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Crunchy Chicken Strips take 30 minutes or less to prepare, are kid friendly and can be turned into a next-day meal. Photo by Sue Doeden

The holiday crunch: Chicken strips

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With holiday schedules in full swing - from concerts to school programs to parties - many of us are pinched for time when it comes to daily meal preparation. It's the time of year when we all fully appreciate family dinners that require 30 minutes or less to prepare. A meal gets extra approval points when it's kid-pleasing. And when it can be served the next day with a fresh look, it becomes especially appealing.

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Crunchy Chicken Strips meet all these criteria. On top of being quick to prepare, kid friendly and easy to turn into a second meal, these tender, eat-out-of-hand poultry strips are full of flavor and nutrition.

When my two sons were youngsters, they weren't much different from young children today when it comes to food. And I was just like many young mothers of today. When I didn't have much time to prepare a meal, I'd turn to the freezer. The boys would down a simple meal of frozen tater tots and chicken nuggets hot from the oven with no complaints.

I'm not sure why I never thought of making my own chicken strips. I'd often coat chicken pieces with melted butter and crushed cornflakes or crisp rice cereal. After some time in the oven, the chicken became part of a satisfying meal.

Although I'm only cooking for two these days, I still look for meals that don't take much preparation time and that can be divided and stored in the freezer for future fare.

Crispy Chicken Strips are more healthful than those frozen nuggets I used to make years ago. I still use cereal for a crunchy coating, but add walnuts for a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

If your family is hooked on the deep-fried "fast-food" variety of chicken strips, they'll be surprised at how crispy these strips become when they are baked in the oven. Even the "picky" eaters in your family will approve.

I like to crush the walnuts to about the size of a kernel of rice for the nice texture they create when baked onto the chicken strips. But if you're feeding children, you may want to crush the nuts to a finer texture so they are not as detectable when eaten. Use your own favorite spices to season the coating mixture. The addition of some chili powder will give the strips a little kick. Or try some Italian seasoning and serve the strips with buttered noodles.

Get the whole family into the kitchen to help prepare a bunch of Crunchy Chicken Strips. Once baked and cooled, they can be stored in the freezer. I first freeze them on a baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer-strength zip-top bag to store. When you are ready to eat them, they can be thawed in the refrigerator to eat cold. Or place the frozen strips in a 450-degree oven and bake until crispy and heated through.

These Crunchy Chicken Strips are good for a snack with dippers on the side - barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard sauce or ranch dressing are all good choices. They'll be a hit at your next casual get-together with friends. Those who are trying to keep their calorie intake down during the holiday season will thank you for offering a healthful snack option. If you have leftovers, toss them into a Caesar salad for lunch the next day or wrap them in a whole wheat tortilla with some fresh baby spinach leaves and your favorite cheese.

These quick-to-make chicken strips will become a family favorite that you'll want to include in your meal rotation throughout the year. Make them now and enjoy the flurry of holiday fun.

Crunchy Chicken Strips

1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken tender strips

2 cups cornflakes

1 cup walnut pieces

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 large egg

2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray.

Cut chicken breasts lengthwise into thin strips, each about 1-inch wide. Cut each long strip in half to form two short strips of chicken.

Put cornflakes and walnut pieces into work bowl of food processor or into blender. Process until the texture looks like small grains of rice. Transfer mixture to a shallow bowl. Add seasonings and mix well.

Break egg into another shallow bowl. Add 2 teaspoons water and blend well.

Line up chicken strips, egg and seasoned cereal-nut mixture. Dip chicken strips into egg, coating well. Transfer chicken strip from beaten egg to cereal-nut mixture. Pat the mixture onto the chicken to completely cover the meat.

Arrange coated chicken strips on prepared baking sheet, making sure they are not touching each other.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 13 minutes, until coating is golden brown and chicken is cooked through.

Serve with favorite dipping sauces.

Tips from the cook

--Chicken will be easiest to cut into strips when the meat is slightly frozen.

--Cornflakes and walnuts can be crushed in a large zip-top bag. Put the cereal and nuts into the bag. Seal the top and use a rolling pin to press and roll over the ingredients in the bag until they reach the consistency you desire.

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