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Canned Turkey, Chicken and Beef: Fast, healthy meals high in protein and low in saturated fats

Updated on July 21, 2008

People who exercise understand the need for both protein and convenience. After a workout, you have little time for cooking – but an increased need for quality nutrients, including low-fat protein to help build muscle. That’s why canned meats such as turkey, chicken and beef are rapidly becoming as easy as tuna for making a meal.

Can canned meats be as tasty and wholesome as something cooked off the bone? Of course, chicken roasted in the oven fills the house with an aroma that can’t be beat, and smell is the first part of taste. The same can be said about roast beef or turkey.

From the can, a meal can be made fast – in ten minutes or less – but it’s not going to be the same gustatory experience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t thoroughly enjoy can-based protein dinners. How good the meal tastes depends on the creativity of the cook.

First, let’s look at the nutritional reasons why canned meats can help you win the fight to improve your health and fitness. After that, there are eight recipes that take ten minutes or less of prep time – just right for weekday meals.

Nutrition: Protein-fat ratio is hard to beat

Fat is essential to health, but for the most part fats without feet (from plants and fish) are much lower in the saturated fats that negatively affect cardiovascular health. So carnivores like us are advised to find lower-fat protein sources. Personally, I always aim for a 3-to-1 (or greater) protein-to-fat ratio in both meal ingredients and completed recipes.

Here’s where canned meats weigh in;

  • Canned chicken: 13 grams protein, 0.5 grams fat
  • Canned roast beef: 9 grams protein, 1 gram fat
  • Canned turkey: 15 grams protein, 1.5 grams fat

Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts on items you actually find in a grocery store, as there are wide variances by brand; for example, if the manufacturer includes skin in the product fat ratios rise significantly. Also note sodium content – canned foods tend to have lots of salt because it serves as a preservative, so draining and even rinsing can reduce this factor.

These are nutritional measurements for single portions, generally two ounces. The tendency is to consume three or more portions in a single meal. Rules of thumb: more for larger people, less for smaller people, more so for guys who are physically active. Men engaged in strength training have greater protein needs, about 1.6 to 1.7 grams per day for every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of body weight, according to a report published in 2000 by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (Vol 100: 1543-1556).

Note that canned fish offers similarly good ratios. Solid white albacore tuna (15 grams protein, 1 gram fat) and boneless skinless salmon (12 grams protein, 3 grams fat) still achieve that 3-to-1 ratio. A plus is they have heart-beneficial fish fats. But fish generally require a different set of recipes, not included here.

Recipes for canned meats

Canned turkey, chicken and beef are already cooked, saving you time right from the start. Still, heating things up helps release flavor and aroma. The beautiful thing is how fast that can happen in a small skillet or microwave.

Fresh protein salad

There’s nothing like all fresh ingredients – for vegetables, that means greater nutrient retention.


  • Canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • Fresh greens
  • Chopped onions
  • Canned or fresh tomatoes
  • Olive oil (best: extra virgin)
  • Lemon juice (substitute: vinegar)
  • Season to taste (oregano, cilantro, et al.)

Stir about 4-6 ounces of turkey, chicken or beef with onions, tomatoes and spices with olive oil and lemon juice in a skillet on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool a bit (1-2 minutes). Wash and break up greens in a large bowl. Pour mix over greens and eat. Option: top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Hot broccoli mix

The cruciferous family of vegetables (broccoli, as well as cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radish and horseradish, among others) impart many nutritional advantages at very low caloric density.


  • Canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • Frozen (or fresh) broccoli
  • Chopped garlic
  • Canned or fresh tomatoes
  • Olive oil (best: extra virgin)
  • Lemon juice (substitute: vinegar)
  • Season to taste (oregano, cilantro, et al.)

Stir about 4-6 ounces of turkey, chicken or beef with onions, tomatoes and spices with olive oil and lemon juice in a skillet on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool a bit (1-2 minutes). Separately, steam frozen broccoli to cook. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl; top with grated cheese, such as Parmesan or Romano, or cold, low-fat cottage cheese (another low-fat protein source).

Pasta-Protein Plate

OK, either you expand the cook time on this to 15 minutes, or you make the pasta in advance, store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and warm it up in a microwave. Making a quantity of pasta on the weekend can enable some healthier, fast meals all week long. Use whole grain if at all possible: its lower glycemic index means it will release sugars more slowly, and it has a more nutrients overall compared to refined pastas.


  • Canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • Cooked pasta (1-3 cups, depending on appetite)
  • Canned or fresh tomatoes
  • Chopped onions and/or garlic
  • Oregano (lots of it)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Options: grated cheese and various forms of “heat” spices (Tabasco sauce, spicy garden mix-style vegetables, chopped hot peppers, ground black pepper)

Heat pasta in a microwave; simultaneously, warm canned meat in a skillet mixed with other ingredients. Mix and eat.

Rice-Protein Plate

Popular brands of “instant” rice can be cooked in ten minutes. It’s a nutritionally better choice to go with brown or wild-grain rice varieties because they contain more nutrients and digest more slowly – sustaining energy over longer periods of time. Whole grain rice also has a protein-fat ratio of about 4-to-1.5.


  • Canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • Instant brown rice
  • 1-2 cups green vegetable (fresh or frozen: try broccoli, green peas or pinach)
  • Canned black beans (also a great source of low-fat protein) – about half a 16-ounce can
  • Fresh or canned diced tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning to taste (try turmeric – a great astringent taste and spice prized for anti-inflammatory characteristics)

Cook rice. If you’re using frozen green vegetables, use a little extra water in the rice and throw the vegetables in durning the last five minutes (with fresh, cut that to 1-2 minutes). Separately, mix other ingredients in a skillet and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Drain excess water from rice when done, then serve mix over the rice.

Chopped Cabbage Protein Salad

Cabbage is a terrific way to bulk up a meal with fiber and nutrients at very low calories. Make it ahead in quantity and you’ll have meals and snacks for a week or two. But if you’re looking for an indulgent taste – in this case, bacon – there’s a simple trick for making this healthy meal taste a little more decadent.


  • 2-4 cups chopped cabbage
  • 1/3 cup crumbled bacon (healthier, lower fat versions are available)
  • Canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • 3 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons of vinegar (any variety works)
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup sweet corn (alternative: a chopped apple, for sweetness)
  • Season to taste (salt, pepper, other spices such as oregano or cilantro)

Over medium heat, mix chopped cabbage, crumbled bacon, olive oil and vinegar. Toss for 1-2 minutes, then add all other ingredients and cover about 5 minutes. Heat long enough to slightly soften the cabbage, about 6-7 minutes. Serve cold or warm.

Protein soup/broth base

Soups are very easy to make. And because there is a high water content, combined with vegetables (also high in water, plus fiber) the caloric density in a soup meal is low – a good thing if you are trying to keep calories under control*.


  • Canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • Half a 12 ounce can of soup broth (chicken or beef)
  • Canned green beans or other green vegetable (fresh, canned or frozen)
  • Chopped onions and garlic
  • 1-2 cups of Garbanzo, black or kidney beans (canned)
  • Chopped celery
  • Season to taste (try cilantro)

Mix all ingredients in a kettle/stock pot. Heat at medium-high, stir and serve. Toasted whole-grain bread crumbled on top adds fiber, healthy carbs and a little more protein.

*See HubPage “Energy Density: Reduce calories yet satisfy your appetite with foods high in fiber and water” by this writer for more on this subject.

Protein soup/prepared soup base

Major brands (Campbell’s, Knorr and others) now market “select” soups that put all the ingredients together for you. So this couldn’t get any easier – just add the canned meats and maybe more vegetables for a super-fast, healthy meal.


  • 16 ounce prepared soup (try Mexican Style Chicken Tortilla from Campbell’s)
  • 2-6 ounces of canned turkey, chicken or beef
  • 1-2 cups of green vegetable (green beans, broccoli, chopped cabbage, spinach)
  • 1 cup chopped onions

Mix all ingredients together in a soup kettle/stock pot. Heat at medium high for 5-8 minutes. Add toasted whole-grain bread crumbled on top to fiber, healthy carbs and a little more protein.

Avocado sandwich from a can

The hassle of buying, peeling and mashing avocados is past now that guacamole mixes are sold in prepared form (guacamole has added spices, sometimes including diced tomatoes). Mixing with other ingredients makes for a great sandwich salad, good enough to eat for dinner.


  • Canned chicken, turkey or beef (1 12 ounce can)
  • 4-6 Tablespoons of prepared avocado/guacamole
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped onions
  • Mustard to taste
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Whole grain bread/toasted (option)
  • Washed greens

Mix salad ingredients while bread toasts. Spread a healthy portion on one slice, add a layer of greens and close up with the other piece of toast.

# # #

Russ Klettke is a certified fitness trainer, speaker and author of “A Guy’s Gotta Eat, the regular guy’s guide to eating smart”(Marlowe & Co., NY 2004, with Deanna Conte, MS RD LD). The book is available where books are sold, and in more than 100 library systems in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

A complete guide to low-maintenance smart eating

Just be careful ...


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    • sprickita profile image


      4 years ago from Reno

      resourceful i must admit 8-)


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