While I was shopping for the recipes in this month’s column, there was a woman in the cereal aisle talking pretty loudly in that “look what a good mom I am” voice so everyone could hear her.
She said these words to her son, who appeared to be about 5 years old, as he grabbed for some cereal: “You want to eat fake stuff like that instead of real foods? We don’t eat fake food at our house. They put those boxes at your eye level so you’ll be sure to see it. Our family doesn’t want to buy that, right? We eat real food.”
She continued, “What is it called when they put a toy on a box of food?”
The young boy looked up and answered, “An ad.”
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Mom said, “That’s right. It’s an ad. So let’s go buy some real food.”
And that, my friends, is the theme of these recipes today. Let’s eat real food.
When my kids were little (quite a few years ago), they ate a lot of chicken nuggets, Bagel Bites and fish sticks — and, I’m sorry to report, cereal with toys in the box. These days we’re so much more conscious of what we’re feeding our families that I decided to share some recipes for spring break so that your kids can have the foods they love, and you can be guilt-free knowing it’s homemade.
Moms and dads of the world, I give you homemade chicken nuggets that convert nicely into chicken-and-waffles for the next day’s breakfast, mini fish bites that also make delicious sliders, pizza muffins that will surely become a household favorite, and fried cheese in the waffle maker, a recipe from my friend Eliud Castro, who owns Gepetto’s Pizza Truck at Fort Worth’s Clearfork Food Park.
Let the kids help you with these so they can see that real food can be fun to make.
Homemade chicken nuggets
Makes about 12 nuggets
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each cut into 3 pieces (see note)
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 2 cups Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Olive oil cooking spray (or melted butter if preferred)
- Cookie cutters in various shapes (optional)
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place one chicken breast (3 pieces) in the food processor and pulse about 15 times, until roughly chopped. Remove and place into a bowl. Repeat with second chicken breast and place in the bowl.
2. Add egg, garlic salt, pepper and breadcrumbs and mix together by hand. If mixture is too sticky, add more breadcrumbs. Set aside.
3. Place corn flake crumbs and salt in a separate bowl and stir.
4. Push a small amount of chicken mixture into a greased cookie cutter. Remove and dredge completely with corn flake crumb mixture. If not using cookie cutters, simply roll into small nuggets. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and spray tops with olive oil cooking spray.
5. Bake 15 minutes and turn. Spray tops again with olive oil spray and cook an additional 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with choice of sauces — ketchup, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce or honey mustard. Healthy sides like fruit, applesauce or fresh veggie slices make this a nutritious meal or snack.
Note: If you don’t have a food processor, just buy ground chicken.
Nutritional analysis per nugget: 65 calories, 1 gram fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 29 milligrams cholesterol, 506 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 12 percent of calories from fat.
Kids’ chicken & waffles
- 4 frozen mini waffles (such as Eggo or Van’s)
- Homemade chicken nuggets (see recipe above)
- Strawberries, sliced
- Pancake syrup
Toast waffles according to package instructions. Place one or two chicken nuggets on top of toasted waffle. Top with a sliced strawberry and warm pancake syrup.
Nutritional analysis per serving (1 mini waffle and four nuggets): 221 calories, 3 grams fat, 28 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 90 milligrams cholesterol, 1,616 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 14 percent of calories from fat.
Homemade mini fish bites
Makes about 12 bites
- 2 6-ounce halibut fillets
- 1 egg
- 2 sleeves Ritz Crackers
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Olive oil spray
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut halibut lengthwise into bite-sized sticks; any size is fine and each piece of fish will be different.
2. Mix egg and 1 teaspoon water in a bowl and whisk until combined. Set aside. Place crackers, Parmesan, and salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and pulse into crumbs, but not powder. Place crumb mixture on a plate.
3. Dip each fish bite into the egg, then dredge in the cracker crumb mixture and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Spray each fish bite with olive oil spray. Bake 8 minutes, turn and bake another 8 minutes. Serve with homemade tartar sauce (recipe follows).
Tip: Make these into easy fish-bite sliders. Place 2 fish bites in a King’s Hawaiian roll. Top with a slice of American cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted, and top with tartar sauce.
Nutritional analysis per bite: 91 calories, 3 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 29 milligrams cholesterol, 384 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 31 percent of calories from fat.
Easy tartar sauce
Makes about 1 cup
- 1 cup mayonnaise (your choice)
- 2-3 tablespoons sweet relish (I used Heinz in the plastic bottle.)
Combine mayo and relish in a bowl and serve with fish bites. Store in refrigerator.
Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 112 calories, 12 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 94 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 97 percent of calories from fat.
Waffle-iron mozzarella snacks
- 1 1/2-pound ball of fresh mozzarella
- 1 egg
- 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 1 cup marinara sauce, for dipping
1. Preheat waffle iron to medium-high heat. Cut mozzarella into 8 circular slices.
2. In a small bowl, whisk egg with a fork. Place breadcrumbs in a separate bowl.
3. Dip each cheese piece into the egg, then coat with breadcrumbs. Place in waffle iron for 45 seconds to 1 minute or until golden brown. Serve with warmed marinara sauce.
Nutritional analysis per snack: 353 calories, 23 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 22 grams protein, 103 milligrams cholesterol, 888 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 16 pizzas
- 1 tube refrigerated pizza dough (Pillsbury makes a gluten-free version.)
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup chopped pepperoni
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from container, but don’t unroll. Place onto counter and cut into 16 even slices. (For even slices, cut the roll in half. Then cut those 2 in half. Then cut those 4 in half, and cut those 8 in half.)
2. Place each slice in the bottom of a greased muffin tin. Precook dough (with no toppings) for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and top with sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni. Bake 15-20 minutes. Let cool in muffin tins for 10 minutes before serving.
Nutritional analysis per pizza: 180 calories, 10 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 18 milligrams cholesterol, 584 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.