Does anything epitomize kid food more than a chicken nugget? I doubt it. Chicken nuggets, mac n’ cheese and Cheetoes were some of my favorite foods when growing up. In fact, they still remain some of my favorite foods to this day. During my pregnancy I had vivid dreams involving those foods, meaning I’d wake up the next day and want to either make mac n’ cheese for breakfast or proceed on an epic but failed quest to find original Cheetoes in Beijing. McDonald’s chicken nuggets (as unhealthy as I knew they were) were one of the rare foods that didn’t make me puke in my first trimester.
However, if you asked me if I would allow these same foods to be given to my child, I would have to say no. The reason is that in all my years of teaching and working with kids, I’ve seen the side effects of the modern child’s diet, which is chock full of hidden sugars and artificial colorings that cause hyperactivity in most kids. The right combination of fat, salt , sugar and artificial ‘flavors’ turned food into a designer drug which was all the child wanted to consume. There were no vegetables or fruit that could match this chemical cocktail. No to trying new things. No to everything except that processed junk they had become addicted to. Trying to avoid processed junk only led to daily tantrums from both adults and children at the dining table before someone finally caves in only to repeat the same scene the next day. Not only is childhood obesity becoming a global problem but I’ve even seen young children with their baby teeth rotting out of the head from all the sugar (either known or hidden in their processed foods). One field trip to the dentist in Beijing to learn about oral health led to the discovery that the majority of our students had several or more cavities which needed to be immediately taken care of. It was good news to the dentists who saw an sudden spike in their business but bad news for us teachers who had students frequently missing class time in order to take care of another few brown and rotting teeth.
It would appear that food is no longer food. Macaroni and cheese is no longer pasta, cheese, and milk but instead a whole list of chemicals, additives with some processed food products thrown in for good measure. The world is becoming both malnourished and obese from over consumption of this bizarre “stuff” which comes not from a kitchen but from a laboratory.
Now, I’m not advocating for you to never eat processed food because it is just not realistic. There will be times when you indulge in fast food, frozen and boxed meals and that’s ok. I do the same from time to time. However, I don’t make it a daily habit of it and instead do the majority of my cooking at home. I make nearly everything from scratch – french fries, fish cakes, my child’s spaghetti O’s, mac n’ cheese, pizza, pasta sauce, etc. You name it and I’ve got a recipe for each one (of course). What’s surprising about it all is that it’s not as difficult or time consuming as everyone makes it out to be and it usually tastes better and looks better than how they are usually made. It’s also tastier, so you save time at the dinner table by avoiding tears and tantrums and at bed time, nobody is climbing the wall, so that goes more smoothly too.
Take for example this chicken nugget recipe. Get ground chicken from the grocer (if not already ground, ask your butcher to ground some chicken for you or do it at home in a food processor), add the herbs and spices, breadcrumbs, egg and combine. Form into patties, dip in batter, fry it up in a non-stick frying pan with some oil and voilà- done! The hardest thing about this recipe is taking the thyme leaves off the stems. Other than that, it’s easy. I like to make a batch ahead of time and freeze the rest in ziplock bags in the freezer. They’re easy to take out, throw in the oven and warm up for a quick lunch or dinner. I must admit though that I’m always tempted to put some aside for me. After all, if my 1 year old throws a chicken nugget at me, it’s open game. I can eat it. And I do so…happily.