Nana’s Guilt-Free Chicken Salad

This is Meal #2 in this week’s meal plan using America’s favorite: chicken breast. (Well, maybe it’s not your favorite, because you’re tired of it. Hopefully after this week I’ll change your mind!)

If you’re blessed to have an Oma, Nana, Grammy, or Grandma like mine, going to her house always meant a special treat that you could only get from her.  (No matter that your mom would make it at home. It was just never the same.) At my Nana’s when I was young, it was always cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. She must have had some secret recipe for her cinnamon/sugar recipe, because I could never quite replicate how it tasted. And I’m pretty sure her hot chocolate was microwaved milk with store- bought packets. But it was always SO good.
When I got a little older, less picky, and more adventurous, it became this chicken salad. I had never had anything like it. Creamy, crunchy, a little sweet, on toasted bread; it was just the perfect combination of, well, everything.

After I got married, she lovingly shared the recipe with me. I made it a few times exactly to the recipe, but then I started realizing that I had a lot of leftover chicken from dinners, and it was silly to buy canned chicken when I could easily chop up the leftovers instead. Then I started cooking healthier. I have never been a mayonnaise fan, but I’ve conceded that it’s a ‘necessary evil’  – until I learned that Greek yogurt pretty much does the exact same job mayonnaise does, but in a much healthier way.

What makes this recipe special? The apples, grapes, and pecans. I love the apples and pecans for extra crunch – normally celery serves this purpose alone, but it again is one of those things I use semi-reluctantly and that I can’t eat by itself. The grapes add a surprising sweetness. Everything together is just the perfect combination for lunch or dinner. So, here is the recipe for Nana’s chicken salad – adjusted to be a little healthier and a little thriftier!

What We’re Re-Purposing:
Leftovers from Baked Chicken: about 2 cups, chopped

Additional Ingredients:
1 Apple of your favorite variety, finely chopped
1 cup Seedless Red Grapes, cut in half (or in quarters if you prefer)
3/4 cup Chopped (or Diced) Pecans
1 cup Celery, chopped (about one stalk, halved and/or sliced)
1 tsp. Celery Salt
3/4 – 1 cup Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup Fat-Free or Low-Fat Mayonnaise
*Optional: We are using our seasoned baked chicken for this Second Meal, so it will add extra flavor. If your chicken salad tastes bland, add salt, paprika, or pepper to taste.
*You can also add a teaspoon or two of chia seeds for a hidden boost of nutrition!

There is really no secret to preparing this; the secret is in the ingredients. Combine all of them, and toss to coat. I like to use a fork, because it breaks up the chicken a little and makes it easier to eat. Then simply adjust to taste. Instead of making it in a mixing bowl, I make it directly in a tupperware container for easy storage and less dishes. 😉 Many of these ingredients we keep in our house anyway, so it’s easy to add more of anything as you like. Here’s what mine looks like, completed:

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Another reason this is one if my favorites is because of its versatility: You can eat it straight up with a fork.
You can eat it on toasted bread, like my Nana used to make:

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On Toasted Whole Wheat Bread – also great on Whole Grain!

You can serve it on a tortilla, as a wrap:

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It’s also great as a lettuce wrap if you want to skip the carbs altogether.

For our meal plan purposes, serve this for dinner with a side of cooked baby carrots. This same night, plan to make your overnight stock using more of the celery from this recipe. When you cook your carrots, simmer them in water with a little salt until they reach a desired done-ness. But DON’T DRAIN THAT WATER! I’ve always been conflicted about pouring that water down the drain; with carrots and spinach, cooking in water is healthy, but many of the nutrients leach out into that cooking water, and some of the nutrients go down the drain with it. So this time, drain your water directly into the crock pot, and that will give us a little extra boost for our overnight stock!

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot for our overnight stock instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot for our overnight stock instead.

To save time, I had the crock pot ready to go while I was preparing the chicken salad. While I had the cutting board out, I prepped some of the veggies for the stock and tossed them into the crock pot. Most of them are root veggies and won’t be negatively effected if they sit for an hour while you eat dinner. The stock can cook for 10+ hours. Mine cooked for about 12 this last time and turned out great. I’ll post the full details tomorrow!

Hope you’re enjoying the meal plan so far, and especially this chicken salad, which has such a special place in my heart. ❤

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Spinach Artichoke Chicken

I have to share this recipe with you. It was so good I made it twice in two weeks. It’s great as a First Meal too!

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I can’t. It was one of Pinterest’s top 20 recipes of 2013.

The first time I made this, I used frozen chicken tenders because that’s all I had (refer to the first super freezing weather of 2014… store was COMPLETELY out of fresh poultry). I also was on the phone while in the frozen aisle, so forgot to grab the frozen spinach. Instead I chopped up fresh broccoli and mixed it in – it was really good. The broccoli florets collected all the sauce and cheese and were so good. I also thought I had mozzarella cheese, but didn’t – so I used the Italian Four Cheese blend instead. The chicken was so tender you could cut it with a spoon. My only suggestion would be to use a sheet pan or different dish to cook the chicken the first time, as it gives off so much liquid from being frozen. I did try to drain it out of the baking dish, but not enough – the sauce was still a little watery. But, it was good enough for me to make again, so I can’t really complain there!

The second time I made it, I used fresh thinly sliced chicken breast. I remembered the spinach this time, but still added broccoli just to have another vegetable. The chicken was a little tough, but again still good. Next time I’ll just use regular chicken breast like the recipe suggests! I used the leftovers in this Second Meal.

One thing I want to try is squeezing lemon over the chicken before the S&P and baking it the first time. I think it would add a little more flavor, and complement the artichokes well.

It’s really good served over angel hair pasta. It would probably also be good over lemon-butter rice, or egg noodles!

Click here to view the recipe! Happy cooking!

Update: I found this recipe on the back of a Knorr Pasta Side that I made for a work – night. If you’re in more of a hurry or want the noodles to be more incorporated in the dish, try this:
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