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Classic Cleaned Up Chicken Nuggets

Chicken nuggets are one of American kids’ five basic food groups: nuggets, burgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and pizza. Every family restaurant chain in the country carries at least one of the “big five” and nuggets are a fast food favorite. What’s not to like? They’re fried-up-crispy, salty, finger food that comes with a sugary dipping sauce –kid heaven! For many children it’s their only daily source of protein and most parents I talk to still believe that chicken nuggets are a reasonable nutritional choice. Let’s have a look at the ingredients in McNuggets:

White boneless chicken (factory-farmed meat), water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning [autolyzed yeast extract (this is a cheap MSG substitute that actually contains some MSG), salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source – what is it?), safflower oil,

Dextrose (sugar), citric acid], sodium phosphates, natural flavor (botanical source- I repeat, what is it?). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour (GMO), bleached wheat flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dextrose (sugar), corn starch.

Prepared in vegetable oil (canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil (transfats) with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

To sum up, among the over fifty ingredients in McNuggets and sauce are MSG, multiple mysterious “natural flavorings” and “natural flavors”, sugar, transfats for frying, artificial ingredients, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.

Do I need to say any more?

Making over the nugget as a clean food is a big responsibility because it is so popular and a nutrition staple for many kids. I knew the healthier nugget had to be recognizable, relatively easy to make, tasty, and crispy. I also wanted to make sure it was baked, not fried, relatively low in sodium, and totally gluten-free. I tried about eight different combos of coatings and cooking techniques before I hit on the winner. Natural organic flaked corn cereal was the only coating I tried that keeps a decent crunch after baking. It also lends a pleasant sweetness to the nugget with no added sugars. A touch of Parmesan helps deepen the salty quality with less actual sodium and flax ups the fiber content. I also chose to use chicken tenders versus cutting up breast, though you could do that as well. (Tip for making nuggets from breast meat: Place the breasts in the freezer for ten minutes before slicing to firm up the flesh.) I like tenders because they are convenient and low-calorie. Chicken tenders, taken from the breast meat around the ribs, are the leanest meat on the chicken, and they cook up very quickly.

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