For perfectly seasoned poultry without too much salt, cook your own. But if that’s not in the cards, turn to one of these pre-cooked shortcuts or easy raw starters.

Grown-up nuggets

bag of Perdu chicken breast chunks
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Chicken nuggets are salty chicken in white flour. How to do better?

Whole-grain breading

bag of Realgood lightly breaded chicken strips
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Alas, it’s hard to find. At least the breading in Perdue Simply Smart Organics Whole Grain Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets (420 milligrams of sodium per 3 oz. serving) has more whole wheat than refined flour.

Lightly breaded

Compared to Perdue’s regular frozen nuggets, you get less white flour, fewer carbs, more protein, and less sodium (400 vs. 450 mg) in Perdue Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Chunks. And each “chunk” is an actual piece of meat, not a ground nugget, so it has that chicken texture.

Barely breaded

Realgood Lightly Breaded Chicken Strips (310 mg of sodium) are battered with chickpea flour, so each serving of the crispy strips is high in protein (23 grams) rather than carbs (5 grams). Bonus if you’re gluten-free: so is the breading.

Frozen chicken strips

bag of nature's rancher grilled chicken strips
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Pre-grilled unbreaded chicken strips couldn’t be easier. But once you open a refrigerated package, what’s left is only good for up to 5 days (check the label). Want ’em to last longer? Hit the freezer case for a resealable bag of frozen strips that can wait on standby until you’re ready to take out as many as you need.

One of the lowest-sodium—and best-tasting—brands around: Nature’s Rancher. Look for it at Whole Foods Markets.

Breaded patties

box of Applegate chicken patties

When it comes to chicken patties—essentially, sandwich-sized chicken nuggets—whole grains are nearly impossible to find. While both Applegate and Bell & Evans bread their patties with refined flour, they make two of the best not-too-salty patties around.


Each 3 oz. patty is pre-cooked, so you only need to heat and eat. And when time is tight, even a 90-second spin in the microwave will do it.

Bell & Evans

box of Bell & Evans chicken patties
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Each patty is thicker (4 oz.) and it’s raw, so don’t microwave them...and do heed the cooking instructions on the package. That means a longer cook time (30 minutes in the oven, though an air fryer cuts that to 12 minutes). The upsides: more heft, more protein (19 vs. 12 grams), and less sodium (280 vs. 320 mg) than Applegate, for not many more calories (200 vs. 160).

Then what? Toss it onto a whole-grain bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, etc., and serve with sautéed or roasted vegetables. Or slice it into strips and stuff them inside a wrap or pita. Or serve them on top of a salad.

Cold cuts & more

package of Trader Joe's sliced turkey breast
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

The perfect stand-in for cold cuts: Trader Joe’s Sliced Roast Turkey Breast. The ingredient list? Simple. “We roast the turkey breast with just a touch of salt, pepper and sage and then slice it thick,” says the label. That (plus water) is it.

And the taste—and the numbers—sure beat deli meat. Each 100-calorie serving (3 oz.) has a nice 22 grams of protein and a reasonable 370 mg of sodium.

Other poultry finds in Trader Joe’s refrigerator case:

Just Chicken

Everything’s in the name: It’s cooked and diced white meat chicken, sans salt or seasoning. Your new shortcut for chicken salad, tacos, soup, etc.

Grilled Balsamic Vinegar & Rosemary Chicken

A little herby, a little tangy, not too salty (250 mg of sodium).

Thin sliced chicken breasts

package of Perdue thin sliced chicken breasts
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

Why do many of The Healthy Cook’s recipes use thin-sliced chicken breasts?

They’re boneless and skinless and they’re cut into thin slices that cook through in a flash, so they’re close to foolproof in the kitchen.

Chef Kate’s suggestions:

  • Sauté. In a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, brown one side in oil (2−3 minutes), then turn over and sauté about 30 seconds more.
  • Bread. Thin slices makes chicken schnitzel a snap. Or sauté, then sprinkle with a crispy topping of toasted bread crumbs plus nuts and seasonings.
  • Stir-fry or simmer. Cut the thin slices into bite-sized pieces before cooking, so they’ll stay tender during a quick stir-fry or curry.

Plant-based chicken options

Whole Foods Market 365 plant based chicken style bites
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Going chicken-less? Companies have gotten really good at duping breaded chicken.

One problem: Many tenders, nuggets, and filets from Gardein and Beyond Meat contain the controversial additive titanium dioxide. It lends a bright white color to foods, but the nanoparticles found in “food-grade” titanium dioxide may accumulate in the body and cause DNA damage—one way that chemicals can cause cancer.

To play it safe, go for these great-tasting breaded plant-based “chick’ns” that are free of titanium dioxide...and not sky-high in sodium:

Morning Star Farms chick'n patties
Marlena Koch - CSPI.


The Veggie Original Chik Patties (290 mg of sodium) and Veggie Chik’n Nuggets (300 mg) are a reliable source of plant-based protein (9 to 13 grams). So are Morningstar’s Incogmeato tenders and filets, but they have “color added.” That could mean titanium dioxide.

Whole Foods Market 365

Its Chicken-Style Plant-Based Breaded Patties are higher in sodium (380 mg) and similar in protein (11 grams) to Morningstar, but they’re a decent pick if you’re at a Whole Foods. For a stir-fry, try the tasty refrigerated Plant-Based Chicken Style Bites (450 mg of sodium).

Ground poultry

package of Perdue Ground chicken Breast
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

“Ground chicken” or “ground turkey” could mean you’re getting meat plus (higher-fat) skin. And who knows how much of the meat is leaner breast vs. fattier wings or thighs!

That explains why a 4 oz. serving of raw Perdue Ground Chicken has 160 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat, versus 120 calories and ½ gram of sat fat in Perdue Ground Chicken Breast.

Of course, compared to the 290 calories and 9 grams of sat fat in raw 80% fat ground beef, even just “ground chicken” or “ground turkey” is a bargain. (The beef may be labeled “20% lean,” but that doesn’t mean it’s lean. Far from it. “Lean” refers to the non-fat portion of the meat.)

Either way, make sure you use whichever poultry—ground or ground breast—your recipe calls for.

Make your own

Heat-and-eat meatballs made from chicken or turkey can be hard to find in supermarkets.

close up of broccoli and poultry meatballs with spices
Kate Sherwood - CSPI.

And chicken or turkey meatballs that aren’t loaded with sodium? That’s even tougher.

Solution: make your own. Fortunately, The Healthy Cook has recipes for that.

And it’s not just reliable standbys like meatballs with marinara. You can branch out beyond Italian flavors with Asian Chicken Meatballs (see photo) or Southwest Chicken Meatballs with a Smoky Tahini Sauce. All start with ground chicken breast (see “Ground poultry”) and are ready in 30 minutes.

It’s also worth starting from the ground up with burgers. Try The Healthy Cook's Chicken Burger. Most refrigerated chicken or turkey burgers we found pack 500 mg of sodium or more, and many frozen burgers lack moisture or flavor.

Stay “food safe”

Frozen chicken burgers, tenders, patties, etc., and stuffed breaded chicken might look ready to just heat and eat, but some are raw inside (see “Breaded patties”). So always check the label for safe handling and cooking instructions. For more tips, check out our kitchen safety tips. 

More on plant based foods