Try This Fast-Food Makeover! Healthy Homemade Chicken Nuggets
Delicious and delightfully dippable, there’s a good reason that chicken nuggets are essentially their own food group for so many kids. But while the convenience of the drive-thru or jumbo-size bags of freezer nuggets is hard to deny, we actually think the tastiest version is the kind you bake at home using simple, healthy ingredients with names you can pronounce (full recipe below). Even better? From prep to on-the-table, whipping up an entire batch of crispy homemade chicken nuggets only takes 20 minutes! Plus, when you make them yourself you can create any fun, kid-friendly shape you like—dinosaurs for dinner, anyone?
That’s right—all it takes to make your own nuggets is a few basic ingredients that you likely have in your fridge or pantry already. They come together for a hand-held meal that your kiddos will love and that you can feel good about. Chicken breast is a fantastic source of filling protein, selenium (an antioxidant that helps keep cells healthy), and B vitamins, which help with physical and mental growth. The tasty addition of Parmesan provides even more protein, as well as calcium (which strengthens bones) and vitamin A, which aids in eye, skin, and teeth health.
Because the panko breadcrumbs we use in our coating keep their light and crispy texture when baked, these nuggets have an appealing crunch that rivals that of the deep-fried versions, but without all the unhealthy oil. You can also use regular breadcrumbs in the recipe if you like, but note that the coating’s texture will be a little softer.
To serve, set a platter of prepared nuggets on the table along with your favorite dipping sauces. Ketchup is a kid classic, but we also suggest pairing them with a healthy homemade ranch dressing (all the creamy flavor you love with less sodium and fat!) Other popular options include barbecue sauce, honey mustard, and marinara sauce.
For a 100 percent dip-tastic dinner, pair the nuggets with other healthy finger foods, like carrot sticks, sugar snap peas, or baked sweet potato fries. It’ll make setting and cleaning up the table a cinch!
Hint for grownups: These nuggets also make a tasty, protein-packed topping for salads, soups, pasta, or rice!
In our centers, we embrace family-style eating—encouraging children to serve themselves teaches them important social skills (like passing items, sharing, being patient, and saying “please” and “thank you”) and how to listen to their own hunger cues. Sure, there will likely be some spills when little ones take the lead, but also lots of smiles.
Allowing kiddos to get in on the serving action can also inspire them to try new foods, or to give a second chance to foods they haven’t liked in the past. We have a feeling they will love these nuggets, but the fun of a flatware-free meal might motivate them to taste a more unusual “sauce,” such as guacamole, cottage cheese, or hummus.
Want to make Nugget Night even easier? Keep a bag of homemade goodness in the freezer! Place prepared (but unbaked) nuggets on a tray in a single layer to avoid clumping, and then put the tray in the freezer. Once the nuggets are frozen, transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag and store for up to 3 months (although we bet you’ll use them up within weeks).
When you’re in need of a quick, yummy meal, there’s no need to defrost. Just place the nuggets on a baking sheet and add 3–5 minutes to the normal cook time.
HOMEMADE CHICKEN NUGGETS
* Recipe adapted from Gimme Delicious.
Total time: Approximately 20 minutes
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided in half
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- Cooking spray, olive oil, or melted butter to finish
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and set aside.
- Place the chopped chicken breast, half of the Parmesan cheese, cold water, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Pulse for 1 minute, or just until the chicken is minced and everything is well combined (it should look like a thick paste). Set aside.
- Place the flour and eggs in separate shallow dishes. Combine the panko breadcrumbs and the rest of the Parmesan in another shallow dish.
- To make nuggets with fun shapes, spray small cookie cutters with cooking spray and then place the chicken mixture inside, pressing it in so that the shape is semi-firm. Alternatively, simply form the mixture into small nuggets using your hands.
- One at a time, coat each nugget with flour, shaking off the excess. Then dip the nugget in the egg, letting any excess drip off. Finally, lay the nugget in the panko, turning it over and pressing it into the breading to coat.
- Place each completed nugget on the baking sheet, about an inch apart. Spray the nuggets with cooking spray, or drizzle with a little oil or butter to prevent burning and to give the nuggets a nice golden, crispy finish.
- Bake the nuggets for 12–15 minutes until just cooked through, and then broil for another 2–3 minutes until lightly golden.
- Serve warm with dippin’ sauces, like ketchup, ranch, honey-mustard, or barbecue sauce. Enjoy!