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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A Day in the Life

In preparation for the Honest Mom series that is coming up, I decided to outline a day in the life at our house. I used this day because it had a perfect example of how I get interrupted doing things, and how my To Do List is never really done in order anymore.

Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? (We’ve been watching too much Sound of Music lately.)

The hubs and I had stayed up the night before to get caught up on a favorite sitcom, HIMYM (if you watch it, you know). We probably didn’t actually go to sleep until midnight.

At 4am our son B woke up and wanted to watch Mickey. I explained it was still bedtime and coerced him back to bed, where I cuddled with him for an hour – he just looked so cozy! – before being woken by our 18mos old. I changed her diaper, got her a bottle at her request, and brought her in bed with us (my room, not B’s) where we fell back to sleep. Somehow we managed to sleep through B waking up again around 7:30. The hubs kindly went to the family room with him, put Mickey on, and came back to bed himself. Around 8 I finally got up (this is LATE for us) when the hubs asked me to bring up the darks from the laundry in the basement. Afterwards C and I went to the family room with B where we watched, you guessed it, another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. (These days it’s pretty much Mickey or Little Einstein’s. We should probably buy stock in Disney Jr.) I should also mention that I usually limit my kids’ TV time, but I have done a poor job this Christmas break of sticking with that rule.
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Around 8:30 I found bubbles and excitedly woke my eldest for her to view an experiment. We opened the front door and blew bubbles out into the -11° air, where they froze as we watched.

I started coffee for the hubs and washed out the travel mug while the kids sat eating the rest of the doughnuts their Papa had brought over the day before.

We said goodbye to Daddy and sent him on his way for his second day of a regular daytime schedule. (Hooray! Goodbye 3rd shift!)

This was my daughter’s second day off from school due to the cold, so I decided we’d do a Harry Potter movie marathon. Which, since my kids are young, basically means they are on in the background, my eldest daughter asks questions and lets me know when I should sit by her for a scary part, and I watch as much as I can while simultaneously getting things done around the house.

By this point I was super hungry so decided to make myself breakfast. Except, C had a poopy diaper, so I changed her first. I told her we’d put on the clothes in the family room (leftover from Christmas that I still hadn’t put away), so she ran down the hall as I collected the dirty diapers in her room and brought them to the garage to throw away. I turned around to see her standing there with a pink sweater from the gift bag.” Oh good,” I said, “you found your clothes.” We went together to get matching pants – which she had pulled off again within minutes.

I finally made myself a breakfast of reheated ham steak, over-easy eggs, wheat toast, and coffee. Of course, as soon as C realized I was eating, she climbed up on my lap, as is her custom, and asked for some of my eggs. I stopped trying to argue with her weeks ago, when I realized it was either dole some out for her or make her her own. Today I was not willing to make her any – at least until I had finished my own breakfast, anyway. My eldest A had asked for an apple after her doughnut, and was sitting in the family room eating it. This is a no-no, but I must have been too tired or hungry to really notice or say anything until later, when she set it on the table next to me. I asked if she was finished, and she said, “yeah, you can have the rest.” Score. I didn’t really want a whole one anyway. I took a few bites, then got up when Camille asked me for a bottle.

I went to the bathroom. While washing my hands, I heard C calling for me, and investigated until I found this:

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This plastic container is usually filled with stuffed animals.

Right after I giggled with them and took this picture, C climbed out, making room for B to dump his big Lego container halfway upside down inside the closet, which was already covered with stuffed animals. I made some threat to him about cleaning it up (I think it involved a spanking AND a time out) and walked away to attempt to finish putting away my laundry. I went to my room to fold and put it away. C followed me there. I had maybe 2 shirts folded when B came in saying he had to go potty.

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I waited for the customary request to help him – but it didn’t come. MIRACLE! He can go by himself, but has been insisting on one of us helping him for the past several weeks. I happily continued folding, until he called out, “DONE!” from the bathroom. I met him in the bathroom and brought him into his room to get him dressed. I chose some new clothes from Christmas, still sitting in yet another unpacked gift bag by his bedroom door. After helping him get dressed I decided to just put the clothes away and get it over with. So I folded the shirts, taking a quick inventory of his current shirt drawer and pulling out a few items that were out of season/too small to make room for these new shirts. Then I hung up a few clean shirts and sweaters that I had draped over his dresser the last time I did his laundry. When I turned around I noticed B had his pants off already, because C had brought in 2 pair of Daddy’s workout shorts, and the two of them were attempting to put them on.

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Aftermath of the ‘dress-up’ session

Where did she got the shorts from?

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Left the drawer open. Rookie move.

So, since I found myself in his bedroom again, I figured I might as well help him put away his blocks and stuffed animals.

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Stuffed animals put back in their places

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Legos put away, puzzle helter skelter.

By this point I still had some laundry to put away, so I went back to finish it, and put the shorts away.

By now it was lunch time. I made a peanut butter and banana sandwich for A, and gave B&C grape tomatoes and something else that I can’t recall. (I guess this is how days are when they are so full of activity.) While they ate I unloaded the clean dishwasher, which I had loaded and turned on earlier that morning. At one point I took out yogurt for myself, since I wasn’t TERRIBLY hungry yet. Then one of the kids asked for something and I forgot about it; instead I finished unloading the dishwasher (I had also been interrupted after starting this task.)

After this everything is a little blurred together. Camille was tired and needed a nap, so I pretty much forced her into one, even though she fought it all the way. One of the next things on my list was helping Aubrey put away her clean folded laundry, but since she and C share a room, that wasn’t going to happen, so I skipped to the next thing on my list: other laundry. I grabbed our bed sheets, our small bathroom rug, and a few towels and put them in the wash. While I waited to switch the laundry (which is in the basement), I attempted to edit some blog drafts (since the computer is also in the basement) – until Brendan started yelling for me, and I ran upstairs like a crazy person to stop him from waking his little sister. In his sweet little voice he said, “Mom, I was looking for you.” Aubrey had been using one of her new Christmas presents all morning – 2 sticker books that have reusable stickers. Think the old felt boards of our youth, just a little more modern. One allowed you to decorate rooms, and the other featured different dress-up scenarios. Well B wanted to help, and A was not so fond of that idea. PUT ON THE REFEREE HAT! I convinced A that B could help by handing her the stickers she wanted for each page.

Soon after that A got tired of Harry Potter and requested to watch her new Barbie DVD: The Popstar & the Princess. I had let her watch it on the computer downstairs the day before, because I didn’t feel it was very nice to force B into watching it (he deals with enough feminine stuff) so I allowed her to do this again.

Shortly after, I switched the first load of laundry to the dryer and put the rest of our towels in the wash. Suddenly I remembered my yogurt. I had made it all the way to opening it and adding a spoon, but still hadn’t eaten it.

Poor, forgotten yogurt.

Poor, forgotten yogurt.

Around 3pm I was feeling super tired, but hadn’t eaten except for the yogurt, so I cut up some cheese and a piece or two of homemade bread from our family friend Traci, and settled down to try to watch a little TV. Just as I started to nod off, C woke up crying from her nap. Wonderful.
I figured it’s just as well because I would need to start dinner in about a half hour anyway. And if she napped any longer, she probably wouldn’t be tired at bedtime.

So I cuddled with her awhile until she was awake enough that she wanted to play, and then started in on dinner… I know I usually post recipes, but i don’t remember what I made this particular time. (Maybe soup?) Although I’m sure it involved C pouring more water on the floor, until I took away the one cup that she had managed to find that I didn’t already place out of her reach.

Dinner usually goes like this: the kids, so excited to eat you’d think they hadn’t eaten in DAYS, rush to the kitchen and pick out plates or bowls. I try to put food on said plates while they swarm around me like angry bees, ignoring my calm requests to go sit at the table, until I have to practically shout, “GO SIT DOWN! and I’ll bring you your food.”
They usually listen after that.
I serve them, then myself, and about the time I set my plate and cup down, one or two or all of them ask for a drink or a napkin. I don’t know why I stopped doing this automatically. I try to tell them to get their own drinks (they are all capable except for C) until I realize all the cups are either dirty or out of their reach from C’s earlier escapades.

I wish I was exaggerating.

When we all finally have food, utensils, drinks and napkins, we sit down to eat and pray. Sometimes I forget until a few bites in, or maybe half a plate in. But when I do remember it’s the sweetest thing to see my littlest girl fold her hands and bounce to the beat of the prayer.

I’m beginning to generalize now, because it’s been too many days and I can’t quite remember specifics.

I know the hubs came home, I gave the kids a bath, and we put them to bed at 8(ish). I wish I could say I did something productive, but I think I might’ve tidied the kitchen, changed into PJs, and probably watched a show with the hubs before going to bed. It probably included a glass of wine and a bit of chocolate.

At least we were in the house all day, which is logistically easier, although harder to direct the kids’ energy.

This was not the most fantastic of days, nor the most difficult days. Just a typical one.

Can you relate? ?

Quick Tip: “Multiple Meal” opportunities

One of the things I’ve learned to do to save myself time and money is to re-purpose a grocery item for more than one meal. I almost always buy family packs of meat and break it into 2-3 dinners. Most times I’ll even take leftovers from those dinners and make an entirely different meal. I suppose if I had a motto in the kitchen, it would be, “Use what you have”. And along with that, “Save everything!” (until it goes bad of course) You never know what could come in handy!

So when I am meal planning and grocery shopping for the week, I always ask myself if I can re-purpose either the leftovers, or the other half of the protein that I don’t use. Actually, more often than not I do plan my meals with leftovers in mind. That’s what I call a “First Meal”: one in which you purposefully make more than enough, with a plan to use the leftovers for another meal – whether that be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a side.

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