For the Love of Chicken Nuggets: Taste bud Rejuvenation for Kids and Kids at Heart
A 5-Week Blog Series for Full House MOMs and Dads
By: Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD, Founder and CEO of Healthy Grocery Girl
Chicken Nuggets. Whether they are dipped in sweet and sour syrup or tangy barbeque sauce, topped with ketchup or drizzled with ranch, chicken nuggets are a popular favorite for many American children and children at heart. Why do chicken nuggets stack up as one of the most popular lunch and dinner eats for American families? Some common reasons are; they are a good source of protein, they are fast to prepare when the tribe is hungry, when purchased frozen and at bulk quantity it can be a money saving eat, when breaded in whole-wheat flour they can be a good source of whole grains, and most commonly- my kids just won’t eat anything else.
Have you ever wondered though; “Are chicken nuggets really that good for me and my kids to eat, and eat so often?” Let’s roll up our sleeves and compare some common nugget selections.
The Happy Meal, it’s bound to make any kid smile, but do the nutrition facts make mom smile?
A 6 piece McDonald’s chicken nugget meal contains; 280 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat and 13 grams of protein.
Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, so let’s examine the ingredients.
McDonald’s chicken nugget ingredient list includes; White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning [autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid], sodium phosphates, natural flavor (botanical source). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, bleached wheat flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dextrose, corn starch. CONTAINS: WHEAT. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
There are many things in these nuggets I would love to highlight, however I’ll just pick three; Hydrogenated Oils, Dimethylpolysiloxane and TBHQ. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats, a man-made chemically created fat that clogs your arteries and slows down the health of your heart and brain. TBHQ, a petroleum derivative, is used as a stabilizer in perfumes, resins, varnishes and oil field chemicals. Laboratory studies have linked it to stomach tumors. Dimethylpolysiloxane, a type of silicone, is used in caulks and sealants, as filler for breast implants, and as key ingredient in Silly Putty.
Ok so maybe you’re not surprised that McDonald’s chicken nuggets are not all that healthy for you. Maybe you buy chicken nuggets from the grocery store and microwave or bake them at home to save on cost and improve your health. I have often seen the beloved Tyson dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets in my client’s freezers; they seem so sweet and playful, so let’s look at their nutrition facts.
A servings of five Tyson Dinosaur chicken nuggets contains; 260 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 14 grams of protein. Although a little high in saturated fat, overall, these dino’s nutrition facts don’t seem all that scary. However, let’s examine the ingredient list.
The ingredient list contains; Chicken breast with rib meat, water, dried whole eggs, seasoning (salt, onion powder, modified corn starch, natural flavor), and sodium phosphates. BREADED WITH: Enriched unbleached wheat flour (enriched with niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, dextrose, iodized salt, yellow corn flour, modified corn starch, dried whey, soy flour, sugar, spices, caramel color, garlic powder, methylcellulose, oleoresin paprika, spice extractive. Breading set in vegetable oil.
Again, there are many things I could pick to highlight in these nuggets but I’ll just pick two; Caramel coloring and the chicken meat itself. According to CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), the artificial brown caramel coloring is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures and those reactions “result in the formation of 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole, which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats.” The chicken in these nuggets is most likely factory-farmed chicken, not free-range chicken. This means that the chicken is typically treated with vaccines and hormones while being fed conventional feed products that are medicated with pharmaceuticals and grown with pesticides.
After all this nutritional let down, I am sure you are hungry for some cheering up! Healthy Grocery Girl to the rescue. Don’t worry; I would never dish up such a huge helping of shocking nugget sadness without providing healthier alternatives, both for product to purchase and recipe to try.
Try these healthier chicken nuggets next time you are at the grocery store; Coleman Organic Chicken Breast Nuggets or Ian’s Organic Chicken Nuggets.
Baked Zucchini Chicken Nuggets
(Adapted from The Family Kitchen)
The Zucchini in these nuggets are an excellent way to sneak in more vegetables, and add a light moistness without altering the overall chicken flavor. Serve with guacamole, salsa or honey mustard for healthy dipping. This is a quick, easy meal that is sure to please everyone at your family dinner table.
1 1/2 c. organic zucchini, grated
1 lb. ground free-range organic chicken breast
1 egg (free-range organic)
1 tsp. onion salt
2 c. crushed organic corn flakes or breadcrumbs (Don’t have breadcrumbs or corn flakes? Take a piece of bread and pulse in blender and now you have bread crumbs).
Directions: Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium to large bowl, mix together the zucchini, chicken, egg, and onion salt until well combined. Form 1-2 tablespoons of the chicken mixture into small balls, then press flat to create until about 1/2 inch thick nuggets, and coat in bread crumbs. Transfer to a lightly greased cookie sheet (Use coconut oil or butter!). Cook in oven at 400 degrees for 13-15 minutes, or just until nuggets have cooked thoroughly. Don’t forget to dip! Serve with guacamole, salsa, or honey mustard.
Key point to take away; Always read ingredient lists; store bought or from a restaurant. What may appear at first glance as a healthy choice, upon further reading may turn out to be a disaster. If in doubt, don’t eat it.
For nutrition and health related questions please contact:
Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit healthygrocerygirl.com
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