Nutrition

5 Quick and Easy Meals Using Baked Chicken

Gym, commute, work, family, sleep…repeat.

Somewhere in the routine of our daily lives there has to be time to make healthy food, right?

I don’t know about you, but I default to restaurants if the meal I have planned for the evening is just too involved.

I may have grand plans for an epic and elaborate meal, but after I’ve finished my mighty daily to-do list, I usually don’t have the energy or desire for such involved preparations.

So I’ve come to rely on convenience foods for a lot of my meals.

I know what you’re thinking, but not all convenience foods are unhealthy.

I’m talking about things like frozen veggies, boxed pasta, and pre-chopped greens, which can actually be just as good, if not better for you than some fresh options.

The healthiest meal is the one you actually make

Just as the most scientifically perfect workout routine is completely useless if it’s too time consuming and doesn’t fit with your life, your approach to healthy eating must also be attainable.

You can plan all of the super food packed gourmet meals you want, but if you don’t get your ass in the kitchen, it isn’t going to do you much good.

These meals are so easy to make that I actually felt a little ridiculous writing the “preparation” sections.

Cooking in bulk without the monotony

I like to do my bulk cooking on Sundays.

Since I’ve been following IIFYM, I don’t exactly have a regimented eating plan, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make food ahead of time.

I like to cook the protein portion of my meals in advance, and then use it in whatever tasty dishes I want throughout the week.

Below are five super quick and easy meals I’ve been loving on weekdays when I’m pressed for time, using chicken that I’ve baked the previous Sunday and mostly ready to go ingredients.

No excessive chopping, measuring, or cooking will be found on this list.

You won’t even dirty many dishes!

And although I’ve listed quantities, you don’t even have to be that exact with measurements. Basically, everything is “to taste”.

If you love walnuts, pile them on. If you hate tomatoes, use a different veggie.

Theres recipes are open to interpretation.

But first…

Perfect baked chicken

In order to make some delicious meals, you need to start out with properly baked chicken.

I typically prepare 2-3 lbs of chicken all at once to use throughout the week.

Basic Seasoning Recipe

This is the seasoning I use for chicken that I’ll be eating throughout the week as it gives it good flavor, but is simple enough to allow the chicken to pair easily with all the other ingredients.

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder

Preparation

(1) Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

(2) Sprinkle a thin layer of seasoning onto the lined baking sheet.

(3) Trim excess fat and that thick tendon from the chicken breasts.

(4) Arrange chicken on your baking sheet and season the top of the breasts.

Cooking

I like to bake chicken at 425 degrees F for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breasts.

If you’re new to cooking, you’ll want to use a meat thermometer to ensure that your baked chicken reaches 165 degrees.

As a rule of thumb though, if the tops have a nice golden color to them, and the juices run clear when you apply a little pressure with a fork, your chicken is cooked.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Chicken loses nearly half its weight during cooking. All of the quantities of chicken noted in the recipes below are the pre-baked quantities. I just make a mental note of the uncooked weight of chicken, divided by the number of breasts or tenders cooked to determine roughly how much baked chicken gives me the serving size I need.

Chicken Cranberry Walnut Salad

baked chicken salad

This is my at-home, healthier version of the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad from Wendy’s.

It’s a perfect blend of sweetness, hearty protein (even though I forgot to buy blue cheese!), and filling veggies.

Prep time – 5 minutes

Cook time – 0 minutes

Ingredients

Salad

  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • 6 oz baked chicken, cubed
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1 oz dried cranberries
  • 1 oz walnuts or pecans
  • 1 oz crumbled blue cheese (optional)

Dressing

  • 1 oz olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt

The Wendy’s version of this uses raspberry vinaigrette (and is delicious).

However, I usually don’t keep too many store-bought dressings on hand, so I prefer a super simple olive oil dressing.

It’s easy, delicious, and I actually think it does a better job at enhancing the flavor of the salad ingredients than most commercially available dressings (that are loaded with junk).

Preparation

(1) Place your greens in a large bowl.

(2) Add dressing and stir to evenly coat (do this first to avoid toppings collecting at the bottom of the bowl).

(3) Add all of your toppings and enjoy!

Chicken and Rice Soup

baked chicken soup

With colder weather on the way, sometimes you just want to dig into a hearty bowl of soup.

But what if you didn’t get the hankering until 5 p.m.?

No worries! This chicken and rice soup cooks up in a jiffy.

It’s like a heartier, thicker version of the classic chicken noodle soup.

Prep time – 5 minutes

Cook time – 40 minutes

Ingredients

baked chicken soup ingredients

  • 1 cup rice (I use a blend with wild rice for variety, color, and texture)
  • 1-1.5 lbs chicken
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 cups pre-diced, fresh or frozen, mirepoix (fancy speak for diced celery, carrots, and onions)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

(1) In a large stock pot combine the broth, garlic, seasonings, and mirepoix, and bring to a boil (should take about 10 minutes). Shred the chicken and measure your rice while your stock is coming to a boil.

(2) Add rice and chicken and cook on med-low heat for 30 minutes, or until rice is tender.

If it starts to become too thick as you near the end of the cook time, add another cup of water.

Chicken Black Bean and Corn Salsa Tacos

baked chicken tacos peppers

If you’re getting tired of beef tacos, try jazzing up boring baked chicken with a little salsa and a few corn tortillas.

This recipe actually came about sort of backwards.

I wasn’t looking for a way to utilize baked chicken, but rather, was searching for a reason to eat more of this awesome black bean and corn salsa that I recently discovered.

I always have corn tortillas on hand for making breakfast tacos and pairing my new salsa with shredded chicken breast seemed like a good match.

Oh, how right I was!

Prep time – 5 minutes

Cook time – 3 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 corn tortillas
  • 6 oz chicken
  • 6 tablespoons black bean and corn salsa (or whatever salsa you like)
  • 3/4 cup frozen tri-colored bell peppers and onion mix

Optional ingredients

  • Avocado
  • Shredded cheese

Preparation

(1) Place frozen peppers and onions in a bowl and defrost in microwave (or you can thaw in the fridge the day before cooking).

(2) While peppers and onions are in the microwave, shred the chicken with a fork and place it in a bowl.

(3) Remove peppers and onions and microwave the chicken for 30 – 60 seconds.

(4) Mix the salsa and warmed chicken into the bowl and stir.

(5) Heat your tortillas on the stove (I like mine charred).

(6) Spoon the chicken and salsa onto the tortillas.

(7) Top with peppers, avocado, cheese, or more veggies.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

baked chicken sandwich

Plopping a dry chicken breast between two slices of bread is a poor, dreary excuse for a meal.

But shred that very same chicken to create a moist, flavorful chicken salad dressed up with some veggies, and you have yourself the makings of a damn fine meal.

This recipe is actually better if you can make it the day or morning before eating to give the flavors time to blend together.

I prefer to eat a sandwich like this with a big side of mixed greens with olive oil dressing.

Prep time – 5 minutes

Cook time – 0 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of whole grain bread
  • 4 oz chicken
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil mayo (or mashed avocado)
  • 1/4 stalk celery, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional Sandwich Toppings

  • Sliced tomato
  • Greens
  • Sliced cheese

Preparation

(1) Shred baked chicken with a fork and toss into a mixing bowl.

(2) Add olive oil, mayo, celery, and seasonings, and stir to combine.

(3) Toast your bread, if desired (I usually don’t).

(4) Add your chicken salad to the bread and top with greens, tomato, cheese, or other veggies.

Cut that sucker in half so you can admire your work, then dig in!

Note:  Look for the highest quality, heartiest bread you can find. Using the right bread can transform a good sandwich into a truly fantastic and satisfying meal.

Chicken and Pasta

baked chicken pasta

This is my default meal when I don’t feel like making anything or even leaving the house.

Boiling pasta is probably the simplest kitchen task out there and that’s all of the cooking involved in this recipe.

I suggest using whole wheat pastas or those with added veggies in them, and opting for sturdier types of pasta like farfalle (aka, bow-tie), penne, or rotini that act as a good platform for the baked chicken and tomatoes.

And since you already have the protein portion of the meal ready, you’ll be chowing down in no time.

Prep time – 5 minutes

Cook time – 20 minutes

Ingredients

baked chicken pasta ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked pasta (I used one blended with spinach for color and extra veggies)
  • 6 oz chicken
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 10 cherry (or mini-heirloom) tomatoes, halved
  • Dash of salt and pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon basil
  • sprinkle of parmesan or mozzarella (optional)

Preparation

(1) Cook pasta per instructions on box.

(2) While pasta is cooking, dice chicken and cut tomatoes in half. Microwave the chicken for 60 seconds.

(3) Drain pasta and add to a large bowl.

(4) Drizzle olive oil over hot pasta, add seasoning, and stir to combine.

(5) Top pasta with chicken and cherry tomatoes.

No more excuses

So there you have it. Five easy meals that are more “assembly” than actual cooking.

No more excuses to eat boring, bland chicken!

When you’re at the grocery store this weekend, pick up some ingredients (though I’ll bet you have many on hand already), and give these recipes a try.

See if you can avoid going out to eat during the upcoming week by incorporating these into your busy schedule.

Just by pre-baking the protein, I think you’ll be surprised how satisfying and enjoyable chicken can be in these simple recipes.

All the best,

Nate

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    John Tyndall
    October 23, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Hey Nate,
    These are very easy recipes for a clean diet! I’ve always had a lot of discipline about getting into the gym, but it took me too long to accept that I needed the same discipline about getting into the kitchen. You’ve shared the 2 most important secrets to eating a muscle-building diet: cook in bulk in advance, and keep your preparation simple!

    • Reply
      Nate
      October 23, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks, John. I’ve come to rely on these basic preps as my life has gotten more hectic. My wife works full time and tends to our daughter when she gets home. Since I’m not in a hurry to soothe a screaming baby, I’ve taken over the kitchen duties and have cooked every meal in the past 8 months. Needless to say, they have to be simple or I’ll just order some takeout.

  • Reply
    Walt
    October 23, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Cut down a heap of time on the rice dish by having 10oz containers of frozen rice stacked in the freezer. Whenever you cook rice, throw in another cup for the freezer. Rice freezes very well and will defrost in about 10 minutes in the microwave. Put the frozen rice straight into your soup and in 10 minutes it will be ready. Take out a container in the morning before work and it will be ready for a frypan pilaf when you get home.

  • Reply
    Francisco
    October 24, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Hi Nate,

    once you cook the chicken, do you put it in the fridge or in the freezer? I put it in the freezer and sometimes it gets a bit dry. Any suggestion?

    • Reply
      Nate
      October 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      I always make enough to last me a week or less so I haven’t tried freezing it. I would suggest making sure you’re using actual freezer bags and not just freezer size bags. I didn’t know there was a difference for a long time.

  • Reply
    Lyle
    October 25, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    For people who don’t mind dark meat you can cut down cooking time even more by getting the pre cooked rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. Where I live they are cheaper than a whole raw chicken surprisingly. Then just pull all the meat off and place in containers ready to go.

    These are some great recipies by the way. Its always nice to have some quick, healthy and great tasting options. It really makes it a whole lot easier to stay on track. In fact with the prep almost all done some of these take less time than driving to the restaraunt!

    • Reply
      Nate
      October 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      This is another great time saving tip. My father-in-law makes his with a rotisserie chicken and it was actually my inspiration for the recipe. He uses heaps of regular mayo and all the dark meat so it’s delicious, to say the least.

  • Reply
    Oliver
    October 26, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Now I know what I know what I demand from many girlfriend to cook. It has been a while since she had to learn to cook something new.

  • Reply
    sk
    October 26, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Nate,
    I use Tinkyada (brown rice) pasta and its a great sub for other pasta noodles. Tastes and feels like regular pasta but it lighter on my stomach. I make spaghetti about 3 times a month. Can buy at HEB and whole foods. I even made chili mac with tinkyada. Recommended.

    -Sk

  • Reply
    Axel Page
    October 29, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Very informative article Nate, I’m a big advocate of cooking in bulk, and these type of recipes are so quick and easy, there really is no way to use the “I don’t have time to cook excuse.” Gonna have to try that chicken salad sandwich one, the pic looks delicious.

    • Reply
      Nate
      October 31, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks, Axel! The chicken salad is great. I also made a version with 1/8 cup cranberries and 1/8 cup walnuts that turned out really good. It was like a Thanksgiving dinner leftovers sandwich.

  • Reply
    Steve
    November 3, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Great article. I’ve been bulk cooking chicken breasts for awhile now. Like you say, after a busy day, I find I’m far more likely to cook myself something healthy if its easy and quick to prepare.

    Sometimes, when I want a little change of pace, I make shredded chicken on the stove instead of baking it. Great for tacos, soup and salads and super easy. Basically, you just throw chicken breasts in a pan with a tiny amount of olive oil and about a cup of chicken stock, cover, and cook at medium-low for 20-30 minutes. Then, once its cooled a bit, the chicken is easy to shred and store for the week. Seasoning is entirely up to you. The fairly neutral seasoning you do for your baked chicken is great and very versatile. I also sometimes change it up and do more of a Mexican style with some chili powder, cumin and a small can of green chilies.

  • Reply
    Emily
    November 14, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Awesome chicken ideas. Your sammy made me think of another great twist just in time for the holidays…try turkey breast shredded with chopped tarragon, mayo and cranberries. Add lettuce and tomato between two slices of bread. So, so good!

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 14, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      Emily, that sounds delicious! I’m going to have to grab some extra leftovers this year so I can experiment with new recipes.

  • Reply
    Jordan
    November 17, 2015 at 3:09 am

    Tried the chicken black bean and corn salsa tacos on short notice. Didn’t have the salsa you mentioned but combined some frozen corn, a can of black beans (drained/rinsed), and some salsa I had on hand. Turned out awesome. Even better, my two young kids, who are notorious complainers about new food loved it too! I’m trying more of these recipes for sure!

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