Who says chicken is boring? One of the best sources of lean protein—not to mention a terrific source of cancer-fighting vitamin B, niacin and selenium—chicken is the preferred entree of healthy eaters everywhere and it's blandness is the perfect canvas for taking on other favors. Here are five tasty ideas for preparing nutritious chicken dishes so they next time they say, chicken again? you can serve it (confidently) with a smile!

1. Steam It
The key to steaming bland foods, like boneless chicken breasts, is to add plenty of natural flavoring ingredients. Place boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in a steamer and top with lemon or orange slices, chopped fresh gingerroot, minced garlic, sliced scallion, fresh sprigs of rosemary, or some combination of these, such as lemon, garlic and rosemary or orange, scallion and gingerroot. Steam over simmering water or broth for about 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

2. Bake "Fried" Chicken
Switch out a couple of ingredients normally used to make fried chicken, and use the oven instead of the frying pan. Substitute finely ground nuts, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds, for flour or breadcrumbs. Use only egg whites, instead of whole eggs, for the "glue" that holds the coating on the chicken. Remove and discard most of the skin and any residual fat from the chicken. Dip chicken pieces in beaten egg whites, then in nut crumbs, and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 45 minutes, turning once, for bone-in chicken parts, and 20 to 25 minutes for boneless breasts or thighs, or until cooked through (internal temperature should be 160°).

3. Poach It
The bonus you get for poaching chicken—along with seasoning vegetables and herbs—is a flavorful broth you can use for another heart-healthy meal, such as homemade chicken soup. In a deep skillet or saucepot, combine boneless, skinless chicken breast with cut up carrot, onion, celery, and garlic and a small, halved lemon, along with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, sage or thyme and a bay leaf, if you wish. Add just a little salt and enough water to cover the ingredients by ½ inch.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer for eight minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over, cover, remove from heat and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to plates or cutting board to slice, dice or shred. Strain the broth into a storage container and refrigerate for up to a few days, or freeze.

4. Stir-Fry It
When it comes to healthful home cooking, it's hard to beat strips of lean chicken breast tossed over medium-high heat with mixed veggies (such as snow peas, mushrooms, scallions, sweet peppers and garlic) in a small amount of light (flavorless) olive or canola oil in a wok or large skillet just until the chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender-crisp, about three to five minutes. Season with equal amounts of low-sodium soy sauce and fresh lemon juice or rice wine vinegar, and add a pinch of Chinese five-spice powder, if you happen to have some on hand. Taste to adjust seasonings. Serve over steamed brown rice, whole grain noodles, or shredded spinach leaves, and sprinkle with finely chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley.

5. Make a Quick Soup with Tomato and Kale
In a large saucepan, sauté a small chopped onion in olive oil until tender. Add cut-up pieces of raw chicken tenders or breast meat, 1 large cut-up tomato, 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth, and a pinch each of crushed rosemary, thyme, oregano and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add a cupful or two of thinly sliced kale leaves and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer or until chicken is cooked through. If you want to add leftover cooked rice, pasta, or vegetables, stir them into the pot for the last minute of cooking time. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN reviewed this article.


American Heart Association. Nutrition Center: Healthy Cooking.