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How to Prepare Healthier Chicken Dinners

Our registered dietitian shares quick and easy ways to make chicken recipes healthier, plus tips for decoding poultry labels and counting calories for different pieces.
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On any given night almost half of all Americans—43 percent—are eating chicken for supper. As a dietitian, that stat makes me happy, because this versatile, low-fat meat is packed with protein and is a proven source of iron, zinc, and B vitamins. But in my heart I know a lot of those plates are filled with chicken nuggets, which parents rely on as a go-to fix, because, frankly, they know kids will eat them without argument.

There's nothing wrong with the occasional nugget, but you can do better, both in terms of nutrition and taste. Try one of our simple, good-for-you recipes tonight and add the following tips into your cooking arsenal.

 

Skin Deep: Who doesn't love the crispy skin of roast chicken? Still, you are much better off resisting since it accounts for at least half of the fat. For juicy results, don't remove it until after cooking, as the meat won't absorb the fat from the skin. For even more flavor, tuck thinly sliced lemon and fresh herbs—such as sage or rosemary—under the skin or marinate your chicken for at least an hour before roasting.

The Dark Side: If you generally opt for chicken breasts because they are low in fat, maybe it's time to try something new. Meat found in the drumsticks and thighs is a little higher in fat than breast meat, but 60 percent of that fat is the healthier mono- and polyunsaturated kind. Leg meat delivers double the zinc of breast meat, satisfying 20 percent of your daily RDA. And because dark meat is so flavorful, it's a great choice for strongly spiced ethnic dishes.

How to Poach a Chicken Breast

Instead of buying fully cooked packaged chicken for a recipe or salad, save money and reduce salt intake by poaching a chicken breast. It's easy: Place 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a medium-size lidded skillet. Cover with water or chicken broth and add a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a bare simmer, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

How Skinless Chicken Parts Stack Up

Breast: 165 calories, 3.6g fat, 1g sat fat, 1.2g mono, .7g poly

1 Thigh: 209 calories, 11g fat, 3g sat fat, 4g mono, 2.5g poly

1 Wing: 203 calories, 8g fat, 2.3g sat fat, 2.6g mono, 1.8g poly

1 Drum: 175 calories, 5.7g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 1.9g mono, 1.4g poly

Decoding Poultry Labels

Free Range: A USDA-regulated designation, meaning only that the bird had access to the outdoors.

Farm Raised: Usually refers to chickens raised on a local farm, but technically all are raised on a farm of some sort.

Certified Organic: All feed given to the birds must be certified organic—it doesn't contain chemical fertilizers, pesticides, animal by-products, or other additives.

Natural: The most commonly used label has nothing to do with standards of care, type, or quality; it simply indicates no additives or preservatives were added after the poultry was processed.

Hormone-Free: Irrelevant—no artificial hormones are used in any poultry production.

Raised Without Antibiotics: Medications not classified as antibiotics may still be used.

Originally published in the April 17, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

 

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