We’re so excited to introduce our newest series, Food Rx with Jessica DeLuise, PA-C, CCMS, a physician assistant and culinary medicine specialist. This monthly series will focus on the important role food plays in our overall health, plus we’ll be sharing kid-friendly recipes to add more fresh produce to your family’s diet. Tune into the Produce for Kids Instagram channel on the first Sunday of each month at 12pm ET for our monthly Live segment!

Today, we’re talking all about processed foods and how families can easily swap them out for healthier, homemade foods at home, like with these baked chicken tenders. These are perfect to make ahead on the weekend and have to add to lunchboxes for the family all week. Also, great for a busy weeknight meal to pair up with your favorite sides. Processed foods can contain a long list of ingredients, including preservatives and artificial flavors and colors. Many processed foods are also easy to make at home. Here’s how!

The Rx

Replace processed chicken nuggets with unprocessed, baked chicken tenders.

Here’s Why

Chicken tenders found at fast food chains, restaurants, and most frozen food aisles contain a variety of ingredients that can lead to adverse health effects. It’s important to remember that not all nuggets are created equal, so it is important to read labels and research ingredients for these options, most of which are readily available online.

As a rule of thumb, turn over a package and skim through the ingredient list. Can you pronounce every ingredient? If so, it’s probably a better choice than others on the shelf. How many ingredients are there? The fewer, the better!

Here are some ingredients to watch out for and avoid when possible:

Added Sugar

Added sugar in foods can increase the risk for mood changes, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. See the #FoodRx from July for more on added sugar!

Refined Flour

Refined flour is a processed wheat product. When grains are refined and processed, much of the B vitamins, folate and fiber are removed, leaving behind a nutrient-poor starch. Instead, look for products made with whole grains like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye.

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oils used in fast food items are usually processed using hexane gas (the preferred method is expeller or cold-pressed). Vegetable oils are not a preferred fat source for children. Instead, children should focus on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats from nuts, vegetables, and whole grains. These fats support healthy neurologic and cognitive development. In contrast, vegetable oils can be pro-inflammatory.

A Note on Trans Fat:

At some fast-food chains, the vegetable oil includes hydrogenated soybean oil made with preservatives like with TBHQ and butylhydroquinone. Hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fat, are man-made oil and synthetic. Hydrogenated oils should be avoided as they can affect heart healthy by increasing “bad” cholesterol and lowering “good” cholesterol.

MSG

Even though the FDA recognizes MSG as safe, the ingredient remains controversial. MSG has been reported to exacerbate headaches, flushing, palpitations, headaches, weakness, and numbness. It has also been linked to obesity and neurotoxicity. Learn more about MSG here.

The Recipe: Baked Chicken Tenders

Whether you’re making for dinner or throwing leftovers into your kid’s lunchbox for school, these healthier baked chicken tenders are easy to make and pair well with this Sugar-Free Ketchup! Serve with your kiddos favorite fruits and veggies and a whole grain like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or quinoa.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond flour (or coconut, chickpea, rice flour)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup milk of choice
  • 2 lbs. chicken tenderloins

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Place metal rack on baking sheet (to allow for air circulation that will make crispy chicken). Alternatively, line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine flour, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in bowl. In separate bowl, beat eggs and milk.
  3. Dip chicken in egg then coat with flour. Place on metal rack.
  4. Bake 35 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, crispy and golden brown.

Disclaimer: Before making any health or diet changes, please consult your doctor. The information shared as part of Food Rx is meant to be informative but not replace medical advice from your doctor.