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

Creamy Basil Chicken Salad

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

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


  • 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.

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


We’re Serena & Deanna, two dietitians who love food as much as you do!  

We're also moms and business owners who share our family recipes, healthy kitchen hacks and nutrition adventures while keeping it real in the kitchen with you.

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