Deli Detective: Saving Time with Chicken Salad

By Teresa Wagner, RD, LD
October 11, 2016


In our fast-paced lives, food often has to take a backseat to other important necessities of life. Maybe you forgot your lunch at home or didn't even have time to pack one, and you're off looking for something quick to pick up on a work break. Perhaps you are responsible for a side dish at a family gathering and ran out of time to pull something together. Or maybe you just don't care to spend too much time in the kitchen and want something fast? Whatever your reason for needing a food shortcut, are all pre-made, convenience foods off limits when trying to eat healthy? No! To prove it, I threw together my go-to guide for choosing quality, pre-made, time saving foods.

Take chicken salad for example ... an okay option to pick up, pre-made at the local grocery store? To find out I went to seven local grocery stores: Cub Foods, Hy-Vee, Super Target, Kowalski's, Mississippi Market Co-Op, Whole Foods and Fresh & Natural whole food store.

The ingredients that tend to be the most problematic are the chicken and mayonnaise. It's interesting (aka, a warning sign!) when the chicken has its own ingredients list, shouldn't it just be chicken? If you see ingredients like MSG, sodium phosphates, or other preservatives, stay away.

On to the mayonnaise, this was the ingredient that was troublesome for all of chicken salads I researched. Of course some were better than others, but they all were made with soybean or canola oil bases. Soybeans aren't a fatty food, so to make soybean oil the beans need to go through an extensive process to extract the fat. This processed fat can be damaging to our bodies. Refined canola oil goes through processing as well, also causing damage to the body when eaten. Canola oil that is expeller pressed or cold pressed is a better option. If an expeller-pressed/cold-pressed oil is used in the mayo, it will list it that way, but if the label just says canola oil, it is the refined canola oil.

Other ingredients in a few of the chicken salad mayonnaises—high fructose corn syrup, potassium sorbate (preservative), sodium benzoate (preservative), and EDTA (preservative). Not all ingredients with scary sounding names are actually unhealthy, but ideally we should be eating foods with ingredients that have food names not chemical-sounding names.

The best options for chicken salad:

  • Fresh & Natural Free-Roaming Chicken Salad

    Ingredients: Free-roaming chicken, celery, onion, mayonnaise (canola oil, eggs, water, honey, distilled vinegar, salt, dry mustard), parsley, tarragon, white pepper, sea salt

  • Mississippi Market's Sonoma Chicken Salad

    Ingredients: Chicken breast, pecans, grapes, celery, mayonnaise (expeller-pressed canola oil), apple cider vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, salt and pepper.

  • Whole Foods' Sonoma Chicken Salad

    Ingredients: Chicken, grapes, pecans, celery, dressing (expeller-pressed canola oil), honey, apple cider vinegar, salt, poppy seeds, and white pepper.

  • Kowalski's Chicken Cashew Salad

    Ingredients: Chicken, grapes, celery, mayonnaise (EDTA free soybean oil), cashews, Lawry's® Seasoned Salt

A great-sounding chicken salad alternative at Whole Foods without mayo is the Buffalo Chicken Salad. That salad's ingredients included, pulled chicken (chicken, salt and pepper), tomato, red bell pepper, celery, parsley, green onion, hot sauce (cayenne pepper, vinegar, water, salt, garlic powder), olive oil, lemon juice, powdered onion and powdered garlic—all ingredients you can feel good about eating!

Chicken salad is one of my favorite lunch options, and I'm a huge fan of our Nutritional Weight & Wellness Chicken Salad Supreme recipe.

Chicken Salad Supreme


  • 16 oz. chicken breast – cooked and cubed
  • 1 ½ c. apples – diced (I use sliced red grapes)
  • ½ c. mayonnaise with cold-pressed canola oil
  • 1 ½ c. celery – diced
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • Dash of salt
  • Dash of onion salt


  • Whisk mayonnaise, lemon juice and seasonings together.
  • Mix in remaining ingredients and serve.

What I love is that it's a balanced meal in itself, I can control the ingredients and it is easy to pack for work. I prefer to use organic chicken (protein), a safflower oil mayonnaise (fat), organic grapes and organic celery (carbohydrate). For extra nutrients and bulk, I put two cups of organic spinach on the bottom of a glass to-go container and top if off with the chicken salad, throw it in my lunch bag and I'm ready.

Let's face it, conveniences are nice but being healthy is even nicer. When you can have them both, it's like having your cake and eating it too ... wait, what? It's like having life and enjoying living it too.






About the author

Teresa is a licensed dietitian at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. As a mother of three children and avid runner, Teresa knows that good nutrition is essential for energy and well-being. She also sees first-hand the impact food choices have on her children’s behavior, moods and happiness. Teresa is a registered and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her B.S. in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and completed her dietetic internship at Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. She worked as a clinical dietitian for the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

View all posts by Teresa Wagner, RD, LD


Loved your joke, Teresa!! Love your article...I'm going to make some chicken salad this afternoon!! I miss seeing you!
October 12, 2016 at 8:01 am

Yikes! I don't think I'm buying the right canola oil. Good article!
October 12, 2016 at 4:05 pm

I work at Fresh And Natural foods in the deli and want you to know we use and expeller pressed canola mayo!!
October 12, 2016 at 6:40 pm

can you recommend someone in my area that is similar to your company. I live in southern California in the 91730 area code.
October 13, 2016 at 2:51 am


We don't know anyone in that area, but we always do phone and Skype consultations as well, here's a link to learn more about those options,

Beverly Lokensgard
Wow, this is a lot more simple than my chicken salad. I always add a couple hard boiled eggs and a red bell pepper to mine.
October 13, 2016 at 5:28 pm


That sounds delicious! It's a great base to add whatever you feel like. 

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