RECIPE: A nugget of back-to-school meal inspiration

Whether you're planning back-to-school lunches, or meals for back-to-back activities, chicken and vegetarian nuggets make everyone happy. (Kellie Hynes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Whether you're planning back-to-school lunches, or meals for back-to-back activities, chicken and vegetarian nuggets make everyone happy. (Kellie Hynes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

This is a story about packing lunches, inhaling dinner on the way to sports practice, using leftovers, and/or feeding picky eaters. If you are welcoming the new school year with equal parts excitement and meal prep dread, I have one word for you. Nuggets. Made from sorta-scratch using either pre-cooked chicken or canned chickpeas, these protein-rich bites offer an easy, tasty option when you are short on time and ideas.

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Throw your preferred protein into the food processor. Add cooked vegetables; cauliflower rice is undetectable to even the most discerning eater. Use mayonnaise or hummus to add moisture and flavor, then smoosh the pate into finger food shapes. Panko breadcrumbs give the nuggets their crunch. If you love the golden look of fast-food nuggets (and who doesn’t?), brown the breadcrumbs in a dry skillet first.

What would a nugget be without dipping sauce? You know what your people like. I serve barbecue sauce with our chicken nuggets and tahini or tzatziki with the chickpea version. Then cross a meal off your list and move on to the next activity.

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For a vegetarian version, substitute one (15-ounce) drained can of chickpeas for the chicken, and 2 tablespoons hummus for the mayonnaise and mustard in this recipe. Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

Chicken Cauliflower Nuggets
  • ½ cup plain panko breadcrumbs
  • 8 ounces cooked or rotisserie chicken, bones and skin removed
  • ⅓ cup cooked riced cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
  • Place the panko breadcrumbs in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking frequently, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 6 minutes. Pour the breadcrumbs into a bowl and set aside.
  • Place the chicken, cauliflower rice, mayonnaise, mustard, paprika, garlic powder and black pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S-blade. Pulse, scraping down the sides if necessary, until the mixture is just combined.
  • Use damp hands to shape a golf ball-sized amount of the chicken mixture into a nugget. Dip the nugget in the beaten egg, then coat all sides in the toasted breadcrumbs. Place the nugget on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all of the chicken mixture is used.
  • Bake 15 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the nuggets are hot. Serve immediately. Nuggets can be made a day in advance, and refrigerated in an airtight container, before cooking. Makes 12 nuggets.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per chicken cauliflower nugget: 57 calories (percent of calories from fat, 16), 7 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), 30 milligrams cholesterol, 110 milligrams sodium. Per chickpea cauliflower nugget: 86 calories (percent of calories from fat, 21), 4 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), 16 milligrams cholesterol, 186 milligrams sodium.
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