Weeknight cooking ain't easy. As a Registered Dietitian, I find the most common barrier to healthy eating among my clients is time. We’re busier than ever, so the idea of cooking from-scratch meals every night of the week is daunting. If you’re a meat-eater, cooking your protein source is typically the most time consuming part of your meal prep. Most of us have time to steam veggies or boil water for pasta, but for the most part, cooking meat takes time that we don’t have when we get home from work. As a result, many of us find ourselves relying on highly processed protein options such as lunch meat, frozen chicken burgers, take-out, or skipping the protein part altogether.
Let's talk about protein. The inclusion of protein with meals is crucial to balanced eating. Without it, we’re more likely to struggle to keep our portions in check (think: pasta dinner with just noodles and red sauce), and we tend to get hungrier faster after eating a meal without protein. Protein slows the digestion of our meal, helping to control post meal blood sugars and contribute to a prolonged feeling of fullness. But including a healthy source is important too. Although cooking a whole, unprocessed source of meat is time consuming, the convenient, ready-made protein foods we have available are loaded with salt and lack the nutrition that whole food options provide.
Cook once, eat twice! That's my tip for including healthy protein in a way that’s also suitable for busy weeknights. Cook extra protein on the weekend (or whenever you have time) to set yourself up for quick and easy meals all week. Chicken is a staple protein source in most households. Nutritionally, chicken is best known as a lean protein, but also provides a source of Niacin and B6, which help metabolize protein and fats, and support nerve function. Chicken also has a fairly neutral flavour and can be cooked in a variety of different ways, blending well with any spices or seasoning, and typically appealing to the pickiest of eaters. Grill several chicken breasts or roast a full chicken (or more than one, depending on the size of your family) and plan to use the leftovers for quick and easy dinners over the days that follow.
Not a fan of leftovers? The key to using leftover chicken is to reinvent it in different ways to prevent it from getting boring. Regardless of your good intentions, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up your favourite take-out food on your way home from work, so ensuring that you’ve planned a meal that you’re actually looking forward to eating is essential to following through with your plan. Unsure of how to make leftovers more enticing? That’s why we’re here.
Read on for our 6 favourite balanced, quick, and easy recipes to reinvent your leftover chicken:
1. Chicken Quinoa Fried Rice
This recipe from Eating Well is a great way to not only use leftover chicken, but any veggies you have in the fridge. Or for added convenience, toss in frozen mixed veggies, and use minced garlic & minced ginger for a speedy weeknight meal.
2. Chicken Fattoush
Salads get an unfair reputation for being boring, but they can be a great way to make sure you’re getting enough veggies. Just make sure it's balanced, like this salad from BBC Good Food. This recipe caught our eye because it uses simple ingredients that we already had at home. Our dietitians love the use of chicken as a lean protein source, and the fresh tasting dressing made from lemon juice and evoo.
3. Creamy Avocado Pasta (with chicken)
This pasta dish from Oh She Glows is a quick and easy weeknight winner. Our dietitians love using avocado for its creamy texture as a substitute for cream, and we loaded this dish with roasted red peppers and chicken breast to help control pasta portions. Add leftover chicken and aim for at least 1/2 cup veggies per serving for balanced meal.
4. Cheesy Tex-Mex Cauli Rice
This recipe from Delish uses riced cauliflower as a veggie base, helping to keep things balanced, and also takes advantage of high fibre beans and corn as a complex source of carbohydrate. We used frozen, pre-prepared riced cauliflower for convenience, and leftover rotisserie chicken for this quick weeknight meal.
5. Super Speedy Chicken Tacos
We love this super simple recipe from Good Housekeeping. With a few simple ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen, you can reinvent your leftover chicken in a way that you will actually look forward to eating. For added convenience, we used pre-packaged slaw mix.
6. Tex-Mex Salad with Spicy Chipotle Dressing
This salad has both sweet and spicy flavours that we know you'll love. Plus, the combination of healthy fats from avocado, complex carbohydrates from beans and corn, and protein from chicken and beans, makes for one satisfying salad!
What's your favourite way to use leftover chicken? Leave a comment below!
Looking for more Real Good Eats? Browse all recipes here!