It's the beginning of the make-it-ahead season. The end of school, graduations and weddings don't leave the home cook time for elaborate, last-minute dishes. Quick, easy meals are a harbinger of summer.

Hot weather calls for can-opening, slicing, mixing and assembling rather than braising, sauteing, stewing and roasting. And if a meal's worth of flavor and substance can be packed into a one-dish meal, so much the better - especially if it's nutritious.

One secret to a successful one-dish meal is variety. Ingredients of many colors, flavors and textures taste good, look good, and are chockful of phytochemicals, those disease-fighting natural substances found in plant-based foods like vegetables and fruits. The vegetables typically used in a salad - leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers - each offer different phytochemicals, each with their own health benefits.

Just one serving of dark leafy greens, for example, contains more than 100 different phytochemicals. Dark, leafy greens like romaine lettuce and spinach contain lutein and zeaxanthin, powerful antioxidants linked to reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration and lung cancer. Bell peppers are a good source of phytochemicals called phenols, especially coumarins and terpenes, which help fend off cancer. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene (even more so when cooked), considered the most powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family and believed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and possibly breast cancer.

Many one-dish salad ingredients are in your refrigerator or cupboards. See what you have, put them together and have a refreshing, filling, healthful one-dish meal. This Mexican-style chicken salad is just one colorful example.

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Mexican Chicken Salad

Makes about 10 servings.

  • 3 cups cooked, cubed chicken breast
  • 1 can (15 oz.) corn, drained (1 3/4 cups)
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup peeled jicama, diced small
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, or to taste
  • 3/4 cup thick salsa
  • 3 drops, or to taste, red pepper sauce (optional)
  • 2-4 Tbsp. water
  • 1/4 cup low-fat shredded Cheddar cheese for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro or flat-parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
  1. In a large bowl, place chicken, corn, beans, bell peppers and jicama. Gently toss until well mixed and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil and lime juice. Mix in salsa. Add red pepper sauce if desired. Add enough water to thin consistency so dressing can be thinly drizzled over salad. Transfer to serving pitcher.
  3. Drizzle dressing over chicken mixture, tossing to coat salad ingredients evenly.
  4. Cover and chill 1 to 3 hours so flavors can meld. Bring to room temperature and check seasoning before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Drain off any excess dressing. Place in serving bowl. Sprinkle top of salad with cheese (if using) and cilantro. Serve with baked tortilla chips, if desired.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
238 calories
13 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat)
10 g. carbohydrate
16 g. protein
4 g. dietary fiber, 413 mg. sodium
Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Low-Fat Meat, 2 Vegetable, 1-1/2 Fat