Healthy Crock Pot Chicken & Rice Meals

Chicken and rice is a classic pairing -- nearly every cuisine in the world combines the two in one form or another, from arroz con pollo to fried rice to creamed soup casserole. Economical and versatile, chicken and rice is a good choice when you're trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet without much preparation required. Using a slow cooker can reduce your hands-on cooking time even more. Maximize the nutrition you get from a slow cooker chicken and rice dish by using low-fat, high-fiber ingredients rich in essential vitamins and minerals.

Slow cooker. (Image: Matthew Hart/iStock/Getty Images)

Skip the Canned Soups

Chicken broth. (Image: Photosiber/iStock/Getty Images)

Canned condensed cream of chicken, cream of mushroom and cheese soups are a primary ingredient in a number of slow cooker chicken and rice meals. While convenient, these soups can be high in fat and saturated fat. They also contain a high concentration of sodium, with 1/2-cup of a typical canned cream soup supplying over 35 percent of the sodium a healthy adult should limit himself to per day. Instead of canned soup, use low-sodium chicken broth or stock or a homemade white sauce made with low-fat milk. If you still prefer to use canned soup, choose a low-sodium, reduced- or fat-free brand.

Choose Skinless Chicken

Boneless, skinless chicken. (Image: onepony/iStock/Getty Images)

For the least amount of fat per serving, use boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs. If time allows, improve the appearance and flavor of the final dish without adding more calories by browning the skinned chicken in a nonstick skillet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray before assembling the ingredients in the slow cooker. For 1 1/2 pounds of chicken, plan on using approximately 2 1/2 cups of liquid. A chicken and rice dish of this size can cook on the low setting for six to seven hours or on high for four to five hours. If you need more cooking time, use frozen chicken, advises cookbook author Jenn Bare.

Go for Brown Rice

Brown rice. (Image: Alina555/iStock/Getty Images)

Brown rice has more fiber, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc and B vitamins like folate, niacin and thiamine per serving than an equal amount of unenriched white rice. Brown rice grains also hold up well to the long cooking time required for slow cooking. Use about 1 cup of brown rice for every 2 1/2 cups of liquid. Choose medium-grain brown rice if you would prefer the grains to be moist; use long-grain brown rice for grains that aren't as sticky. Try experimenting with different types, such as brown basmati rice, brown jasmine rice or a sprouted brown rice blend.

Change It Up

Paprika, coriander, and turmeric spices. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Think of a basic chicken and rice slow cooker dish as a template that you can vary to include any number of nutrient-dense ingredients. Stir frozen green peas, edamame, broccoli florets, diced tomatoes or thinly sliced vegetables such as carrots, celery, onions, leeks or mushrooms into the mixture before cooking. Use spices and herbs rich in antioxidants like paprika, turmeric, ginger, garlic or fennel for different flavors. For a dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, add seafood such as shrimp or scallops.

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