Whether we like it or not, chicken nuggets have become a kids’ food staple. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a restaurant kids menu without them and they continue to top the favorites list of many young kids. Today I’m sharing my story as a picky eater and digging into why kids love chicken nuggets so much.
I’m also sharing how I make some golden nuggets of joy from scratch at home… it’s easy and a healthier choice compared to store bought. Plus, I’ll be showing off my not so photogenic but totally delicious chicken nugget parmigiana.
My Story as a Picky Eater
As a kid I was an extremely fussy eater. I don’t mean I turned my nose up at the odd brussel sprout, I mean I had a major issue with food. As a young child I had special allowances at school to help me eat, yet I still often went hungry. I dreaded playdates because I was terrified of what they might serve me for dinner. I pretty much lived off chicken, potatoes, and cheese sandwiches, despite my siblings eating a much broader diet. I didn’t eat beef until I was about thirteen and ground meat even later, so cheeseburgers were a no go… yet I like many other kids I loved a trip to a fast food joint at the weekend for chicken nuggets and fries.
It was only really when I had the independence of leaving home that I started to experiment with food. I could try things without the pressure of having to eat it if I didn’t like it. Shared budget meals in hostels on my gap year introduced me to pasta and simple sauces, something I would have refused before. At University I lived with people with all sorts of tastes and slowly but surely I began to fall in love with food.
Now, I’ll pretty much give anything a go and would consider myself a proper foodie. Oysters, sushi, and offal still freak me out, but I’d say that’s pretty good going from where I started. If you’re bringing up a chicken nugget obsessed picky eater there is hope yet!
Why Kids Love Chicken Nuggets
There are a number of reasons kids are naturally drawn to chicken nuggets:
- They are easy to eat. Bite sized finger food is always popular with kids. Lack of patience means they often don’t like to chew too much and many kids don’t like to get their hands messy so that dry crispy coating is perfect.
- The combination of fat, salt, and sugar. Processed food companies have mastered the perfect combination of fat, salt, and sugar, making chicken nuggets and other processed foods genuinely addictive. Fast food restaurants offer nuggets made up of more than 50% fat, 25% carbohydrate and less than 20% protein. Making chicken nuggets yourself (see recipe below) will considerably increase the protein and reduce the fat content. And although I do add salt, they won’t come close to the sodium level in store-bought nuggets.
The 300 processed food manufacturers dominate the American diet, relying on salt, sugar, and fat, which override our dietary self-control with foods so perfectly engineered to compel overconsumption. Salt, sugar, and fat are the three pillars of processed food. (J.Pogue reviewing Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us)
- Uniformity and familiarity. This was a big factor for me growing up. I needed to be able to see the ingredients in my food. So, anything with different colors and texture mixed together was a no go. Uniform food all the way. The processed center of a ready-to-go chicken nugget is reliable… uniformly white and soft, no surprises… you know what you’re going to get.
Homemade chicken nugget recipe
I am not the fun police. Our kids love chicken nuggets and do eat processed food. We love a fast food drive-through on the way home from the park when time has gotten away with us, and I won’t be ruled by an all organic, perfectly nutritious diet. However, like all things, it’s about balance. I have back up emergency food in the cupboard and freezer and I do my best to cook from scratch the rest of the time. Homemade chicken nuggets are easy and delicious and although I shallow fry mine for the perfect golden coating, the fat content is still much lower than anything you’ll find in the freezer aisle.
- 1 Chicken Breast
- 1 cup Flour
- 1 Egg
- 1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Paprika (optional)
- 1/2 cup Canola or Veg Oil
- Butterfly ('open' the breast to create a flatter piece of meat), cover with plastic film and hammer until around 3/4" thick. Cut into nugget sized chunks (approximately 12 nuggets).
- Fill three separate bowls containing: flour/salt/pepper, lightly beaten egg, breadcrumbs/paprika.
- Coat the chicken piece by piece, first in the flour mix, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.
- Shallow fry in oil on a medium heat (I often use a little olive mixed in with veg oil) until golden brown, around 3mins each side. Remove and rest on paper towel for 3mins before serving.
Chicken Nugget Parmigiana
I recently made this for a school ‘pot-luck’ and it seemed to be a hit with all. Unfortunately, it’s not the most photogenic food, so apologies for my slightly rustic photos, they were taken in a rush before heading to school! Using the nuggets instead of whole chicken breasts make dividing up into portions easy and it might sound trivial but the mention of chicken nuggets makes something covered in a sauce much more appealing to picky kids.
- Once you’ve made your nuggets, put them aside while you make your sauce. I can not claim ownership of my trusty tomato sauce, I have tried many and have settled on this awesome recipe from NY Times. We make it about once a week to eat with pasta or add to recipes like this one… it really is amazing!
- Lay your homemade nuggets in across the bottom of an oven friendly dish, cover with sauce and sliced mozzarella (I used half a ball of fresh mozzarella). Finish with a generous sprinkle of parmesan and bake for 10-15mins until cheese has gone gooey.
Don’t feel bad that your kids love chicken nuggets, pick your battles and let them have their favorites occasionally. If your kids are old enough to responsibly handle raw chicken, get them involved in the process and they’ll love the homemade kind even more. For more recipes that kids can make themselves, check out this post!