Building a Better Nugget

Baked NuggetsThere are times when I wonder if I am raising my child so different from the norm that her friends are going to think she is a geek. If she has friends. Usually these thoughts occur to me just as our lifestyle choices slam us up against typical American habits, especially food.

Like this moment from a couple years back. We’re at this petting zoo, like an educational farm. We still go there often. The kiddo gets to walk a lot and see lots of animals and plants that you find on farms, feed baby goats, ride a pony, drive little tractors … It’s fun, actually. Alright, I am a bit too tall for the tractors, but I get to push and make engine noises at least. The baby goats like me.

(recipe after the jump)

My child is only eighteen months old at the time. We’re sitting in the garden area, near the vegetables. And, this family comes along, our kids end up sitting next to each other. The mom looks at my kid and holds her hand up in the classic “Gimme Five!” position, but says, get this, “Gimme a McDonald’s Happy Meal!”

Blank stares from us both. Clearly the woman is insane, or Happy Meals now cost five bucks. Which is even more insane.

So, she ups the ante, “Gimme a Happy Meal with FRIES!!!”

I finally realize she is serious and talking to my child.

“Uh, she has NO idea what McDonald’s is, or a Happy Meal,” I said. “She thinks a slice of whole grain bread and edamame are a treat.”

It was the other woman’s turn to stare at me like I was from another planet. Here, we are surrounded by corn and okra, cabbages and tomatoes, and about twenty other veggies growing in the little farm patch. Surrounded by fresh meat, still on the hoof or claw, and eggs under the chickens in the chicken house. In other words, real food sources.

“Oh,” she finally says, “that’s nice.”

Then they quickly left. In case what we have is contagious.

I hope it is.

According to the article “Rethinking First Foods” by Pamela Paul, published in Time magazine’s June issue, French fries are the number one vegetable eaten by toddlers in America. In fact, according to the FITS study cited in the article, by age 12 months 13 percent of toddlers are eating French fries every day. FITS stands for Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study. This study tracked diets of over 3,000 kids.

Additionally, nearly one-third or more of our children’s calories are consumed outside the home. Half of these meals are from restaurants and fast food restaurants. The majority of our nation’s preschoolers and younger will eat at McDonald’s at least once each month.

Regardless of what has become a cultural “norm,” I don’t want to feed my child fast food, particularly when the ingredients include additives and preservatives that are suspected carcinogens.

Given this, I figured it was time to build a better nugget. It’s pretty easy, you actually start with chicken. Which helps, a lot.

You also do a baked nugget instead of fried. Oh, but the crunch, how about the crunch? It’s true, the baked version just never seems to have the delicious crunch you get from fried. However, you can have that light, crisp crunch without the heavy, greasiness.

Golden-Crisp Chicken Nuggets

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1-1/2 pounds)

1 cup bread crumbs (you can use Italian-seasoned for flavor)

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp. dried herbs or Pizza Seasoning (Penzeys.com)

2 tbs. plain whole milk yogurt

1 egg, beaten

Cut the chicken into nugget size pieces. Mix the egg and yogurt together in a shallow dish. Place another shallow dish next to it with the bread crumbs, panko, grated cheese, herbs and seasoning. Keep one hand for the “wet” hand and one for the “dry.” Mix the chicken in the egg-yogurt mix, then using the “wet” hand, move pieces to the breading mix. Use your dry hand to sprinkle the crumbs over the top and turn to coat each piece well. Repeat, placing the battered nuggets on a baking sheet. If you have ever crossed up your wet and dry hands, you’ll know it, your fingers will be well coated!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the nuggets on a cookie sheet for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature at the center of your thickest nugget is 180 degrees. Don’t over bake.

Ah, but why plain yogurt? Some of the best, real fried chicken starts with a soak in buttermilk to give the chicken that bit of tangy goodness. Yogurt has a similar flavor, but a thicker texture that will help this baked version hold onto the crumb mixture. The panko is a light and crisp breading, it gives the nugget that great crunch that you normally don’t get with baked versions.

As for any long term mental repercussions from not participating in pop culture, I guess I will just have to look for a 529 plan that pays for therapy as well as tuition. We’re going to raise a food geek.

[This post was written by Beth Bader.]

Comments

  1. What a great article! Thanks for the humor and the insight. Good luck with the McMoms.

  2. Great post and great recipe. Obviously you’re raising your daughter without too much TV too since I’m guessing the McDonald’s “high five” was probably from a commercial.

  3. Good for you, and your child is quite lucky. If her experience is like mine, yes, she’ll be surrounded by poor unfortunates in school but a bit later, everyone will think she’s the cool one.

  4. When this article popped up in my reader, I was thrilled to read it…until I got to the mention of chicken. Any chance you could work up a vegetarian version of this that uses tofu, seitan, or something else instead of chicken? I’d love to try it!

  5. I’d like a veggie version too!

  6. Try baking them on stoneware (such as pampered chef) they’ll get much crispier! trust me I sell the stuff :)

  7. Nicole T says:

    I think it was a bit snarky of you to reply with the whole “MY child only eats whole grains and soy beans. WE don’t do that McDonalds nonsens-” thing. (I’m paraphrasing, of course…) It just wasn’t necessary. A simple, “she’s never had McDonalds, we try to eat healthy, natural foods.” would have sufficed and gotten you a much less remarkable reaction. But, somehow, I think you knew exactly how you were coming across and intended to alienate the weird MickyD’s lady.

    You can educate others without being a snob.

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