Chicken. Potential health benefits: high. Potential risk of boring: ditto.
One ingredient, five ways. Chicken is one of the healthiest proteins you will come across in the grocery store. But nobody wants to eat chicken breast, no matter how you slice it, every single day. But it’s the perfect weeknight protein. It doesn’t take long to make a delicious, healthy meal every night of the week. These are 5 of my favorite weeknight chicken dinners.
Taco Salad with Blackened Chicken and Lime Crema
I grew up on the east coast but I was born in California, and I think my taste buds lingered there. I’d eat tex-mex every night of the week if my husband didn’t object. This taco is salad is easy to make, it fills you up and it’s as healthy as it gets for a fit foodie. This recipe makes enough for one salad but my recommendation is to make a big batch of the various ingredients – you won’t regret it mid-week when you’ve got lunch leftovers.
Quick how-to: 1) Dice 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh into 1-inch pieces. In a medium bowl, toss chicken with salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika, cayenne and thyme. 2) Saute chicken in olive oil over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through, 4-5 minutes. 3) Meanwhile, chop 1 head of Romaine, dice 1/2 a tomato, 1/4 white onion and 1/4 avocado. I like to add fresh corn cut off the cob, but thawed frozen corn works too. Slice a jalapeno into thin slices (how many slices is dependent on your spice preference). Chop up a handful of cilantro. I like to toast pepitas to sprinkle on top- they give it a crunch that you’d normally look to tortilla chips for.
Make the Lime Crema: mix 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt with 1 handful of finely chopped cilantro, a pinch of salt and the juice of 1 lime. You can add a teaspoon of Sriracha in there if you like it spicy.
To serve, simply toss all of your veggies and herbs with your chicken (don’t be shy about using the juice from the pan), in a large bowl with a squeeze of lime juice and 1-2 tablespoons of crema. Plate and garnish with pepitas and a lime wedge.
Cheesy Chicken & Spaghetti Squash Bake
Is Italian cooking the absolute epitome of comfort food for anyone else? There’s something about simmering tomato sauce and garlic, basil and Parmesan cheese that makes me want to curl up on the couch with a book and a blanket. But a giant plate of pasta doesn’t leave me feeling 100%. Instead, I love substituting spaghetti squash. It’s so simple to cook and fills me up without leaving me feeling bloated and blah.
Quick how-to: 1) Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Carefully cut your spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds from each half. Drizzle each half with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and bake 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape along the sides to create noodles out of the flesh. Yes, a whole spaghetti squash is too much for one meal, but it saves well.
2) While the squash is cooking, season a whole, boneless, skinless chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until browned and cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on paper towel lined plate. 3) Without taking the pan off the heat, add 1/4 cup diced white onion and 1 clove of fresh, minced garlic. Saute 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of diced tomato and saute another 2 minutes. 4) Meanwhile, dice the chicken. Add it to your skillet. 5) Turn off heat. Add 1-2 tablespoons of basil pesto, and 1 cup of spaghetti squash. Toss gently. 6) Transfer to a large plate. Garnish with fresh basil and grated Parmesan.
*Note: splurge and buy real Parmsean, the stuff that you have to grate yourself. It makes such a difference.
Chipotle-Pineapple Chicken Burgers
Burgers are such a summer food – nothing says summertime like a BBQ, a bathing suit and a bikini. But there’s no reason to not indulge all year round. If you’re grill ends up covered in snow by January (like mine), go ahead and sear these on a hot skillet indoors.
Quick how-to: 1) Mix 4 ounces of lean ground chicken with 1 teaspoon of chopped chipotle peppers in adobo. Add more if you like the heat, less if spice ain’t your thang. Season with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and dried oregano. Mix well and divide the mixture into 4 even patties. 2) Cook the patties on the grill or in your skillet on the stove top, 4-5 minutes per side. 3) Meanwhile, brush fresh pineapple slices with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and throw on the grill (or under the broiler) for 2-3 minutes. You’ll bring out the natural sugars in the pineapple which tempers the chipotle slice brilliantly.
To build your burger, warm a whole wheat bun and top with lettuce and a scoop of guacamole. Top with your burger and a slice of pineapple. Or, if you’re like me and are absolutely horrible at eating sandwiches and burgers with any sort of grace, throw your burger on a bed of lettuce and go at it with a fork and knife.
Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini Boats
The typical Mediterranean diets is full of vegetables, heart-healthy fats, lean proteins and nuts. It’s healthy, beautiful and super tasty. Think about it. Olives, feta, lemon, herbs, red wine … sign me up.
Quick how-to: 1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 2) Dice a boneless, skinless chicken breast into 1 inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Saute in a skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute until browned and cooked through, 4-5 minutes. 3) Meanwhile, prepare your zucchini. Cut 1 zucchini in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to gently scoop out the flesh from the center. 4) In a small bowl, mix cooked chicken, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced white onion, 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic and 2-3 kalamata olives, also chopped finely. Add fresh oregano and parsley, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well. Spoon mixture evenly between your zucchini halves (rest your zucchini in a small baking dish). 5) Bake 15 minutes. 6) Top each zucchini boat with 1/2 tablespoon of feta cheese. 6) Broil 2-3 minutes until cheese is brown. *Tzatziki is a Mediterranean yogurt sauce with cucumbers, lemon and herbs – and it’s amazing. It’s easy enough to make but most grocery stores carry it. Drizzle a bit on top of this dish and you’ll be hooked for life.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Lettuce wraps – not the kind that you order at California Pizza Kitchen. Not that there’s anything wrong with CPK’s lettuce wraps, but when I’m biting into dinner I want to be wildly impressed every time. This recipe does that.
Quick how-to: 1) Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 4 ounces of lean ground chicken, 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper and 1 clove of fresh garlic, minced, stirring occasionally, until meat is browned and cooked through, 3-5 minutes. 2) Add a 1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger and pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook 3 minutes so that the flavors combine and sauce starts to reduce. 3) Turn off heat and add 1 scallion, sliced thinly on the bias as well as 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh cilantro.
Serve in lettuce cups with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and fresh lime wedges.
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