When my kids were tiny, chicken nuggets seemed to be everywhere: birthday parties, potlucks, church events, school suppers, family gatherings, you name it. They were usually procured from a giant bag that lived in the freezer, sometimes cut into clever shapes.

And my kids loved them.

“Why don’t you buy nuggets, mommy?,”

they would ask.

But I didn’t buy them. Firstly, I figured they were getting plenty elsewhere. And while it wasn’t as if I thought chicken nuggets were the devil, they just seemed symbolic of everything I didn’t want my kids raised on: fast food, fried food, breaded food, processed food. When I pitched a cookbook idea to an editor, I named an entire chapter, “Enough with the Nuggets.”

I know, I went a little overboard.

And here’s the dirty little secret: crispy breaded chicken is pretty darn delicious. And when homemade? Extra good.

So when I saw this recipe for Parmesan-Panko Chicken Tenders, I figured I’d finally introduce my version of nuggets to the family.

The recipe comes from Real Family Food, a cookbook by Amanda Haas, a local mom who falls into the, “I don’t know how she does it” category. Amanda runs the test kitchen at Williams-Sonoma, has two boys, writes the supremely useful blog One Family One Meal, and has managed to publish a terrific cookbook. She’s tall and slim with a giant smile. I might hate her only she’s too darn nice.

Real Family Food is published by Cooking Light, which means each recipe has an eye towards being lower in fat and calories, and higher in nutrition than most others like it.

Take these tenders. If you figure this recipe feeds a family of five, as it did ours, each serving is just 250 calories. And compared to a 6 piece portion of McNuggets, these tenders have about half the fat, plus, no mystery ingredients.

These Parmesan-Panko Chicken Tenders are a perfect substitute for those other nuggets your kids may be asking for! Click To Tweet

I’m not saying you should ban nuggets, but I do think making your own is worth doing. Your kids might like to pitch in — dipping the chicken in the egg and rolling it in breadcrumbs. Serve it with a giant salad, a veggie, and, sure, why not? A side of honey mustard, barbecue sauce, or ketchup for dunking.

Parmesan-Panko Chicken Tenders

The Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) used to coat the chicken in this recipe makes for an appealingly crunchy texture. You can find panko in many supermarkets and specialty stores. Opt for whole wheat panko if you can get it.


  • 1 ½ pounds chicken breast tenders (about 12 tenders)
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 large eggs , lightly beaten
  • 1 cup panko , preferably whole wheat (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Lemon wedges (optional garnish)


  1. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Place eggs in a shallow bowl. Combine panko and cheese in another shallow bowl. Dip chicken in egg; dredge in panko mixture.
  2. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add half of the chicken; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until browned and done. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining oil and chicken.
  3. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.


Adapted from Real Family Food by Amanda Haas. Photo credit: Jim Bathie