Pesto Chicken

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This easy Pesto Chicken tastes like a restaurant dish but is made at home with healthy ingredients. Make it on the grill or bake it in the oven and then serve it with pasta, rice, a big green salad, or grilled veggies.


This healthy Pesto Chicken made with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, lean chicken breast, and cherry tomatoes is an easy dish that seriously packs in the flavor. For pesto lovers, add this to your list along with this Pesto Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles and Italian Pesto Chicken Bake.

Pesto chicken is one of those meals I could make weekly. We all love it and since it is such an easy dish to prep, it is something I don't mind making again and again. And don't get me started on the all the ways you can serve it.

It is a really versatile recipe with so many delicious options - creamy pesto chicken pasta, pesto chicken sandwiches, rice bowls, you get the idea. Believe me, this will be one of those dishes you make again and again.

Pesto chicken with cherry tomatoes on a white baking sheet.

Before we dig into the recipe itself, let's talk about pesto for a minute. Every time I grocery shop, I am tempted to buy the store made pesto sauce. It's easy and doesn't involve pulling out the food processor. It's a good, quick option that works for this recipe if you are short on time.

However, make sure to always take a quick look at the ingredients. Try to find something that only contains ingredients you recognize - basil, fresh herbs, nuts, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, lemon, and spices. It can be shocking when you start looking at labels and realize the pesto is full of things you can hardly pronounce.

Usually, the best option will be in the refrigerated section. And it is important to note, that store-bought options will always contain a lot more oil. The homemade version included in the recipe is a lightened up version to keep things lower calorie and healthy. Both work great, just choose what will work best for your family and lifestyle.

Homemade pesto in a wooden bowl with a spoon.

What is in Pesto Sauce?

Pesto is a traditional Italian sauce that is traditionally made with fresh Italian basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It also sometimes contains an acid like lemon juice or vinegar.

It is traditionally used in pasta dishes, vegetable dishes, and soups. Today many people like to make all kinds of pesto sauces by using different combinations of herbs and greens including parsley, cilantro, spinach, and even kale.

Is basil pesto healthy?

Pesto is a healthy sauce and condiment option that contains fresh herbs, nuts, and heart-healthy olive oil.

However, it can be high in fat and calories since it normally contains a large amount of olive oil. The homemade version in this recipe cuts way back on the olive oil to make it lighter without losing any of the flavor.

Side Dish Ideas

There are so many side dish options for pesto chicken from classics like rice or pasta to roasted veggies and salads. Here are some favorites:

How long can I store pesto in the fridge?

Normally when I make this recipe, I triple the pesto recipe so I can save the extra for other recipes. Homemade pesto will keep in the fridge for 5-7 days. It can also be frozen and stored for 3-4 months.

Healthy Pesto grilled chicken on a baking sheet next to a bowl of homemade pesto.

Leftover and Serving Ideas for Pesto Chicken

There are so many ways you can use this pesto chicken recipe. I always make a double or triple batch because we love the leftovers so much and I can always get at least 2-3 more meals out of it.

  • Creamy Pesto Chicken Pasta: Make a double batch of the pesto sauce included in the recipe. Then while the chicken is cooking, cook the pasta. Save 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Once the pasta is cooked, add it back to the post with the pasta cooking liquid, extra pesto sauce, and 1/4 cup of cream cheese. Stir until a smooth sauce forms. Top with the chicken and tomatoes. This works with spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles as well. 
  • Pesto Chicken Salad: We eat a lot of green salads for lunch and this pesto chicken makes a really delicious green salad. Combine it with arugula, chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, roasted red peppers, olives, and feta cheese. 
  • Pesto Chicken Pizza: Slice up the leftover chicken and use it as a pizza topping with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. To keep things light, you can use a low carb flatbread for the crust or a whole grain pizza dough. Cauliflower pizza crusts also work for a lower carb option.
  • Creamy Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwiches: We love a good chicken salad and this pesto chicken makes one of the best. Combine the chopped pesto chicken with reduced fat mayo and greek yogurt. Then add some chopped red onion and red bell peppers for crunch.
  • Pesto Chicken Pizza Quesadillas: Lately I have been making pizza quesadillas for the kids. For this version, I use a thin layer of marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh spinach with thinly sliced pesto chicken.
  • Pesto Chicken Minestrone Soup: Sometimes minestrone soup is topped with fresh pesto, so why not top it with pesto chicken. You can use a store-bought or homemade soup. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the most common questions about making this pesto chicken.

Pesto is packed with healthy ingredients including olive oil, fresh herbs, and pine nuts. This makes it a hearty healthy. It si also packed with nutrients and antioxidants. 

The downside of pesto for some diets is that it also contains Parmesan cheese, nuts, and a lot of olive oil. This combination makes it higher in fat and calories than some other condiments. 

If you are looking for a creamy pesto chicken recipe, you will need to make a sauce for the pesto-marinated chicken. Simply combine homemade or store-bought pesto with heavy cream or softed cream cheese to make a creamy sauce to serve over the chicken.

The Recipe
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Pesto Chicken

PREP TIME: 2 Hours
TOTAL TIME: 2 Hours, 15 Min
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  • 1 cup fresh basil, packed
  • 3 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese (leave out for Whole30/Paleo)
  • 2 tbsp. almonds
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1.33 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (optional)

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Add the first nine ingredients (basil, water, Parmesan, almonds, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper) to a food processor. Pulse until combined to make a home made skinny pesto.


Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally to create thinner, chicken cutlet style pieces. These will cook more evenly. Marinate the chicken in the pesto mixture for at least 2 hours or overnight.


When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade letting the excess drip off. If using cherry tomatoes, spray them with cooking spray or toss in a touch of olive oil.


To grill: Cook the chicken for 4-6 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked through. Cook the tomatoes on a piece of foil (or in a grill basket), shaking them after five minutes. They will take 8-10 minutes to cook.


To bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Add the chicken and tomatoes. Bake for 12-15 minutes until chicken is cooked through.


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Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 6 oz.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 253
Calories from Fat 64
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 8g
Saturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 77mg
Sodium 199mg
Total Carbohydrate 7g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 3g
Protein 35g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
On Pesto Chicken
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Sammy B
November 15, 2022 - 23:49
Add a Rating:
So fresh. I can't believe how simple this pesto was to make. Delicious.
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November 17, 2022 - 10:28
I must agree with this comment. I have a fresh basil plant which I used to make the pesto here.
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