This is the ULTIMATE Chicken Taco Salad! Make it for lunch or as a light dinner – your family will love it.
It’s quick and easy to put together, full of healthy vegetables, lean proteins and good fats AND you can make it ahead if you need to!
Do you do salad for dinner? I used to be in the firm “no” camp when it came to salads as meals, but this has changed so much ever since I figured out that a “dinner salad” does not consist of a few lettuce leaves and a slice of tomato.
Oh no 😂 A dinner salad needs to be full of protein and good fats and all the yummy things you’d have in a “regular” dinner – just cold and on top of a salad and drenched in yummy dressing.
And this Chicken Taco Salad has been one of my favorites during this hot and dry summer.
Chicken Taco Salad
The best part is this salad though: My kids love salad for dinner!
I know, pick your jaw off to floor as I do the same. The reason they love it so much is because I serve it to them deconstructed:
They get every component in a little separate pile on their plate, minus one thing they are allowed to pick to leave off, and they just adore it.
Mom win, I’d say, right?!
If you’re looking for the full list of ingredients and clear instructions, that’s all at the bottom of this post! Before you scroll, there’s important information in the text below to make sure your recipe turns out amazing!
What goes into a dinner salad?
A dinner salad isn’t just there to be light and healthy. A dinner salad is also there to keep you full until the next meal.
So, you need a few components to turn salad into a satisfying, balanced, and most of all family-friendly meal:
- a pile of lettuce
- a pile of vegetables
- a good dose of protein
- starchy carbs (yes, gasp, carbs are my best friends)
- a yummy dressing
- toppings and extras to a) add texture and b) make it fun for the kids
If you can’t add all of this to your salad (especially the carbs can be hard if you don’t want to add fistfuls of croutons, because that’s exactly how many carbs I need to feel full until the morning), you might want to consider adding a side.
You’ll find a few of my favorite sides for taco salad if you keep scrolling down!
How do you season taco meat?
You’re going to need to make some taco meat for this salad.
I usually use my Instant Pot Salsa Chicken.
But if you want to use your own recipe, please go ahead!
You can use rotisserie chicken, grill some chicken breast or even use ground beef. Whatever you have on hand and/or like best!
Whenever I make tex-mer inspired food, I season meat with my homemade taco seasoning. So easy to make, convenient to keep on hand AND you know exactly what’s in it.
My taco seasoning has ingredients you’ll find at any grocery store and is mild for kids.
- ground paprika
- ground cumin
- dried oregano
- garlic powder
- onion powder
Either make your own mix, or check the taco seasoning post I linked above for my measurements.
How to switch up your taco salad:
You can easily change up this salad to make it your own!
Here are a few ideas:
- use browned ground beef in place of the shredded chicken
- skip the meat altogether and make it vegetarian by adding a second kind of beans
- add roasted red peppers for extra flavor
- add Cojita or crumbled feta cheese
- make a creamy avocado dressing instead of slicing the avocado on top
Let me know in a comment how you switched up this recipe – I’d love to hear!
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How To Make a Taco Salad
What goes in a taco salad?
There is no hard and fast rule about what goes into a taco salad. Just stuff you would also add to a taco shell 😂
What is in a taco salad at Taco Bell?
Did Taco Bell start the taco salad fad?
Well, this is what they add to theirs:
- ground beef
- refried beans
- sour cream
- red strips (which are just red tortilla strips, but they scare me 😂)
You’ll notice that mine looks kind of different, ahem.
- there’s shredded chicken vs ground beef
- there’s more veggies
- I really don’t like rice in salads
- or refried beans
- or sad-looking cheese
- or scary red strips
I might be a bit of a picky eater.
So here is what goes into my chicken taco salad:
- shredded red cabbage
- diced tomatoes
- diced red pepper
- sweet corn
- black beans (I cook my own, but canned works in a pinch)
- tortilla chips that are not red
- a yummy dressing
And other than the ingredients, a knife and a chopping board you really don’t need much else to whip up this salad.
A minute of peace and quiet, maybe – but what’s that?!
Step By Step Instructions
The first thing you need to do for this chicken taco salad is prep your protein.
You can also rub taco seasoning on chicken and grill it, or use ground beef to make some taco meat.
Whatever you prefer, get your protein going before you do anything else.
Once you have your protein figured out, you can whip up the salad dressing.
It’s a super simple vinaigrette-type dressing with lime juice and oregano. But you can use any tex-mex inspired dressing you like.
Sometimes I even make White Balsamic Vinaigrette for this salad when I’m too lazy to squeeze limes. Shhh… Don’t tell.
Next, prep all your veggies.
If you want to make this ahead, hold the avocado and slice that one just before serving.
Finally, assemble the whole salad.
Then, arrange everything else on top.
Drizzle with the dressing right before serving, or let everyone drizzle their own dressing.
If you don’t want to have a communal sharing platter, you can also make a salad bar where everyone assembles their own salads – even easier!
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How do you meal prep a chicken taco salad?
This salad can be made ahead for quick lunches, or for super quick dinners on nights you have no time at all.
Here’s how to do it:
- cook and cool your protein, then chill it in the fridge in a closed container until you’re ready to use it
- prep all the veggies EXCEPT for the avocado and keep them chilled in the fridge in a covered container
- keep the chips in the bag in your pantry until you assemble the salad – if they come in touch with the veggies they’ll get soft super fast
- shake up the dressing in a mason jar and keep it closed in the fridge as well
- when you’re ready to eat, slice the avocado and assemble the salad
I have never tried keeping the ingredients prepped for more than 2 days, so that’s all I can recommend.
You can also assemble the salad into meal prep containers and keep them closed in the fridge with a little dressing container tucked inside for extra-easy school or work lunches.
If you want to bring some tortilla chips along, it’s best to add them to a separate little bag or container, or they might soften from being in a closed container with the vegetables.
What is a good side dish for taco salad?
I don’t always feel happy when I have tortilla chips and black beans as my sole sources of starchy carbs (I know, weird, right? I just don’t fill up on chips, they’re more of a topping to me.)
A few of our favorite things to have with taco salad:
- sweet potato fries
- no knead bread
- churro French toast from the waffle maker for dessert (counts, right?!)
Let me know if you have any other great ways to bulk up a taco salad!
Like this recipe? Why not try some more of my salad recipes?
I’m all about salads, especially on hot summer days!
Some of my other favorites you’re going to love just as much include Quinoa Spinach Salad with Asparagus, Greek Salad with Falafel and Avocado, Mango and Black Bean Salsa – which is really just a chopped salad with an excuse to be scooped up with chips. Yum!
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Grab the printable recipe for the ultimate chicken taco salad here:
For the meat:
- 1 batch salsa chicken (or equivalent rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken or taco meat)
For the dressing:
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried garlic powder
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the salad:
- 6 cups shredded lettuce
- 1/2 cup cooked black beans
- 2 cups shredded red cabbage
- 1/2 cup sweet corn kernels
- 1/2 pound tomatoes, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 small avocado, diced
- 1/3 cup black olives, sliced
- Tortilla chips
- Make the chicken according the the recipe instructions.
- Shake together all ingredients for the dressing in a mason jar.
- Place the lettuce on a large platter. Arrange all other salad ingredients and the shredded chicken on top. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.