Can you please help me to get my kids “unhooked” from fast-food chicken nuggets?

Barbara asked Lauren:

Dear Lauren,

Although I’m not proud of this, I’ve been giving my kids fast-food “chicken nuggets” for years (many times) each week. This never bothered me until I learned, a few years ago, that these little chunks of stuff aren’t made with the best ingredients. I read that chicken nuggets could be called a “Franken-food” because they’re an “invention” that’s loaded with all kinds of things that I probably shouldn’t be feeding to my children (at least not as often as I do). I feel badly because I allowed them to become hooked on this type of fake-food—a habit that’s hard to break. I would really LOVE to be able to make an easy homemade alternative to store-bought chicken nuggets that they’ll actually like MORE than those that I buy at the fast food place. I’m hoping that maybe you will have a recipe to share. Either way, I love this column!

Lauren says:

Truthfully, feeling guilty never helped anyone, but making some positive “food-choice-changes” certainly has. I assume that the “chicken nuggets” you’re talking about are the ones consumed by millions of children every year, some on a daily basis. The problem is not so much that these aren’t made with real chicken (I think now, they are…) but because they, in addition to containing cheap types of flavor-enhancers that are high in sodium and sugar, as well as some form of anti-foaming agent (why, we’ll probably never know), they’re also batter-dipped and then deep-fried. So, when eaten often, you can understand why “fast-food” chicken nuggets can certainly pose an overall health threat to both, children and adults.

Homemade chicken “fingers,” however, are quite different. They’re not deep fried (at least mine aren’t), making them not only more healthful, but they also have a much cleaner taste. Also, because I slice the skinless, boneless breast meat lengthwise, after cooking, their long, svelt “look” is much sexier than those pre-prepared “store-bought” squatty squares. And, although it’s an optional choice, I like to combine my dried bread crumbs with an almost equal amount of freshly grated best-quality parmesan cheese. This not only boosts the aroma dramatically, while they’re cooking, but the cheese gives chicken fingers a truly gorgeous, savory taste and an added dimension to their crispy outer texture. And, although my family loves theirs best when I pan-fry the chicken in a shallow puddle of hot, garlic-scented olive oil, you can also roast chicken fingers in the oven (however, because they’re lightly dragged through some melted butter before being roasted, that seems to “even the score” with the pan-fried ones).

Ok, ok! Here’s the recipe for Homemade Crispy Chicken Fingers (along with three great “kid-friendly” sauces to dip away).

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