Lunchbox Wars: Healthy Chicken Nuggets

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It’s safe to say chicken nuggets are a favorite of most North American kids.  They are found in many restaurant’s “kids menu” and in nearly every freezer.  They are also served in most American schools and found, of course, in the boxed lunch section.  The ingredients alone will scare any semi-health conscious person.

Why are they so popular? Is it the shapes? I’m not sure but they are simple to make!  So why buy them ready-made? Our comparison of store-bought vs homemade will have you wondering the same thing. 

Round 1 : Contents
Our store bought chicken nugget lunch was quite a disappointment! The first thing I noticed was how little food it contained. This is a lunch? 4 processed nuggets, ketchup for dipping sauce, and 2 sandwich cookies. It lacked nutrition and quantity.

The MOMables remake also contains 4 fresh chicken nuggets (homemade-recipe below), dipping sauce (barbecue instead of ketchup), and 2 sandwich cookies. In addition, ours has the fruit & vegetable servings missing from the boxed lunch; crunchy carrot stick “fries” and juicy grapes. Better! The MOMables lunch includes more food groups!

Round 2 : Nutrition
Nutritionally, the chicken nugget portions size is similar… though our homemade ones do have almost 40% more protein – my guess is probably because they contain real chicken and less filler. Our homemade nuggets also have less sodium than the processed and even less depending of your seasonings. With the boxed lunch, you get sodium, preservatives, nitrates…

The cookies I chose for the MOMables lunch do have as much sugar, calories, and fat as those that come with the boxed lunch, but they are made without high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, or preservatives.

Round 3 : Appeal
The boxed lunch may come in a colorful package, but out of the box, it looks lacking, it’s nuggets pale. The MOMables chicken nugget lunch, packed in EasyLunchboxes, gets it’s color from fresh flavorful ingredients rather than packaging.

Which would you rather send your child to school with?
THIS chicken nugget lunch? … Or THAT one?

 The winner, by freshness & appeal… the MOMables lunch!

MOMables menu plans provide you with healthy, fresh meals you can make in 10 minutes or less, but unlike store-bought lunches, they allow flexibility in portioning and choice of sides so you can customize each lunch to suit your family’s tastes and appetites.

MOM Tip : Bake a whole batch of these chicken nuggets ahead of time, then store in the freezer in an airtight bag or container. Warm a serving in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to thaw before packing lunch. Fast & delicious!

4.8 from 5 reviews
Homemade Chicken Nuggets
Ingredients for about 24 nuggets:
Cuisine: Lunch
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • ¼ cup old-fashioned oats
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 tsp Zatarain's Creole Seasoning, divided (optional) sub paprika
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¾ cup breadcrumbs
  1. In large bowl, combine chicken, oatmeal, half the grated parmesan (1/8 cup), half the Zatarain's seasoning (or paprika) (1/2 tsp), garlic powder and pepper. Knead dry ingredients into ground chicken.
  2. Moisten hands to prevent sticking and form 1 tbsp of chicken mixture into a ball. Press into a cookie cutter for shaped nuggets or flatten with fingers for a basic nugget shape.
  3. In small bowl, combine breadcrumbs with remaining Zatarain's seasoning and grated parmesan.
  4. Press nuggets into bread crumb mixture and turn over, patting crumbs into surface to coat evenly.
  5. --At this point you can freeze-- or
  6. To bake: Preheat oven to 375° F. Arrange nuggets on cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Lightly spray nuggets themselves with cooking spray or olive oil for a crispier coating (optional). Bake 15-20 minutes, turning once, and checking - don't overcook! These baked nuggets will not really brown (unless you pan fry in oil) - if browning is desired, place under broiler for a couple of minutes at the end of cooking.


Frozen Ready-To-Bake NuggetsMOM tip:  These nuggets don’t have to be baked right away; you can freeze the breaded nuggets on a cookie sheet, then transfer them to an airtight bag or container and store them in the freezer until you’re ready to bake as few or as many as you like for up to 3 months. Add about 3-5 minutes to your usual cooking time if baking from frozen.



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  1. says

    My kids are very picky and absolutely loved these. I only made a small batch because I wanted to see how they responded. Even their friends loved them. I did use wheat germ and panko crumbs with the bread crumbs and used tumeric instead of creole.
    Question; when making a double batch do you adjust the ingrediants at all?

  2. Michele says

    These were a huge hit! Thank you so much for sharing. We recently made food changes and I got rid of the store bought processed nuggets. Now I can get rid of that guilt and the kids can have these! My son is very picky but he ate these up! My daughter says she thinks they are better than the store bought ones. These are a keeper in our house!

  3. Jessica says

    I can not wait to try this! My son is very picky (especially with meat) but he loves his chicken nuggets! He refuses to eat chicken that isnt ground. This is a healthier alternative to frozen, processed nuggets. Thanks!

  4. Julie says

    looking forward to cooking these tonight, I have a very picky 7 year old daughter :)

    I was also curious what brand of cookies you used in the lunch box that didn’t contain all those other ingredients? Thanks!

  5. Kara says

    Ok, well I could not wait for your reply as I had to cook and freeze the nuggets before the meat expired. Anyhow, I followed recipe exactly except I added 1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach and 1/2 cup shredded carrots. The results were phenomenal! I’m always looking to add extra nutrition where ever I can. My son loved them. Thank you!

    • says

      I apologize Kara. I’ve been traveling. This sounds like an awesome add in! I made some last night after returning from my trip. Awesome job adding in more nutrition!

  6. Kara says

    I was wondering if you think add in some veggies would work?? If so which would you recommend?

  7. Patience says

    This is a silly question as it seems like you made it clear, but I got a little confused. Can you bake them all first and then freeze them?

  8. lindsey r. says

    Hi! Can’t wait to make these for my 3 year old! I have a lot of ground turkey in my freezer. Do you think they would be just as good with ground turkey?

  9. Carolina says

    Hi, this nuggets looks good. My son doesn’t it any type of meat unless it is ground. I have a question about your recipe do you ground the oat or put it the way it is?
    Thank you! :)

  10. Annie says

    I just have to say WOW! I made these for my 18 month old yesterday and she not only ate them, but cleaned her plate. I don’t normally comment but this recipe I will keep and use for many years to come. The hubby loved them too and said he would like them in his packed lunch some days too. SO much healthier and cheaper of an option. I used 1 egg in the chicken/oat mixture simply because we are out of Parmesan, but looking forward to trying them with Parmesan next time. This recipe made 19 nuggets for me. Thanks for such a great recipe!

  11. Becky says

    I really excited to try this! My 3 yr. old grandson is an extremely picky eater! His mom always tried to feed him healthy but he really will NOT eat anything that isn’t sweet or “junk food” when with me…he literally will go ALL day without eathing. So I am hoping this will work.

  12. Kara says

    Pretty tasty, but mine turned out more like meatballs. Need to flatten them out more. Unfortunately my really picky eater won’t eat them. And I quote, “they don’t look right.” Oh, well….everybody else liked them.

  13. Jennifer says

    This might be a dumb question, but, when you call for oatmeal in the recipe, is that for dry oats or cooked oatmeal?

  14. says

    Tried these today for a “dry” run for school lunches. Very good. Great dipped in marinara!

    Something that worked for me & my cookie cutter. First I set my cookie cutter on waxed paper (easier clean up) and then sprinkled about 1/2t. of the crumb mixture into the cutter. Then, I used a 1T measure to dole out my meat mixture into the cutter. The breadcrumbs on the bottom made for easier release. Just plopped it topside up into the bread crumbs from there.

    I see this as a great mom/kid prep in the future!

    Also, I am freezing my marinara in ice cube trays. These cubes will be in a baggie in the freezer. They will be popped into my child’s dip containers as needed.

    Thanks! This is just what my family needed!

  15. Mary Parra says

    This might be a dumb question… but do you use the grated Parmesan from a jar (like Kraft) or grated that is found in the dairy/cheese section in a bag… or do you grate it yourself? Thanks!

  16. renee flaherty says

    Hi1 I am trying to go gluten free for my son. Are these gluten free? I really want to try them, they sound yummyy

  17. Tina says

    I made this recipe tonight and my husband and son, who love processed chicken nuggets, LOVED it! I don’t buy frozen chicken nuggets anymore and I’m so excited that I have a replacement for them now. Thanks for the recipe!

  18. Amber says

    What kind of container are you using in the above picture for the sauce? Where did you get it? Thank you! I just came across your site! Love it!

  19. Abby Gaines says

    Is the “ground chicken” raw?? where do you find this at? and do you cook it before making the nuggets?

    • says

      Abby, the ground chicken is raw.. just like ground turkey or ground beef. You get it at any grocery store by the chicken meat section. If you can’t find it use ground turkey.

    • B Hdz says

      I have made my own ground chicken by throwing chunks of boneless, skinless chicken into a food processor. Also, often you can request it from the butcher at the meat counter if you don’t see it out pre-packaged. I never see it out.

  20. Claire says

    I have tried A LOT of chicken nugget recipes. This one has the best texture I would say. I didn’t use Parmesan or egg and they stuck together fine. Added a little more salt, and subbed garlic powder, onion powder and paprika for seasoning. Great recipe! Thanks for posting.

  21. Staci says

    Thank you for such an awesome recipe. The only problem with it is that I want to eat all the nuggets! I used the paprika version since my little one has reflux. The only tweak I made was to use Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs. This recipe came out delicious the very first time, and, best of all, my son ate it. Thank you!!

    • says

      I’m so glad your son liked them! Yes, sometimes we need to adjust recipes for our kids.. but I am glad conceptually and nutritionally they worked out!

  22. AbbyWarm says

    Oh my goodness – these are SO good!! I made these while freezer cooking with some friends today. While they all did their recipes I made separate GF/DF recipes and this was one of them. I have a chicken sensitivity, so I just used ground turkey. They are amazingly delicious! Thank you for your recipe – I’m sure this will be a new staple in our freezer :-)

  23. Rachel says

    I made chicken nuggets for my daughter last night, and I used a few of your ingredients, but changed it up just a bit. Instead of garlic powder, I threw a couple cloves in my food processor along with half a large organic carrot and minced both. They were fantastic, and SO flavorful. Thanks for the inspiration! Processed nuggets, no more! :)

  24. Sharon says

    I just made a batch, and they’re AWESOME! Next time I’ll make a double recipe so there’ll be more for the freezer. Thanks for the terrific recipe!

  25. Ashley says

    This is a great idea! I normally just chunk chicken breast and tenders, bread them and bake those.
    But this is a fun alternative!! I love the idea of using the cookie cutters!!
    Thanks for sharing. :)

  26. Jenn says

    Made these today. I was very skeptical but gave it a shot based on the reviews! LOVE THEM!!!!!! I may need to cut back a little on the creole for my 21 month old next batch though. Thanks for sharing and making a believer out of me!!!

  27. pixie_bit says

    I made these an hour ago – I think if your kids really like and want “traditional” chicken nuggets, they would really like them. I have never been a fan of them, so neither of my kids are really used to them – I usually just make tenders dipped in egg white and panko/parm, which they like. To us these have kind of a weird texture and they taste kind of “processed”…I think it is the garlic powder and seasoning, which I almost never use either.
    I did divide the chicken into 2 batches, the first I made as nuggets, following the recipe. I took the second half (made according to recipe) and then added sliced scallion, soy sauce, a little honey and some chili and garlic paste to make them kind of oriental. I dredged those in panko, then dry fried them and finished them in the oven. They were a bit more to our taste.
    Keep in mind, that if you don’t like the taste of regular nuggets, making a copy with better ingredients won’t really make them into something you like! Take the idea and tweak it to things you like!

  28. Julie says

    I made these for my daughter today. She is extremely picky, and has some sensory issues, which results in her not wanting to eat spicy, chunky, or complicated dishes. When she tried the chicken nuggets, she said, “YUM! You can make these again.” Thank you!

    • says

      Julie, this is GREAT news!! What a huge accomplishment! I know first hand how difficult it can be to feed kids with sensory feeding issues. My son will not eat any meat, chicken or fish. Meat is rubbery, chicken is “like a rubber band” and fish is soft and flakey. He’s got a few feeding issues with meat protein (he won’t touch tofu) but I’m making strides here and there. Way to go! Glad you tried something new and it was a success! ;)

  29. Cass says

    I’d like to try these for my super picky son, but I want to make sure they come out just as good as yours. So, I have a couple of picky questions: 1) What kind of breadcrumbs did you use? panko, homemade, progresso? 2) Were they frozen or unfrozen when you baked them? Thanks for the great idea. They look delicious and I’m looking forward to trying them.

  30. Steph says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I just made these and they taste awesome! I cant wait to give them to my son for dinner tonight! He LOVES chicken nuggets and I always cringe when giving him the store bought frozen kind. I can now happily give him his nuggets! Thank you!

  31. says

    I have never thought about making my own chicken nuggets! My kids love them. And I know what you mean about those grocery store lunch kits. I have never bought one because they are too expensive for the tiny amount of food inside.

  32. says

    Hello – came by via the Tues Archive Link-Up. I was thinking when I got to the recipe that it was going to be like a chicken croquette, so now I’m very curious about the oatmeal. I make croquettes fairly frequently, so I’ll be interested to see the textural difference when I get around to trying these. They certainly look yummy … definitely better than THAT one (that cracked me up). Not that I have kids to pack lunches for, but I like your use of what looks like a cupcake liner to hold the carrot sticks too. :)

    • says

      Hi Shannon! the cheese in this recipe acts as a ‘binding’ agent when it melts. if you omit the cheese you might want to substitute 1egg. I haven’t tried them that way -yet-. If you omit the cheese, add a bit more seasoning :)

      • Shannon n says

        Hi and thanks for your reply! For more fun my daughter is ALSO allergic to egg. :( do you think her powder egg substitute would work? Thanks so much.

        • Suze says

          Shannon…My son is allergic to dairy and I made these yesterday. I didn’t use any egg or any other kind of binding agent and it was just fine. The only thing I did differently was add a bit of salt in lieu of parmesean cheese. They held together just fine!

    • says

      I’m sorry :( Did you use the Zatarain’s seasoning? If you omit it you really do need to sub another salty & savoury seasoning to taste. And this is the basic recipe, as I make it for my toddler. You might need to tweak the spice and salt amounts for your personal taste.
      Pressing them into a cookie cutter isn’t necessary, I just do it for fun. I didn’t have any issues with the meat mixture sticking, but I use very basic shapes. You could also just flatten them into a nugget shape before dredging in the crumbs.
      I hope they work out better for you next time!

  33. amy says

    I have two questions:

    1. Do you bake these before packing them in the lunch box? If so how do they keep warm and from growing bacteria? OR do you bake them first then chill them then send them cold with an ice pack?

    2. All of the dry ingredients stay together without falling apart? You don’t need an egg?

    • says

      Hi Amy, Yes, I bake them before packing them, and my daughter eats them at room temperature at lunch. Lunch IS only 3.5-4 hours later. They are cooked to a safe temperature before they are packed, so I’m confident they are fine for her to eat. If you think about it, food sits out on a platter longer than that at most parties. And as a kid, nobody had ice packs in their lunchboxes… That said, I line in the PNW, where it doesn’t get hot, like, ever :)
      If in doubt, or if your kidlet prefers them hot,wrapping them in foil and popping them into an insulated food container might do the trick.

      • Cynthia says

        Oh – terrific idea! I’ve been trying to figure out a binder for meat other than egg. Thanks!

        • Irish says

          oops – just read further and saw another comment omitted parmesan and they worked out fine so my question was answered . . . thanks :)

  34. says

    Can’t wait to try this with my aupair children! They are crazy about chicken nuggets – but I can’t stand the “chicken nuggets” you can by everywhere.
    Thanky you for the recipe!

    • says

      This is one of our most visited and printed recipes to date. The taste is delicious and it’s made with…. (drumroll plz!!) REAL CHICKEN! :) Let us know how your family enjoys them.

  35. says

    This sound a LOT better than another recipe I tried that involved putting a chicken breast in a food processor. They had the texture of already chewed chicken (yes, I tasted them) – yuck! I’ll be giving these ones a try though!

  36. Shautel Walker says

    What a great idea…to freeze them and using ground chicken, I could substitute turkey..the possibilities are endless..Thank you for this recipe, definitely a keeper..

  37. Melissa says

    I love the idea of using ground chicken! My kids love chicken nuggets….definitely need to make these.

  38. says

    Oh how neat! This is how I do my homemade chicken nuggets too but with paprika. Next time I’ll add some shapes for more lunch appeal! Thanks for the idea.


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