Friday, November 5, 2010

Build a Better Nugget for a Healthy School Lunch

Click the image above to go directly to Ali Benjamin's blog

Ali Benjamin, co-author of our upcoming book, The Cleaner Plate Club, also has a blog by the same name.  This post is an excerpt from that blog.

Available January 2011!

So, I got an email recently from Charlotte’s teacher:
I have been meaning to chat with you about Charlotte’s lunch. She won’t eat yogurt, applesauce, or raisins at school and really has a hard time maneuvering utensils when she doesn’t like the item. Could you possibly try to put more finger foods that she likes and can manage easier? I have noticed that when she goes too long without eating her behavior changes rather quickly.
No hatin’ on this teacher, please. This is an awesome teacher, the best there is. This is a healthy-eatin’, get-kids-running, gardening, fruit-salad-making, composting, down-to-earth superfit woman who will go the extra mile to keep those kids healthy. The problem here is definitely not the teacher.

It’s my kid. Charlotte is my Picky-Picky, my neophobe, my very fussy eater. I don’t know what to say; she was born that way. My first kid? Voracious appetite. (An aside: During Merrie’s 18-month checkup, our pediatrician said, “give her as much healthy food as she wants.” At the next visit, I had to ask,” so you mean if she eats three adult-sized yogurts in a single sitting, and she asks for a fourth, I should give her a fourth? Because that’s what we are dealing with.” The pediatrician picked her jaw up off the floor and said “no, probably not in this case.”) 

Seriously, my first child? Likes her food. But Wee Charlotte has always been a different breed of cat. She’s just not an eater. She didn’t nurse well; as an infant, she gained weight at half the rate she should have. Or she didn’t gain weight. She officially Failed to Thrive. We took her to occupational therapy, lots of it. We honestly thought she didn’t have the oral motor coordination to get the food she needed. We fretted. We feared. We discussed. We scratched our heads, we wrung our hands.

Then one day, Charlotte met cookies, and we all learned that she could eat just fine, thank you very much.

The ol’ “she’ll eat when she’s hungry” refrain? The thing I so confidently said about other people’s children once upon a time? Wee Charlotte has proved it false. She gets hungry. She runs out of fuel, she falls apart, she ceases to function. She just often refuses to eat, unless we’re serving up very specific things.

Those things? Kid food. The kind that typically comes jam-packed with additives like dyes and emulsifiers and stabilizers and preservatives and transfats and goodness knows what-all.

Fortunately, Beth introduced me to a healthy nugget alternative. It’s kid-friendly enough that even Wee Charlotte — yes, that picky-picky – will eat. But they’re made with 100% wholesome ingredients, they’re simple to make, they can be dipped in ketchup for fussy ones, and they’re tasty enough that even adults like them, too.

I know what’s going in Charlotte’s lunch next.

Golden Crisp Chicken Nuggets (cross-posted on the (ex)Expatriate’s Kitchen)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1-1/2 pounds)
2 tbs. plain whole milk yogurt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs (you can use Italian-seasoned for flavor)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried Italian herb blend
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the chicken into nugget size pieces.
Mix the egg and yogurt together in a shallow dish. Place another shallow dish next to it with the breadcrumbs, panko, grated cheese, herbs and seasoning. Keep one hand for the “wet” hand and one for the “dry.” Mix the chicken in the egg-yogurt mix, then using the “wet” hand, move pieces to the breading mix. Use your dry hand to sprinkle the crumbs over the top and turn to coat each piece well.
Repeat, placing the battered nuggets on a baking sheet. If you have ever crossed up your wet and dry hands, you’ll know it — your fingers will be well coated!
Bake the nuggets on a cookie sheet for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature at the center of your thickest nugget is 180 degrees. Don’t over bake.
So, why plain yogurt? Some of the best, real fried chicken starts with a soak in buttermilk to give the chicken that bit of tangy goodness. Yogurt has a similar flavor, but a thicker texture that will help this baked version hold onto the crumb mixture. The panko is a light and crisp breading, it gives the nugget that great crunch that you normally don’t get with baked versions.

Ali Benjamin has worked for big companies, grassroots nonprofits, and The Peace Corps. Still, one of her greatest achievements so far is seeing her children dive into a bowl of kale. She cooks, writes, and plays with her kids in Western Massachusetts.

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