This simple, summery recipe for 30-minute paleo cracker-crusted chicken with garlicky lemon zucchini noodles couldn’t be easier to prepare or enjoy. It’s healthy and filled with fresh seasonal flavors, plus not only is it free of most food allergens, I’ve included a meatless option to boot!
This post is sponsored by Simple Mills—a wholesome, natural food brand that I wholeheartedly love and personally use. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Honestly Nourished (and effortless healthy eating!) possible.
This Father’s Day is actually pretty special because I’ll be spending it with my dad and mom, who are both traveling to California from South Carolina in less than 48 hours. Ow! Ow!
Call me sappy and sentimental all you want—I think there’s nothing more special than making a meal from scratch for people you love and care about. Even better? Finding a way to take their less-than-healthy favorite meal and giving it a makeover, which is definitely happening this weekend (cough, Dad, cough).
My dad and I may share the same DNA (well half of it anyway), naturally curly hair, and a tendency to be a bit stubborn, but we definitely don’t share the same eating habits. A salad to me means an overflowing, epic-sized bowl packed with as many greens and seasonal vegetables as possible; to my dad, a salad is a wedge of iceburg lettuce with a generous (read: half a jar) of blue cheese dressing and bacon.
While I prefer snacking on unsalted raw nuts and seeds, my dad prefers his snacks dipped in chocolate and a colorful candy coating a la M&Ms. I’m all about the kale and beetroot chips. My dad is all about Cheetos.
You get the picture.
I can’t really blame him considering he grew up in the deep south (Nashville represent!) and it’s hard to let go of your roots. Especially your deep fried, deep southern roots. Like I said, my dad is stubborn and sometimes I have to get a little sneaky to get him to eat more healthful recipes.
I don’t get to see him or my mom as often as any of us would like given that we live a solid 3,000 miles away on opposite sides of the country. Whenever I do get to see my parents, I love sharing some of my new healthy recipes with them—especially my dad, who is always surprised by how good tasting good-for-him food can be.
Dad, if you’re reading this right now (and I secretly hope you aren’t), your beloved breaded and pan-fried chicken parm is headed for a healthy, paleo, grain-free makeover!
A HAIKU FOR ZOODLES
But for real, one of my favorite ways to sneak more vegetables into my diet is by swapping regular grain-based pasta with spiralized zucchini noodles. I eat zucchini noodles at least once a week—usually more now that it’s officially zucchini season.
Honestly, every since we started making zucchini noodles roughly two years ago, I have hardly missed regular pasta. I know that’s a bold statement but I always found it hard to exert self control around pasta. Whenever we had tortellini, lasagna, or spaghetti, I’d often eat well past the point of being full. The result was always a giant food baby belly and a groggy, lethargic, and bloated feeling that lingered the rest of the evening.
Anyone else know that feeling?
Thus, I definitely appreciate that eating zucchini noodles doesn’t seem to land me in the same predicament. Zucchini noodle meals tend to be much more energizing, light, and generally more healthful.
Still, there are times when a bowl of vegetable noodles feels too light, even with grilled chicken or another type of protein.
Topping it with a cracker-crusted chicken breast made using wholesome, real food, grain-free almond flour crackers is truly game changing. It’s a satisfying and nutritious addition to an already healthy meal and I can’t wait for you all to try this recipe (especially you, dad!)!
Even if you’re one of my non-meat eating friends, stay tuned because I’ve got a delicious way for you to enjoy the cracker crust, too, as a toasted crumb pasta topping! Mmm.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve shared a recipe using zucchini noodles a.k.a zoodles and I guarantee it won’t be the last.
Honestly, out of all the food trends to come and go in the last few years, I assure you that zucchini noodles are here to stay. In fact, I’m willing to go so far as to say that buying a spiralizer has been without a doubt one of the best kitchen tool investments I’ve made.
And considering you can snag one for less than $30 (here’s the one I use), it’s kind of a no brainer. Hopefully I’m preaching to the choir on the zoodle/spiralizer thing, but if you haven’t hopped on the sprializer train, GET ON BOARD.
Sorry. That was a little aggressive. I don’t want to get a rap for being a zoodle (or zucchini) pusher.
Or do I?
Let’s take a break from all the zoodle talk and discuss some of the other healthful ingredients in my makeover of a classic Italian meal, shall we?
SEASONAL, SUPERSTAR INGREDIENTS CONTINUED
Summer is the perfect time to incorporate fresh herbs into your meals (extra credit if you grow your own). And with farmer’s markets overflowing with seasonal vegetables, especially zucchini, it’s hard not to want to make zoodles seven days a week.
Or is that just me? Sorry, I forgot that I said I’d stop trying to push my zoodle agenda.
Fresh squeezed lemon juice is essential—not only for marinating the chicken but for brightening up the whole dish. The acidic lemon juice keeps the chicken tender and prevents it from drying out (a.k.a. moist, but because that’s seriously the worst word ever I try to avoid using if possible!). It also adds a zesty brightness that perfectly compliments the earthy garlic and buttery olive oil. Plus, does the combination of lemon and garlic ever get old? Not in my book!
Fresh parsley is key to elevating this effortless summer meal. It adds such a fabulous color and so much fresh flavor to the cracker-crusted chicken and the sauce.
I described the incredible health benefits of this herb often overlooked as a mere garnish in a recent Curated Kitchen post. Read more here. In brief, parsley is an amazing source of chlorophyll, which is great for helping the body’s detoxification pathways and repairing and restoring red blood cells. It’s also a powerful digestive aid. As with all leafy greens, try to buy organic when possible since pesticides are especially harmful to delicate herbs.
Don’t like parsley? Try substituting fresh basil!
It’s the quintessential vegan Parmesan cheese alternative and one of my personal favorite seasonings. I love that it’s sodium free but still tastes super savory. It’s also really nutritious (hence the name nutritional yeast), packed with B vitamins that help your body convert food into energy, as well as being good source of protein.
A member of the allium family (along with scallions, chives, onions, and leeks), garlic is an amazing superfood with loads of healing powers. It’s rich in antioxidants, anti-cancer compounds, and allicin—a potent anti-bacterial compound nearly as strong as penicillin (for real!). To get the most benefit from garlic, it’s best consumed raw but there are a few things you can do to still reap the medicinal benefits when cooking it.
Quick tip? To activate the allicin, you need to first release a heat-sensitive enzyme within the garlic clove before cooking or it will be denatured (i.e. deactivated). Whenever a recipe calls for cooking garlic cloves, try to chop, diced, press, or crush them first to release the allicinase enzyme and then let the garlic rest for about 10 minutes to fully activate the allicin before cooking.
Grain-Free Almond Flour Crackers
For the cracker crust, I used Simple Mills Fine Ground Sea Salt Almond Flour Crackers. I am kind of low-key obsessed with these crackers. OK fine. I’m high-key obsessed. For one, they’re made using a unique nut and seed flour base of almonds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds that gives them a snappy crunch.
If you can’t eat grains for health reasons (or choose to avoid them out of personal preference/to follow a paleo diet), you know how sad it can be to live without crunchy foods like toast or crackers. I tried it for a while and trust me, it’s the saddest EVER. Seriously. Living with food allergies is hard enough without having to sacrifice things like crunchy crackers, people!
Even if you do eat grains on the regular, I still recommend using these crackers for the recipe. The super short, real food ingredient list with actual pronounceable items—tapioca, cassava, organic sunflower oil, sea salt, organic onion, organic garlic, and rosemary extract—makes my heart sing.
You’ll need almost the entire box of crackers for this recipe. Maybe that was intentional on my part? So that there were some crackers for snacking while cooking? I’m not saying that’s true. I’m not saying that’s not true either…Because what’s the point of cooking if you can’t snack at the same time?!
So probably go ahead and buy a few boxes of the crackers to keep your snack game strong and ensure you’ll have plenty for preparing the cracker-crusted chicken recipe at LEAST twice (because I guarantee you’ll be obsessed with both the crackers and the recipe…cross my heart). You can find them at Whole Foods nationwide or order them online here or here.
I mean it, STOCK UP. And if you don’t really like them (impossible), you can mail me your receipt and I’ll personally reimburse you. I’m that confident. And crazy.
Just LOOK at that crispy, crunchy cracker-crusted chicken! I can’t even. The fresh parsley gives the dish loads of texture and fresh summer flavor. Plus, is there any better combination than lemon and garlic? (OK, any flavor combo better than lemon and garlic AND peanut butter and chocolate because I know at least three million of you are probably thinking about that one now, too.)
No. There’s not!
You’ll be able to enjoy this easy and light meal all summer long. Perfect for busy weeknights, packing in on-the-go lunches, picnics, and easily fancy enough for a low-key dinner party. Ooo la la.
Lastly, if you’re not into the zoodles, you can skip them.
I’d be lying if I said my feelings wouldn’t be hurt just a little bit. BUT. As long as you make the cracker-crusted chicken, we can still be friends. Eat it alone, on top of a summery salad or cauliflower rice, or pair it with a generous helping of grilled summer vegetables.
And if even that feels like too much work for you (or you really want to avoid cooking altogether), there’s no shame in tearing open the box of crackers and pairing them with a handful or nuts and olives, homemade pesto or hummus, tuna salad, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Because honestly? That sounds like a pretty perfect, nourishing, no-cook summer meal to me.
The point is that as long as you make these almond flour crackers part of your staple pantry stash, you’ll be set for an endless summer of easy, breezy energizing meals, and clean eating snacks.
High fives all around!
FOR THE CRACKER-CRUSTED CHICKEN
- 2 organic, thin-cut boneless skinless chicken breasts, ~1/2 pound (sometimes called “cutlets”)*
- 2 organic eggs, beaten
- 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, dived in half (you’ll need about 5 lemons total for entire recipe)
- 1¼ cup Simple Mills Sea Salt Crackers (about the whole box)
- 1 tbs dried oregano
- 2 tbs nutritional yeast**
- ½ tsp garlic salt
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- ⅛ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp red chili pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 bunch fresh Italian flat leaf parsley (you’ll need ¼ cup for the cracker crust and another ⅓ cup roughly chopped for the zucchini noodles)
- 1½ tsp lemon zest
FOR THE LEMON GARLIC ZUCCHINI NOODLES
3-4 medium zucchini squash, peeled
- 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ⅛ cup olive oil
- 1-2 tbs lemon zest
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- pinch sea salt and black pepper
- ⅓ cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
- extra parsley for garnish
- ¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
- ¼ cup kalamata olives, chopped
- Preheat oven to 425-degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and place a wire cooling rack on top so that air can circulate beneath the chicken while it cooks.
- Add the Simple Mills Sea Salt Crackers, dried oregano, nutritional yeast, garlic salt, sea salt, black pepper, ¼ cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, and 1½ tsp lemon zest to a food processor or high-speed blender. If you’re using red chili pepper flakes, add ‘em!
- Pulse everything to create a fine cracker crumb mixture, set aside.
- You’ll have enough cracker crust to coat about 4-6 chicken cutlets or 3-4 chicken breasts (roughly 1-1½ pounds total) so if you don’t plan to make more than two servings as outlined, place half of the crust mixture in food storage bag and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
- Pour about ½ cup of the fresh squeezed lemon juice into a glass bowl, add the chicken cutlets, season with salt and pepper, and allow it to marinate for 2-4 minutes.
- While that’s happening, place the cracker crumb mixture in a shallow dish or plate and the beaten eggs in separate small bowl. Using one hand, remove the chicken from the lemon juice, dredge in the egg and then place chicken cutlet into the cracker crumb mixture, using your other hand (i.e. the dry hand) to cover the top with the crumbs. Shake off excess and place on the prepared wire rack/baking sheet.
- Repeat with the other chicken cutlet(s).
- Bake at 425-degrees Fahrenheit for 18-25 minutes or until center of chicken cutlet reaches an internal temperature of 165-degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer.
- While the chicken is baking, use a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles, set aside.
- Add minced garlic and olive oil to a small saucepan and heat on medium until oil begins to sizzle and garlic becomes fragrant, stirring with a spoon. Watch on the garlic carefully and as soon as it starts to turn golden brown, remove the pan from heat. Don't overcook or it will have a bitter flavor!
- Add the lemon zest and juice to the pan along with a dash of sea salt and black pepper, stir to combine.
- Add the spiralized zucchini noodles, toss with lemon garlic sauce, and return pan heating on medium for 2-3 minutes—just until the zucchini begin to warm and soften slightly. Add optional chopped sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, etc.
- Divide zucchini noodles between two plates and top with cracker-crusted chicken.
- Garnish with a few sprigs of parsley, fresh lemon slices, red chili pepper flakes, and more nutritional yeast...ENJOY!
What do you all have planned for Father’s Day weekend? Like I said, my parents will be here on Sunday and we will be hanging out in wine country, relaxing, and enjoying healthy comfort food like this recipe.
Do your family members share your love for healthy eats or do you have to trick them into trying your healthier meals like I do?
I hope you love this cracker-crusted chicken! When you make it, be sure to share a pic on Instagram and tag me @honestlynourished and don’t forget to use #honestlynourished. Make me proud!
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Simple Mills – maker of naturally gluten-free almond flour baking mixes and crackers that are also grain-free, vegan, paleo-friendly and that I genuinely use and love. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Honestly Nourished possible and that make eating healthy easier!