No chicken in the nuggets?

I suspect fowl play.

I’ve been lucky that in the next few weeks, I get to combine 2 of my passions: the library and food. I’m doing a healthy snacks program for kids and parents at the library! I’ve been a busy bee testing and tweaking recipes, tasting them, making sure they fit with the theme I’m going for–healthy and delicious.

Since our programming this fall is based on the folk song There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, all the snacks are going to be bugged or animal shaped. Fun looking food is usually fun to eat; and fun food is always a plus when making sure kids are eating healthy, since good-for-you food is not always the food that young taste buds crave.

As a babysitter and a people watcher and someone who has babies and young children in my family, I observe what kids are eating. Being in the library is also a big plus when I listen to what kids ask for for lunch. Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs…Not the healthiest of foods. Not the best nutrition for young bodies and minds. I know the battle that parents go through trying to get their kids to just eat, let alone eat something that has veggies in it.

I know how pressed for time parents can be, and all about picking your battles….but looking at what kids these days eat, and how they behave, I have to think it’s related. The amount of allergies, and weight issues, and other problems is related food. I willfully disclose that these are my personal observations and opinions, but I am not the only one who’s noticed.

There are rarely any food allergies or restrictions in New Zealand schools. There is no corn syrup snuck into bread and kids eat their fruits and veggies. They eat things in school that are sophisticated–pasta primavera with squash, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, peas, and chicken. And they eat all of it! They don’t pick around the veggies. I don’t know that I saw a single hot dog down there, and the only chicken nuggets being offered were from McDonalds, and then only as a special treat.

One of my biggest sticking points as a proponent of healthy eating is processed food. Dino nuggets seem to be an American Staple for kids under 12. And kids over 15…and in college. But, what is that? Is that meat? It doesn’t look like any kind of chicken I remember. It’s weird and ground up pieces. Gristle, fat, filler. Sure it tastes ‘good’ because it’s covered in salt and fat. Our palates love salt and fat and sugar. But that’s not real food. That’s not good for you. I wouldn’t look at a chicken nugget and know where it came from. And that utterly creeps me out.

So, that being said, I love the idea of chicken nuggets. My mom makes homemade chicken nuggets, with real chicken, and they are delicious. But even those are a bit of an issue because they are shallow stovetop fried. (I also have a problem with fried foods.)

I wanted a healthy, sneaky alternative that kids would like to eat. Is that so much to ask?! After a lot of research and reading, I think I’ve got it.

I made a batch of these no chicken chicken nuggets; or, you know, just veggie nuggets. They look and taste JUST like processed nuggets (at least in my mind). The texture is right, the flavor is spot on, they are crunchy…perfect. The people that I’ve tested them on have really enjoyed them as well! And the kicker? They are made with beans and cauliflower. No meat in sight! Yet still full of protein and good-for-you veggies.

I definitely suggest using fun cookie cutters to shape your nuggets. They get wonderfully crispy that way, AND they are so much fun to eat. I made mine Star Wars shaped. My boyfriend got me the cookie cutters, and I use them for everything from cookies to jello to veggie nuggets (obviously). He’s the best. :)

I also have a fun fact for you! Today, it is, in fact, Vegetarian Day! So, how appropriately timed that I present to you:

Better-Than-Chicken Nuggets
or
Cauliflower Nuggets
Adapted from Life Lessons

nuggets7
Ingredients
nuggets1

1 cup cauliflower, packed
1 cup white beans
1/2 cup breadcrumbs, I used a mixture of Italian and Panko
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded or cut into small cubes
1 egg
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
additional breadcrumbs for breading

Method

  1. Wash the cauliflower and break it into small florets. Steam  until just tender, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the florets cool for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Rinse the white beans and add them to a food processor along with the cauliflower, mozzarella cheese, and garlic clove. nuggets2Pulse until well combined but not completely pureed.
  3. Remove the mixture from the food processor and place in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg, breadcrumbs and spices. nuggets3Let the dough rest for at least 1/2 hour in the fridge to firm up.nuggets4
  4. To make shaped nuggets put the dough on a nonstick surface, like a piece of plastic wrap, and press it out into a large, flat sheet with your fingers or a rolling pin. Before using cookie cutters to shape, sprinkle a layer of dry bread crumbs over the top of the flattened dough. nuggets5
  5. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes, or simply pinch the pieces of dough and shape them freely with your hands.
    nuggets6
  6. Bake the nuggets on a baking sheet for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees, turning over halfway through, until the nuggets are nice and golden. nuggets7Serve right away, or let cool down and store in the freezer in a container.
  7. To reheat them, place them back in the oven for a few minutes for a quick and healthy snack.
  8. They are also delicious cold, though don’t quite taste as much like store-bought nuggets.
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