Chicken Salad, Lightened Up

Though chicken is a lean protein, chicken salad isn't always a healthy meal. Find out common pitfalls and how to add special flavors that everyone will love.
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In my house, we usually stick to tuna or egg salad, but once in a while, we'll have chicken salad for a change. But watch out, not all chicken salads are healthy eats. Find out the common pitfalls and how to bring on some special flavors that everyone will love.

The Fat

A typical chicken salad sandwich can weigh-in at around 700 calories and 30 grams of fat — ouch! Much of the fat (saturated, at that) comes from the cupfuls -- yes, cupfuls! -- of mayonnaise. Even if you’re going light with your mayo, you still should be monitoring your portions to about 1 tablespoon per serving. Take a look at these mayo numbers:

1/2 cup of regular mayo: 800 calories, 88 grams fat, 16 grams saturated fat

1/2 cup of light mayo: 389 calories, 40 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat

Although mayo is traditionally used in chicken salad, olive oil and vinaigrettes are other flavorful alternatives. These have fat in them, too, which can also run up calories — so still be wary of your portion sizes.

The Chicken

Chicken is a healthy protein, especially if you’re talking about skinless chicken breast. If you want to use the dark meat, be sure to mix it up with some white meat. Save money by using leftover chicken (try the scraps from last night's roasted bird) for your chicken salad. Canned chicken is also a quick option, but opt for chicken breast in packed in water. Stick to 3-ounce portions per person (about the size as a deck of cards).

The Flavors

Don’t chicken out, flavor up your salad! I pump up my chicken salad with chopped veggies like onions, celery, scallions and peppers. For an extra kick, try tossing in chopped olives. And instead of drowning my salad in mayo, I mix in about 1/4 cup of fat-free, plain yogurt with 1 to 2 tablespoons of canola-based light mayo or a combo of Greek yogurt and a touch of regular mayo. You can add a bit of sweetness with fruits -- raspberry, grapes or pineapple. Chopped nuts, such as almonds or pecans, go well with these fruit. Add-ins like ground black pepper, spices (curry powder), hot sauce and mustard are wonderful flavor enhancers with minimal calories; so are fresh herbs like parsley, dill, or basil.

The Wrapping

A chicken salad sandwich on 100% whole-wheat bread is easy, but try stuffing the mix in a whole-wheat pita or rolling it in a spinach tortilla for some variation. I love the idea of serving chicken salad on cantaloupe or honeydew melon -- it’s a great conversation piece for a group lunch.

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