Chicken nuggets aren’t really chicken.  Unless you think of chicken as salty, fat-filled blobs of crunchy, unidentifiable stuff.

Edible Foodlike Substances. That’s what Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) calls things like chicken nuggets.

Edible foodlike substances are highly processed concoctions that scientists dream up.  They are made with ingredients most people don’t keep in their pantries. (I can safely say I’ve never cooked with either Potassium Lactate or Guar Gum. Have you?)

Regularly feeding your children chicken nuggets trains your kids not to like real food.

According to former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, MD, food manufacturers make their foods to maximize our “bliss point”  — the point at which we get the greatest pleasure from sugar, fat, or salt.

When the bliss point is right we find food more stimulating, and we are driven to eat more.  At the same time, foods that are less sweet, less salty and less full of fat become less appealing.

Chicken nuggets don’t just ruin your kids taste for real chicken. They also reduce the likelihood that your kids will like other real foods – foods like fish and broccoli.

Chicken Nuggets aren’t kid-friendly. They’re kid-damaging.

Look at the following comparisons between Coleman’s natural, boneless, skinless breasts, Tyson Chicken Nuggets and Applegate Farms Organic & Natural Chicken Nuggets.

Note:  The comparisons are per 100 grams, a bigger portion than your kids will eat.

For every 100 grams:

  • Chicken = 107 calories.
  • Tyson nuggets = 300 calories.
  • Applegate Farms nuggets = 205 calories.
  • Chicken = 1.3g of fat (0g saturated fat).
  • Tyson nuggets = 18.9g of fat (4.4g saturated fat).
  • Applegate Farms nuggets = 10g of fat (1.7g saturated fat).
  • Chicken = 67mg of sodium.
  • Tyson nuggets = 522mg of sodium.
  • Applegate Farms nuggets = 239mg sodium.
  • Chicken = 23g of protein.
  • Tyson chicken nuggets = 16g of protein.
  • Applegate Farms nuggets = 14g of protein.

If your children eat just 3 Tyson chicken nuggets they’re getting approximately 14% of their daily calories but 24% of their daily fat and 28% of their daily sodium.  The calories and “nutrients” are out of whack: that is the definition of junk.

Think of chicken nuggets as a treat, not a staple, and give them to your kids occasionally. Once a week?

Not only will this limit the sodium and fat your kids are ingesting, but it will give you an opportunity to teach your kids about eating foods in proportion to their healthful benefits.

And the added bonus? The fewer salty, high fat foods your kids get used to, the more open they’ll be to foods with different flavors.

Don’t train your kids to go looking for the bliss point.

If you must give your children chicken nuggets on a regular basis, dampen their influence on your kids’ eating habits.

  • At least give your children different brands so your kids get used to varying flavors.
  • If your kids won’t accept different brands, then at least buy different shapes of the same brand so your kids will accept foods that look different.
  • If your kids won’t accept different shapes, then cut their favorite nuggets (dinosaurs? stars?) into different shapes while they watch.  This way they’ll know that shape doesn’t affect flavor.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

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Sources: Product nutrition labels; Kessler, D. A., MD, 2009. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York, NY: Rodale. Pollan, M., 2009. Food Rules: an Eater’s Manual. New York, NY: Penguin.