Why kids like chicken nuggets and why some dietitians are OK with that

Ask just about any kid what they want for dinner, and you’ll likely hear, “Chicken nuggets.”

Not all “chicken” nuggets are even chicken these days. Some contain cauliflower and chickpeas, while others are completely plant material. Some don’t even look like chickens, taking the shapes of dinosaurs, Minions and superheroes.

Although most kids love them, many parents are nonetheless shamed for serving them.

After the recent recall of 30,000 pounds of Tyson Foods dino-shaped “fun nuggets,” for example, critics gave parents a hard time for feeding these to their kids, with one commenter calling them “processed garbage.”

Others, Yahoo Life reported, were realists. “If anyone has this in their fridge it’s probably because a child wants them,” one commented.

But why are they so popular with kids? Dietitians who spoke with Yahoo say they might know.

“Chicken nuggets do not have a strong flavor profile and can often be considered ‘bland,’” said Ali Bandier, a registered dietitian and founder of Senta Health. “Bland foods such as chicken nuggets, pasta and bread often appeal to kids who are sensory sensitive, hesitant or picky eaters.”

Or it could be because nuggets are “easier to chew than other sources of protein,” like a steak or grilled chicken breast, explained registered dietitian Diana Rice of Tiny Seed Nutrition and Anti Diet Kids. Plus, she added, they’re convenient.

“I’m kind of speculating, but when you’re a kid and you’re going, going, going all the time, (nuggets do the trick),” she told Yahoo Life. “I firmly believe that kids’ bodies will get what they need when adults do their job of providing the food. It’s a fast way to get that in — which is good.”

Children likely see nuggets as comfort food, both said.

Tired parents might not plan to feed their kids processed food, but reality can hit after a long day. Mom or dad knows their children will eat the nuggets and will get the protein they need.

“Children are more accepting of the foods they are offered most frequently,” Bandier said. “Chicken nuggets are usually offered much more often than meatballs, for example. This repeated exposure of chicken nuggets makes them feel safe for children.”

Rice added parents shouldn’t feel guilty about serving them, either.

“I would say it’s a really good thing, because it’s a very convenient food that meets our kids’ nutritional needs for when we are at the end of that busy day and we just need to feed our kids and it’s so easy and they accept it,” she said.

The key is to buy healthier options to serve your offspring. Ultra-processed nuggets often have a lot of sodium, which makes them better as a sometimes meal instead of a daily staple, Bandier said.

For lower-income parents, however, chicken nuggets provide protein and carbs their children need, Rice noted.

“I think chicken nuggets are great because they are protein, carbs and fat in one food,” she told Yahoo Life. “Those are the main things that kids really need to grow and thrive. Like, we can talk about the micronutrients, but we have to cover the macro nutrients first.

“And it’s like we’re obsessing over the ingredients in this when we could be obsessing over (things like) can we give moms more child care support, and can we change the food system to get more fruits and vegetables into lower-income neighborhood? I think it’s a big diversion.”

As long as chicken nuggets are the only thing your child eats, Rice said, they should be OK.

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