Who loves chicken salad? I have always been a fan, but it can be so decadent and rich that the traditional mayonnaise-laden version is sometimes too much for me. Plus, the traditional version is usually pretty low in veggies. This No Mayo Avocado Chicken Salad is all the things I love about chicken salad…it’s flavorful and has added creaminess from avocado, but it’s also loaded with vegetables, making it higher in healthy vitamins and fiber.
Last weekend, I got to spend some time at my college sorority house teaching some of the senior women how to cook and eat healthier. It was super fun, and I think we all learned a lot! They left the cooking demo with bellies full of two veggie-rich dishes that I cooked for them, one of which was this No Mayo Avocado Chicken Salad.
Knowing I would be working with college seniors, who are living in apartments and ready to move on to the next chapter in their lives, inspired me to create two recipes to share with them. I knew the recipes had to fit these characteristics:
- No special equipment required
- No obscure ingredients (so they wouldn’t have leftovers of something they may never use again – such as a unique spice blend)
- And most importantly…fun and flavorful so they will want to cook and eat them!
The great thing is, creating recipes to fit these criteria is so doable! With all of the fresh produce and quality products we have at our fingertips, cooking and eating healthful meals has NEVER been easier. It just takes some planning and confidence in the kitchen.
Planning Healthy Meals
As I showed them how to cook each of the two recipes I had created, I learned so much about the challenges they face when trying to cook healthfully, on a budget, and usually for just 1 person. I have been in their shoes (many years ago, of course), but talking with them more about their own challenges with healthy cooking brought up strategies we can all use when cooking healthy meals:
- Planning is the Key…To cook and eat regular healthy meals and snacks and avoid wasting a lot of food, planning is SO important! Make sure you have a good idea for what you plan to make with or how you are going to eat all the food you buy – don’t just wander the grocery store aimlessly, putting random food in your cart. Healthy food only does your body good if you actually eat it!
- Keep it Simple…Especially when it comes to buying perishable foods, don’t over-complicate your plan. Thinking you’ll cook something fresh for every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack is a bit ambitious, even if you love to cook. Making your meal/snack plans too complicated can leave you with a lot of extra food at the end of the week, which may end up getting tossed.
- When cooking for 1 or 2, plan multiple uses for the fresh meat and veggies you buy…Nothing can ruin a healthy diet quicker than boredom. If you cook a recipe that serves 4, thinking you’ll eat it over the next 4 days, you’ll likely toss the last serving because you’ll be sick of eating it! Here’s an example of three different meals (1 serving each) based on 1 package of chicken breast halves (3 pieces), 1 red sweet pepper, 1 medium onion, and a package of fresh baby spinach:
- Day 1: Chicken Fajitas (season 1 chicken breast with chili powder, ground cumin, salt, and pepper; skillet cook (see this recipe for my favorite way to skillet cook chicken) the chicken until no longer pink; then slice the chicken. Sauté 1/3 of the red pepper (cut into strips) and 1/3 of the onion (sliced) in a little oil in the same skillet. Serve the chicken/veggies along with some of the spinach leaves in your favorite tortilla or make it into a lettuce wrap with romaine leaves.
- Day 2: Chicken Stir-Fry (thinly slice 1 chicken breast and stir-fry it in a skillet in a little oil. Remove. Stir-fry 1/3 of the red pepper (cut into strips) and 1/3 of the onion (sliced) in a little oil in the same skillet. (You could add broccoli florets here – fresh or frozen, if you have any). Add back the chicken along with a little reduced-sodium soy sauce mixed with a little cold water, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, a little honey, fresh grated ginger (or ground ginger), and crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper. Heat until sauce is thickened. Stir in some of the spinach right at the end so it wilts a bit. Serve over rice or cauliflower rice (see this recipe to learn how to make it).
- Day 3: Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad (grill the last chicken breast; thinly slice. Make quick pickled onion with the remaining onion (see this recipe to learn how to make it). Serve the chicken, onion, and remaining red pepper (thinly sliced) over a bed of the spinach leaves. Top with toasted almonds, sliced strawberries (if you have any) and your favorite balsamic vinaigrette.)
The girls especially loved the avocado addition to this chicken salad. It adds the creamy texture that makes chicken salad so comforting and, bonus, avocado is heart healthy, which means you don’t have to feel one ounce of guilt enjoying it! Later this week I will be posting the second recipe I made for them…Chicken and Black Bean Cauliflower Burrito Bowls. Sign up for my newsletter to get all my new posts if you don’t want to miss it!
P.S. You don’t have to serve this No Mayo Avocado Chicken Salad as lettuce wraps as I am showing here. Stuff it in a hollowed out tomato (as my mom loves to do!), serve it on top of a bed of spinach, or wrap it up in your favorite tortilla with added spinach leaves. You get the idea!
No Mayo Avocado Chicken Salad How-To Photos:
Combine chopped chicken, red pepper, cucumber, and green onion tops in a bowl.
Make a simple lemon-garlic vinaigrette (using just 5 ingredients, most of which you’ll have in your kitchen already!)
Add the vinaigrette to the chicken mixture; then, gently stir in chopped avocado.
I like to spoon chicken salad on bibb lettuce leaves for lettuce wraps.
This fresh, healthy No Mayo Avocado Chicken Salad is a perfect lunch or light dinner!
- 3 cups chopped, cooked chicken breast*
- 1 medium red sweet pepper, cut into thin bite-size strips
- 1 cup chopped English cucumber**
- ½ cup thinly sliced green onion tops (green parts only)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and chopped
- 2 heads bibb lettuce
- In a large bowl stir together chopped chicken, sweet pepper, cucumber, and green onion tops. In a small bowl or screw-top jar combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Whisk until well combined or cover jar and shake well. Add lemon juice mixture to chicken mixture; stir until well combined. If desired, cover and chill up to 3 days.
- Just before serving, gently stir avocado into chicken mixture. Wash bibb lettuce heads. Carefully remove individual lettuce leaves. Save any torn leaves and the very smallest leaves for another use. You will need to use 12 to 16 leaves total. Divide leaves among four serving plates (divide the large and small leaves evenly among plates). Spoon chicken salad evenly onto lettuce leaves. Gently wrap lettuce around chicken salad to eat.
- * It takes about 2 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cooked, to get 3 cups chopped. I poach my chicken breast halves in simmering water in a covered skillet until they are no longer pink (165°F). This simple cooking method keeps them juicy and tender and is perfect for recipes like chicken salad.
- ** If you can’t find an English cucumber, you can use a regular cucumber. Cut the cucumber lengthwise in half. Using a small spoon, scrape out the seeds before chopping it for the salad. This will prevent it from watering out as much.
- For an extra boost of flavor (not that it needs any, in my opinion!), sprinkle each wrap with a little crumbled feta cheese, or stir ½ cup chopped fresh basil or 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint into the chicken salad with the avocado.
- 5 cups chicken mixture (4 large servings)
- 342 cals, 34 g pro, 8 g carb, 19 g fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 3 g sat fat, 4 g fiber, 326 mg sodium