Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chicken Nuggets

Since Caleb started preschool a few weeks ago, he decided that chicken nuggets are his favorite food. Although we have "minimally processed" chicken nuggets in the house, I have been avoiding them for about a month. Don't get me wrong, bite-sized chicken is rather appealing - fun shape, easy for small hands to grasp and manipulate, very dippable. So why on earth do I avoid a "minimally processed" chicken nugget?

What is a chicken nugget anyway?

A chicken nugget is a breaded or battered "piece" of minced pre-cooked chicken, according to my friend Wikipedia. As I read more about chicken nuggets, I found out that McDonald's chicken McNuggets may contain 38 ingredients. Seriously? OK, so I went to the McDonald's website for an ingredient list.

Chicken McNuggets®:
White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent).

How much of that would I recognize sitting on a shelf? Can this stuff sit on a shelf? I really don't know. Should food be this complicated? I thought it was called "fast-food."

Even though the nuggets in my freezer are not from McD's, I just don't feel comfortable with the technology in this so-called food. I decided that I would try my hand at nuggets because there has to be a healthier, less complicated way. I took a recipe for oven baked chicken fingers and cut the chicken breast to look more like a nugget. By the way, I don't bother making either of the sauces the recipe suggests. Someday I'll give the honey mustard a try, but so far my kids like nuggets without any sauce or maybe ketchup (not surprising).

My nuggets have 5 ingredients (not including seasoning for breadcrumbs): chicken, breadcrumbs, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and either oil or egg. The breadcrumbs get some herbs in them to make them "Italian."

Tonight Caleb and I made the nuggets together. I was nervous to cook something involving raw meat and eggs with my 3.5 year old. He helped with nearly every step and did a fantastic job! He rinsed and patted dry the Trader Joe's all natural chicken. He cracked and scrambled the eggs. I removed bits of eggshell. He took the cut up chicken and put it in the eggs and then into the gallon-size freezer bag full of the "Italian" breadcrumbs. We took turns jostling the bag to coat the chicken. He even helped wipe off the counter when all the fun mess was done.

All four of us enjoyed the nuggets - yes, a food that both kids and adults enjoyed. :)
We made enough nuggets to freeze some for later and store some in the refrigerator for more immediate consumption.

Given that the bake time alone was 20 minutes, I realize my nuggets are not fast food, but why should food be fast anyway? What do we really gain from fast food, other than weight and a mental disconnect from how our food is made? Sometimes fast food or convenience food (e.g., ready-to-eat) is OK and even necessary. Not being involved in our food preparation should NOT be the norm.

Preparing your own food can be an immensely satisfying experience. For families, it can be a great way to come together throughout the day, and it can be a wonderful educational experience for kids. Cooking combines math, sensory table fun, history, and much more all into one activity. If you haven't cooked with your kids before, I highly recommend it. Start simple and with something you know they will like. Since it is fall, try making your own applesauce with the whole family. Applesauce is super easy - 3-4 ingredients, about 3 steps once you have the apples. Adults can cut apples; kids can mash the boiled apples; everyone can eat the apples.

From The Better Homes and Gardens checkered cookbook:
3 pounds cooking apples (~8-9 medium), cut and cored (peeling OPTIONAL)
1 cup water
1/3 to 2/3 cup sugar (1/3 is PLENTY for us)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (OPTIONAL)

1) In large pot, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover; simmer for 8-10 minutes or until apples are tender (mashable). Add water as necessary.
2) Remove from heat. Mash mixture with potato masher OR process in a blender or food processor to desired texture. Serve warm or chilled. Stir before serving. Makes about 4.5 cups of applesauce.


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