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Creamy Basil Chicken Salad: How to Make Canned Chicken Healthier

Creamy Basil Chicken Salad: How to Make Canned Chicken Healthier

Creamy Basil Chicken Salad |

With this simple trick, you can make canned chicken healthier and reduce the sodium. ~ 

What am I going to feed the kids for lunch? Summer mornings seem to fly by and ALL OF A SUDDEN, it’s lunchtime. That’s happened, like 38 times already this summer.

So I grabbed a couple cans of chicken the other day at the supermarket. Yes, canned chicken. Back in the day, my mom used to buy it along with canned lima beans. (And that seems to be the stereotype that remains.) Normally, when chicken is on my menu, I opt to buy a ‘natural’ whole bird and roast it in the oven or slow cooker. But guess what? There are 30+ more need-ASAP-summer lunches to feed my kids before school begins. And canned chicken has great protein and nutrition bang for your buck (about $0.36 per ounce). While it’s certainly not an “everyday food,” my kids have been LOVING this Creamy Basil Chicken Salad made with canned chicken.

But wait. “Isn’t canned chicken full of preservatives?” That’s what a mom-friend asked me. Here’s my humble dietitian opinion on: Is canned chicken healthy? 

Creamy Basil Chicken Salad |
Answer: Yes – but see my tip below!

According to my chart above, canned chicken does contain “less than 2%” of these ingredients:

  • Salt – which is obviously used when I can pickles or green beans. It’s the world’s oldest preservative.
  • Modified food starch – a basic thickener for the chicken juices – possibly corn starch or tapioca – very similar to the food starches I use when thickening pudding or fruit pies
  • Sodium phosphate – Used to keep the chicken tender. Too much of it or plus other sources of phosphorus may not be healthy (which is why I looked up the amounts of phosphorus in each of the other chicken sources for comparison.)

BUT, and this is a BIG but…

Here’s the trick to make canned chicken healthier: Drain and rinse it thoroughly!

Creamy Basil Chicken Salad |

Studies have shown that rinsing canned beans removes up to 40% of the sodium. So if this holds true, the 2 ounce serving of canned chicken would contain:

Before rinsing: 260 mg sodium
After rinsing: 156 mg sodium

Since the chicken is packed in water, I’m also assuming much of the food starch and sodium phosphate would also wash right down the drain too.

And while many healthy recipe often recommends using rotisserie chicken, you can see (above) it also contains preservatives and more sodium per ounce than canned chicken (140 mg/oz vs. 130 mg/oz for canned chicken WITHOUT rinsing.) Plus most folks don’t think of rinsing rotisserie chicken – but rinsing canned chicken is easy because you already have it in a colander to drain off the liquid!

Finally, here’s how I updated quick chicken salad to make it healthier and more kid-friendly.

  • Rinsed the canned chicken to reduce the sodium
  • Replaced most of the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt
  • Added sweet kid-friendly mix-ins: Raisins and or/mango
  • Added more veggies: Chickpeas, carrots, bell peppers, serve on lots of lettuce
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Creamy Basil Chicken Salad |

Creamy Basil Chicken Salad

  • Author: by Serena Ball, RD
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x


With this simple trick, you can make canned chicken healthier and reduce the sodium + a recipe for an updated chicken chicken salad.


  • 1 can (12.5 oz) canned chicken, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped mango (about 1/2 a fresh mango)
  • 1/3 cup grated carrot
  • Serve with whole grain crackers or bread or on lettuce


  1. Using a fork, “flake” or shred the chicken pieces and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard; stir in basil. Add chicken and mix to combine. Gently stir in mango and carrot.
  3. Serve on lettuce or with whole grain crackers.

So what do you think… would you buy canned chicken?


Thursday 10th of July 2014

I totally agree, a quick healthy lunch for my 4 Kiddos seems overwhelming many days and we get stuck in a rut. Now we can add a great option to our oatmeal/egg and tuna salad on wheat crackers rotation. Thanks for another Helpful and educational post! Enjoy those precious Summer days with your kids home, what a blessing!

Nina @ Whats for eats

Tuesday 8th of July 2014

I am still a bit freaked out about chicken in a can as it has only been a relatively recent addition to supermarket shelves here in Australia. I will be checking it out next time I head to the supermarket though to see how the sodium compares :)


Tuesday 8th of July 2014

I buy canned chicken usually for making Buffalo Chicken Dip and have used it before for some chicken salad that I made for a big group {I split the chicken between fresh poached chicken and canned - we were on a tight budget}. I love that you have the comparison on here with some great tips. And, as always, your realism made me laugh because I can only imagine being pressed for time and coming up with a lunch every day for your kids - I feel like that every time I am babysitting my niece and nephew

Serena Ball

Thursday 10th of July 2014

That's a great budget tip to split the chicken between fresh poached and canned - especially when you are cooking for a crowd!

Jessica @ Nutritioulicious

Tuesday 8th of July 2014

Never thought about using canned chicken! Great tips and love the comparison chart - eye opening for many people i am sure.

Emily @ Zen & Spice

Tuesday 8th of July 2014

What a great idea!! I can't believe how much lower the sodium can be. I work with heart failure patients at work who need to restrict their sodium intake. This would be perfect to recommend to them!

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