March 13, 2007
Home-made Chicken Nuggets

One of the ambitions I held when I first started our boy on solid foods was to feed him home-made food for as long as possible, putting off the inevitable love-affair with fried food, soda pop and junk food. I imagined that by serving our boy healthy simple food, he would develop a taste for a variety of foods and that maybe, just maybe, he would be a miracle child - one who would shun McDonald's. Two years down the line, I've had to admit that despite my best efforts to raise an open-minded boy, his dinner has become something of a battleground. He is still unaware of the existence of McDonald's, though I'm told his day care allowed the children to have Coke one day last week at a birthday celebration (sigh). (What a surprise: the assistant told me "he loved it!") It's not that he's a picky eater per se; I'm told that he is a very good eater at the creche, where they serve home-made hot meals every day. They tell me he doesn't like pineapple and has gone off yogurt recently, but I can deal with that. So why the battleground at home?

Well, I think he is clever enough to sense that it's important to me. And being a typical two year old, he's exploiting my hot point to play a control game. I realised recently that things had degraded to the point where he had bananas and shortbread for dinner two nights in a row. Not good.

So I've implemented a few changes in routine (no more fruit juice before dinner, food ready and making the apartment smell good when he gets home, a more matter-of-fact attitude about his obstinance) and I've tried to come up with some more creative dinners for him. And I've resorted to chicken nuggets.

Actually, they are pretty tasty.

I came up with this recipe when I failed to get the boy to eat leftover roast chicken. (He used to love it, sigh.) He initially rejected the little balls, but the second time he tried them he decided Mom might have a point about them. And the third time, he came back for seconds. A little chicken goes a long way in the recipe below and so I have frozen 25-30 of them so that Dad will have an easily reheated dinner element while I'm in the hospital with our boy's sibling some time next month (God and the baby willing). Aside from the time it took to roast the chicken and strip it of meat, it took about five minutes to assemble the balls and about half an hour to cook them all - not really a long time when you consider that a toddler is unlikely to eat more than five or six in a meal and it makes about 40 of them. And aside from the roast chicken meat, they were made with ingredients that are usually in my kitchen. I'll be making them again, I know!

Home-made Chicken Nuggets (makes about 40 small balls)

175 grams (about a cup and a half) cooked chicken meat (I used a mix of dark and light meat)
1 1/2 slices of whole wheat bread
1 egg
60 ml (about 1/4 cup) chicken broth
1 heaping tsp dried sage
dash salt
90 grams (about 2/3 cup) bread crumbs for coating the balls
Butter for frying - several tablespoons

Put the chicken, egg, bread and sage in a food processor and process until you have a fine meal. Gradually add the chicken broth, until you have a meat paste that will hold together but is not too moist to hold together. You may need slightly less broth or you may need to add a tablespoon or so of water to get the right consistency; it depends on how dry your chicken meat and bread are. Taste the mixture and add salt as necessary.

Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a non-stick frying pan until it froths. Using a small teaspoon, scoop out a small amount of meat mixture and form it in a ball. Roll it in the bread crumbs and place it in the butter. Repeat until you have filled the pan with balls. They should not be touching. As the balls begin to brown, turn them to cook several sides. If you get impatient - or they all start getting done around the same time - you can simply give the pan a few shakes to turn them all a bit randomly. We are not McDonald's and we don't care if they are not uniformly browned. (Especially if we forgot to take a photo for the blog.) Because of the egg, you'll need to heat them all the way through. When they are cooked through, remove to a sheet of paper towel and repeat with the remaining meat paste and breadcrumbs until they are all cooked.

Serve to toddler while still warm but not hot. Lukewarm cooked carrot sticks go pretty well with them, as do cucumber disks. You could try a tomato sauce or mayonnaise on the side, but the odds are he won't like them. Toddlers are suspicious of sauces suspecting (quite rightly) that someone is likely to have hidden vegetables in them somewhere....

Posted by Meg in Sussex at March 13, 2007 1:33 PM Print-friendly version

I'm just shocked that a day care served soda to two year olds. Soda, with all the caffeine and sugar water, is inappropriate for kids, even if there was a birthday party. I'd have raised holy hell about that, personally.

The chicken nuggets sound pretty good to my adult ears. I've been looking for a good homemade recipe like this so I can't wait to try it.

Posted by Stacia on March 14, 2007 at 1:14 PM

Stacia, without wanting to get into too much of a cultural discussion, I'll just say that in this country you have to choose your battles. It was a one-off affair and the parent of the birthday child brought in the soda; I know the staff would never in the usual way serve coke, but they bowed to the parent's wishes. Childhood obesity is not as much of an issue here and (sadly) children are given a lot of candy from an early age, in my opinion. I suspect that in a generation's time they'll be facing the same kind of dliemma that the UK and the US are facing now but for the moment they are blissfully smug about the issue.

As for our boy, he won't taste it again until the next time it's out of my hands. By not making a big deal about it to him and not making it available I'm hoping it won't become another hot point.

Personally, I can no longer stomach the stuff - sugar free or classic!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 15, 2007 at 12:37 AM

I hate chicken nuggets, because they are SO ubiquitous here, and kids love them so much. Don't know what it's like in Paris, but here, it's what many kids think of as chicken. (I could go on. I have. - although a friend recently showed the Jaime Oliver video to her 5-year old, and it made the girl cry, because she loved them so much and just didn't want to know.

Someone gave me a similar recipe, but I always thought you had to put RAW meat in the processor. SO GLAD to know that you can do it with cooked.

Posted by ali b. on April 5, 2007 at 10:54 AM

Ali b., they don't seem to be quite as common here as they are in the US but in the UK they are EVERYWHERE. In fact, when we visit there I no longer order the children's meal for our boy because the choices are always the same (and always bad): pasta with plain tomato sauce, chicken nuggets, fried fish or pizza. And always with peas.

I used to hate the fact that my stepdaughter (who is English) would only eat these foods when she visited us so I have purposely avoided giving them to our boy for the most part. We order off the adult menu with an extra side dish of vegetables and just share with him most of the time.

So I felt pretty comfortable making home made nuggets: he's only had the junk food version once or twice (and, thankfully, wasn't impressed!).

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 5, 2007 at 12:31 PM

I wasn't judging, I swear. I was too busy being relieved that I would never be expected to clean raw poultry slurry out of my blender. But you've hit on another pet peeve of mine: kids' menus, and the idea that kids should have "different" foods. But, having never been to the City of Lights, I like to imagine that you don't have things like frozen french fries in the shape of happy faces, or Disney princess "fruit" snacks there....Chez vous, it's surely just freshly made artisanal cheeses and heaps of vegetables just-picked from some adorable farm where goats frolic, topped off by a pastry and the greatest cup of coffee you've ever had. Tell me that's how it is. Oh, please tell me that.

Posted by ali b. on April 5, 2007 at 8:04 PM

Well, yes and no. As I mentioned above, the kids are given a lot more candy than most of us expat moms are comfortable with - and the idea of a state run day care center giving them coke is just weird. But it's an exception, not a rule.

In restaurants, you simply don't see kids. One of the most common complaints for expats and tourists alike is the lack of child-friendly places. If you live here it's fine because you can just feed your child at home. But if you are visiting, you either have to put up with smoke, no high chairs and dirty looks or take your family to one of the chain restaurants, where they have high chairs and child menus. They are marginally better than in the US or the UK, but the food isn't that great overall.

One thing I do love is that in my boy's day care center they have freshly cooked meals every day and post the menu so that you can avoid making the same thing for dinner. The meals are *real* food - no frozen dinners or disney shaped potatoes. Fish once or twice a week (not batter fried!) and lamb and chicken, all proper food. In fact, I think he prefers the creche cooking to mine. : (

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 6, 2007 at 5:18 AM


Most kids do develop the majority of their food preferences before age 5. So keep up the hard work, and extra points to you for inventing!!
Best of luck with the babe. . .I'm expecting my first next month and looking forward to feeding him homemade food for a long time to come.
Love the blog, thanks for the inspiration!

Posted by Tehemina on April 11, 2007 at 11:01 AM

Thanks for the chicken nugget recipe! Two of my four children have allergies, so I went online looking for recipes to make my own. Yours looks like the best. I hope it tastes okay without the egg (allergic to eggs) and butter (allergic to milk). But happy he just outgrew his soy, so I can add the chicken broth (not a one in the stores without soy). What a great ingredient to add! Mine will have to work overtime without the egg to hold it all together. Ha Ha

Posted by Mommyof4 on June 13, 2008 at 5:40 PM

Thanks for the chicken nugget recipe! We made it tonight when I had half a roast chicken left over and the kids were complaining that they didn't want leftover roast chicken. They loved it! Because they're older, next time I'll probably just chop the chicken into small pieces (but on the other hand, it was so easy to use our Magic Bullet to quickly process the chicken and bread!) My daughter doesn't like McDonalds Chicken Nuggets (my son loves them) but she gave these nuggest four thumbs up (she insisted on using her toes too :-)

Posted by Fiona on August 19, 2008 at 10:23 PM

Wow, I am SO EXCITED to have stumbled upon this recipe! My one-year-old son doesn't like meat unless it seems like it's already been chewed up for him beforehand (i.e., those dreaded processed chicken nuggets)... like a previous poster, I am very excited to see that you don't have to blend raw chicken in order to make these... I think I might make a couple of minor tweaks to the recipe to 1) hide some broccoli or somesuch veggie in it, and 2) maybe try baking them instead of pan-frying (??). We'll see. Thanks again!

Posted by kg on September 12, 2008 at 10:06 PM

wow what a great recipe! its EXACTLY what i was looking for.. but i'd like some opinions (let me explain)..

my uncle and aunty are opening up a charcoal chicken takeaway / dine-in in a few weeks, (yes i know, he's not setting the right examples with takeaway food and so forth - but BELIEVE ME, he's trying his hardest to make it AS HEALTHY AS POSSIBLE, compared to "other" takeout. Freshest ingredients and very strict guidelines to how we cook and serve everything..)

So we've been discussing the menu and so forth, except till we reached the dilemma of kid's chicken nugget packs... everyone agrees that we WILL NOT serve anything we would not serve at home... but alas - kids want chicken nuggets!

So i suggested why don't we use the left over charcoal roasted chicken to make homemade nuggets! But i was really scared that cooked chicken could not be used...

I was not thinking directly to actually process the cooked chicken, but rather use the good fleshy parts to give it a more real texture (but based on the above recipe and comments, it does not seem like a problem), and my main dilemma on it now (well - I still need to convince my aunt and uncle!), is can these be frozen once prepared, then reheated when necessary???

has anyone got any thoughts on freezing these - whether i stick to a similar recipe as provided by Meg in Paris; or an unprocessed style?

Thanks for the help ladies and gentlemen!


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Posted by John Daniel Mba on April 9, 2009 at 3:53 AM

what a lovely recipe my kids and husband wolfed them down. well done i share your sentiments about all the horrific stuff available and marketed at our youngsters when i was a kid it was very rare to have a fat kid in school now it's the norm, what a shame.

Posted by krista on September 14, 2009 at 2:48 PM

A great recipe, I've tried a few of these chicken nugget recipes and none of them really turned out that well.

This was the first one that my kids didn't moan about ie not being 'real chicken nuggets' !


Posted by Jim on March 8, 2010 at 8:49 AM
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