Chicken Taco Bake: The Ultimate Comfort Food

Written by Aimee L Frantzen

One of the hardest parts of my initial diagnosis of T1D was coming to the realization that I may not get to enjoy all my favorite comfort foods anymore. Call it the foodie or "fat kid at heart" in me, but it was very disheartening to think that some of my favorite comfort foods were now off limits. I met very briefly with a hospital nutritionist during my week-long stay who told me my eating habits were already as healthy as they needed to be but I needed to learn how to count carbs. We went over the basics of carb counting; a slice of bread is 15 grams, a serving of rice is 15 grams, a small apple is 15 grams... yada yada yada. But, how was I supposed to calculate the carbohydrates in some of my favorite meals?!?

I spent the first six months after my diagnosis eating meals that consisted of a protein, a vegetable, and 2/3 of a cup of steamed brown rice because I wasn't sure how else to get the protein and fats I needed while still including some healthy carbohydrates in my meal. It was essentially what the hospital dietician had mapped out for me. I had two snacks a day that consisted of fresh fruit and nuts or cheese, and that was that. Imagine how bored the foodie in me was with a meal routine like that! 

It wasn't until I gained some confidence from a healthy A1C reading at one of my first follow up appointments that I got brave and decided to experiment a little. Cooking has always been a passion of mine, and so I was excited to get back in the kitchen. Grilling chicken and vegetables every night was not satisfying the cook in me. 

This recipe is one of the very first I created on my own. My philosophy on eating and cooking since being diagnosed is this: I eat and cook foods that get me the most bang for my buck. In other words, the more nutrient packed a dish can be, the better. This also goes back to the idea that the more natural color in your food, the more nutrients you are consuming. The color (and nutrients) in this recipe really do follow my foodie philosophy -- not to mention it's a delicious and easy meal to throw together! This taco bake has high amounts of protein per serving from both the chicken and black beans, plus I've managed to cram a nutrient packed superfood in, and you can barely even taste it! Spinach, considered a superfood for all the nutrients jam packed into a low calorie food is great for skin and hair, bone health, and it has high levels of iron -- something you can typically only find in things like red meat.

This dish can easily be made with leftover grilled chicken, however when I do make it for myself, I use my own homemade taco seasoning as a rub for boneless skinless chicken breasts before grilling the chicken. I feel it adds a strong flavor component to the recipe!

Why make your own taco seasoning? Store bought seasoning packets contain high levels of sodium as well as other additives (sometimes even MSG) that are not good for your body. I like to control the sodium levels in my recipes as often as I can, and this is one more way to do that.

Here's a quick-and-easy taco seasoning recipe:

1 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 Tbsp. smoked paprika

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1 Tbsp. onion powder

1/2 Tbsp. oregano

1/2 Tbsp. cayenne pepper

Mix everything in a small tupperware container and this will leave you with more than enough seasoning to use as rub for the chicken as well as plenty of other recipes. 

If you are using this as a rub to grill chicken for the recipe, a few pinches of your homemade seasoning is more than enough to rub all over the pound of chicken you will need.

*This recipe calls for "4 servings of tortilla chips". It should be noted that I used Milagro Tortilla chips in my recipe but the nutrient analysis that I provide at the end will remain valid as long as the tortilla chips you choose are approximately 20 grams of carbohydrates per serving.

Chicken Taco Bake:

1 pound of grilled chicken, shredded

1/4 cup nonfat plain greek yogurt

1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup reserved for the top of the casserole

1 4 oz can of diced green chiles, drained (a strainer works best for this)

4 servings of tortilla chips, crushed into small pieces, 1 serving reserved for the top of the casserole

1 16 oz bag of fresh baby spinach

1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes 

1 14.5 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained (this also helps to reduce sodium levels)

2 teaspoons of taco seasoning (use 3 teaspoons if you did not use the taco seasoning as a rub for your grilled chicken)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl
  3. Mix well
  4. Pour into a greased 9inx15in casserole dish (I use basic cooking spray.)
  5. Sprinkle the reserved shredded cheese and tortilla chips over the top
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes
  7. Remove foil and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and chips are turning a golden brown

This recipe yields 6 servings.

 

Nutritional Facts Per 1 Serving: Calories: 443; Total Fat: 13 gramsCholesterol: 83 mg; Sodium: 605 mg; Total Carbohydrates: 42 grams; Protein: 41 grams