Why do kids love chicken nuggets?

chicken nuggets
Courtesy: Huffpost

Modern chicken nuggets are constructed differently, whether they are formed like stegosauruses, Minions, Mickey Mouse, or Marvel characters, or they are covertly laced with cauliflower and chickpeas.

Although plant-based choices and their derivatives, such as “chicken sticks” and “chicken fries,” are becoming more and more popular in grocery stores, one thing that hasn’t changed is how tightly these patties have held onto kid cuisine and the stigma attached to feeding their children.

Maybe nothing has demonstrated this more than the reactions to Tyson Foods’ recent recall of 30,000 pounds of dino-shaped “fun nuggets” in response to complaints about metal contamination: on the one hand, parents lamenting the loss of a toddler favorite and asking for refunds; on the other hand, critics criticizing them for giving their children, in the words of one commenter, “processed garbage.”

Critics of parents have not been silent. “If anyone has this in their fridge it’s probably because a child wants them,”.

However, why? Why are chicken nuggets so popular with young palates that grocery stores have dozens of kinds (gluten-free, frozen-inspired, you name it), and why you wouldn’t imagine seeing a kids’ menu in the US without them, including Happy Meals and school lunches? This is the advice of professionals.

Why kids love chicken nuggets

It is obvious that dinosaur and Disney character-shaped snacks would appeal to children. However, what is it about chicken nuggets in particular that has them enthralled?

The flavor profile of chicken nuggets is not particularly robust, and they are sometimes seen as “bland,” says Senta Health’s creator and registered dietician Ali Bandier. “Bland foods such as chicken nuggets, pasta, and bread often appeal to kids who are sensory-sensitive, hesitant or picky eaters.”

Nuggets are “easier to chew than other sources of protein,” like a steak or grilled chicken breast, which is a key factor for youngsters who are still learning the mechanics of eating, according to registered dietitian Diana Rice of Tiny Seed Nutrition and Anti Diet youngsters. She goes on to say that kids, who might be leery of more intricate, multi-component meals, can “navigate” nuggets with confidence. Moreover, they are practical.

“I’m kind of speculating, but when you’re a kid and you’re going, going, going all the time, [nuggets do the trick],” Rice tells 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.”

Due to their familiarity, kids may perceive nuggets as a secure comfort food option. Said another way: Which arrived first, the parent pressed for time or the chicken nugget? “Many of us moms probably went into motherhood saying, ‘I’m not gonna serve my kids chicken nuggets.’ But then you get to the end of that busy day and you’re like, ‘Oh, they’ll eat it and this really works, and, you know, it’s got protein.’ And so I think kids are just kind of acclimated to it because we start serving it to them so young.”

“Children are more accepting of the foods they are offered most frequently,” says Bandier. For example, chicken nuggets are typically served far more frequently than meatballs. Children feel more at ease with chicken nuggets because of their frequent exposure to them.

Rice refers to this as “sensory loyalty,” which is another aspect that could account for your child’s preference for a particular brand of mac & cheese or for homemade nuggets over store-bought ones due to texture differences. There’s a little bit of neophobia with kids: What will happen if I try this new thing and it’s an unpleasant experience in my mouth? the mother remarks. Conversely, chicken nuggets are “predictable.”

Should parents feel guilty about serving chicken nuggets?

In a nutshell, no. Granted that some people view eating chicken nuggets as a “bad thing — like you’re getting your kids hooked or whatever,” Rice nevertheless has a different perspective. “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.”

Chicken nuggets’ nutritional content can “vary widely,” says Bandier, who advises parents to “make informed choices regarding the quality and frequency of consumption.” Dietitians believe that chicken, especially when it’s fried into nuggets, can satisfy children’s hunger and satisfy their needs for protein as well as zinc, niacin, and the amino acid tryptophan, which is necessary for the formation of serotonin, the hormone that makes us feel happy. Additionally, Bandier says that nuggets are a “quick and inexpensive” supper.

Bandier does, however, issue a warning: “Not all chicken nuggets are created equal.” Although some companies claim to have included veggies, a large portion of the food in the freezer section is highly processed, loaded with additives, and excessively salty. According to her, this makes them more appropriate for an occasional treat rather than a regular meal. However, parents can also consider air-fried or baked choices that are produced with lean chicken breast flesh.

Rice, on the other hand, is cautious about the “elitism” and “fear-mongering” that surround highly processed foods like nuggets, wherein low-income parents are frequently demonized for providing their children with “junk” food without taking into account the systemic problems (low pay, a lack of resources for healthcare and other supports, etc.) that are at play.

“I think chicken nuggets are great because they are protein, carbs and fat in one food,” Rice explains. Those are the primary necessities for children’s growth and well-being. For example, before discussing the micronutrients, we first address the macronutrients. And it seems like we’re fixated on the ingredients here when we should be fixated on [issues like] changing the food system to get more fruits and veggies into lower-class neighborhoods and providing women with greater help for child care. It seems like a major distraction to me.

According to Rice, parents should only be concerned if their child is eating exclusively chicken nuggets, as this could be a sign of a feeding problem or a restrictive food intake disorder. “I would not be concerned that food itself is chicken nuggets, except that ultimately, any human is going to need a more diverse diet to meet their nutrition needs,” she continues.

Is there life beyond chicken nuggets?

Rest assured, if your child’s only source of nutrition these days is McDonald’s, things will probably get better. Bandier advises parents to adopt a proactive stance by substituting healthier nugget varieties or even attempting to make their own, breading them with almond flour, whole wheat crumbs, or crushed whole-grain cereal. If those aren’t quite enough, she advises parents to be mindful of portion sizes and provide options for the remaining portion of the dish. “Consuming an appropriate serving of chicken nuggets alongside other nutritious foods can help maintain balance in your child’s diet,” Bandier states.

Additionally, Rice notes that there’s the chance for “food chaining,” which is modifying a known food somewhat. Serving nuggets with a homemade sauce or yogurt-based dip in place of sugar-laden ketchup, or gradually introducing bite-sized portions of grilled chicken breast, are a couple of examples given by Bandier. For a fan of grilled cheese, food chaining could entail modifying the sandwich’s cutting method, transitioning from white to wheat bread, experimenting with various cheeses, or sneaking in a slice of deli meat.

Granted, some adults remain addicted to their nuggets, but that’s also acceptable, according to Rice, who has observed that adult clients flourish when they only include nuggets into a prepackaged salad when they’re too exhausted or overburdened to prepare meals. In her own household, a weekly family meal favorite is chicken tenders spiced up with salad or other vegetables.

“It gets the job done and I’m not stressed out about dinner — which is, I think, equally important to my health than what I’m putting on the table,” she explains.

Credits: Yahoo

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