray so that the chicken breasts touch each other but don’t overlap. Cook for 18-20 minutes until they are cooked through to 165 degrees.
How to serve cranberry chicken salad?
There are so many different ways to serve this healthy chicken salad with cranberries and apples. Here are some of the most popular:
- Sandwiches: The classic preparation is one of the best. Grab some whole grain bread, layer in some lettuce and sprouts, and pile in the chicken salad. Or serve it open faced on toast.
- Salads: Chicken salad is delicious over a bed of greens with all your favorite veggies.
- Wraps: Grab a tortilla or low carb wrap, add a thin layer of spinach, and pile in the cranberry chicken salad. Cut it into pinwheels to serve at a party or to make the perfect finger food for kids.
- Lettuce Wraps: For a lower carb option, serve it wrapped in butter lettuce leaves. Top with nuts for some crunch.
- Stuffed Tomatoes: Cut off the top of a tomato and scoop out the insides. Add the chicken salad right inside. Great for low carb lunches.
- Veggie or apple slices: For an appetizer or snack, you can slice up some cucumbers, apples, zucchini, or celery and serve the chicken salad right on top.
- Chicken pasta salad: Double up the dressing and turn this into a quick and easy pasta salad with your favorite whole grain or whole wheat pasta.
- Crackers or pretzels: For lunch, I love just serving this with a pile of crackers and some carrot and celery sticks.
Recipe Variations and Ideas
There are lots of ways to customize this recipe and create your own unique variations. Here are some readers have shared:
- Double the Dijon: If you love the flavor of mustard, don’t be afraid to double it up in this recipe to add an extra savory note.
- Add nuts or seeds: Consider adding chopped walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, or poppy seeds for crunch.
- Add spice: If you like sweet and spicy, add some chopped pickled jalapenos to your salad.
- Extra veggies: You can easily pack in some extra veggies. Chopped carrots or cucumbers add a really nice crunch.
- No Mayo: If you don’t want to use mayo, you can make this with all Greek yogurt. I would recommend using a higher fat yogurt so it isn’t overly tangy. You can also substitute some mashed avocado.
- Dairy-free: Make this with vegan mayonnaise or a dairy-free yogurt. Or use a mashed avocado instead. Just add some extra lemon juice to prevent browning.
- Swap in grapes: Use sliced grapes in place of the apples.
Can I freeze cranberry chicken salad?
Unfortunately, chicken salad just doesn’t freeze well due to the mayonnaise and yogurt. It will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days. If you are worried you won’t finish it, keep the chicken seperate since that can be frozen for future use.