Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Are Chicken Nuggets Really Chicken?

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. ~


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.

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Reader Comments (7)

I'm a believer in the give your kids a couple of options, but that's it. I always see parents who use the excuse "but they won't eat anything else" but I'm a big believer that kids won't starve, if they're really hungry, they will eat what you put in front of them. I know we had no such options in my family when I was a kid - and I was expected to sit at the dinner table through the meal regardless of whether I refused to eat the food or not. I was a picky eater as a child and yet even I didn't starve or suffer from any kind of malnutrition. I think it's good to let kids have *some* say (and by some I mean you lay out 2 or 3 options and let them choose among them) but not give them free reign to solely eat chicken nuggets all the time or gorge on cookies after not eating any real food at mealtimes. (hey, if i had a choice to eat nothing but candy all the time at a small age i'm pretty sure i would have taken it too!)

January 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternora

Thanks for your comment. I agree that letting kids eat the same stuff day after day isn't good for them and that giving kids a couple of options is the way to go. Having said that, no mom starts out saying she's going to turn her kids into chicken nugget freaks. It happens because some kids are challenging and most of us don't have enough tricks up our sleeves.

But, having said that, I agree with you that most kids won't starve themselves or suffer from malnutrition and believing in that truth would help a lot of parents.


January 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

A few years ago, McDonalds had a print advertisement that really disturbed me. The picture showed a mom with her child and the print was something along the lines of "come in, mom, and get your salad with all white meat CHICKEN BREAST and your child can have McNuggets made from all white meat." Note that while they were clear that the salad had actual chicken in it, no such claim was made about the McNuggets. It's bothered me ever since.

I just discovered your website and am eager to try some of your suggestions on my youngest daughter (22 months) who has decided she doesn't like vegetables.

Thanks! Rockelle

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRockelle


Ah... the magic of advertising! I know what you mean about this ad.

Thanks for your kind words about my website. I would love to hear how implementing some of my suggestions goes. Keep me posted.


May 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I'm really enjoying your site and am definitely going to use your school lunch tips. I have a particular issue with meat production that I'd like to get more attention. If you want more information about it let me know.

As a Mom who cares about what I feed my children, I am concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and how this dangerous practice helps breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can transfer to people. For more information on this important human health issue, follow @SaveAntibiotics on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook (!/saveantibioticsforthesick) or check out the web site, We hope you will also consider joining Moms for Antibiotic Awareness ( and re-post or re-tweet any information you have learned. Please take a few minutes to learn about this issue. Together, we can take a stand against the overuse of these life-saving drugs.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKAM

I know this is a really old post, but I think it's worth mentioning--in case another parent of a "picky eater" stumbles upon it--that not all "picky eaters" are created equal. Some kids refuse certain types of food because they have neurological problems that make managing the sensory and motor experience of eating extremely problematic. These are kids who gag and vomit because of a food's texture, appearance, or flavor, or who can not tolerate even looking at certain foods--kids dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). These are kids who WILL literally starve themselves--to the point of malnutrition or a diagnosis of failure to thrive--if they are given foods they can't tolerate. Some children with SPD literally WILL NOT EAT, and require surgical placement of a feeding tube so that they can receive the nutrition they need to stay alive. Please, please, please, if you suspect that your child may have something more intense than the average case of picky eating, ask your pediatrician for an occupational therapy evaluation. There are therapeutic options for children facing this type of challenge, and the earlier you begin them, the better. Trust your instincts--don't let well-meaning friends, relatives, or internet commenters dismiss a potential medical problem as lazy parenting if your gut instincts say otherwise. (One last point I'll make: many of us were, in fact, picky eaters when we were young but grew up to be adults who eat a healthy, balanced diet.)

October 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly


Thanks for the reminder. Yes, some children have problems that aren't behavioral, and parents should definitely trust their instincts and check this out if they think there is something deeper going on.

But, even when there are sensory issues, the way out is gradual, incremental exposure to "offending" foods.This is what OTs do. So the basic message applies: pay attention to the kinds of foods you regularly feed your kids, and make sure you're working towards, not away from, the foods you really want your kids to consume.

But again, thanks for your important comment.


October 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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