One of the ambitions I held when I first started our boy on solid foods was to feed him home-made food for as long as possible, putting off the inevitable love-affair with fried food, soda pop and junk food. I imagined that by serving our boy healthy simple food, he would develop a taste for a variety of foods and that maybe, just maybe, he would be a miracle child - one who would shun McDonald's. Two years down the line, I've had to admit that despite my best efforts to raise an open-minded boy, his dinner has become something of a battleground. He is still unaware of the existence of McDonald's, though I'm told his day care allowed the children to have Coke one day last week at a birthday celebration (sigh). (What a surprise: the assistant told me "he loved it!") It's not that he's a picky eater per se; I'm told that he is a very good eater at the creche, where they serve home-made hot meals every day. They tell me he doesn't like pineapple and has gone off yogurt recently, but I can deal with that. So why the battleground at home?
Well, I think he is clever enough to sense that it's important to me. And being a typical two year old, he's exploiting my hot point to play a control game. I realised recently that things had degraded to the point where he had bananas and shortbread for dinner two nights in a row. Not good.
So I've implemented a few changes in routine (no more fruit juice before dinner, food ready and making the apartment smell good when he gets home, a more matter-of-fact attitude about his obstinance) and I've tried to come up with some more creative dinners for him. And I've resorted to chicken nuggets.
Actually, they are pretty tasty.
I came up with this recipe when I failed to get the boy to eat leftover roast chicken. (He used to love it, sigh.) He initially rejected the little balls, but the second time he tried them he decided Mom might have a point about them. And the third time, he came back for seconds. A little chicken goes a long way in the recipe below and so I have frozen 25-30 of them so that Dad will have an easily reheated dinner element while I'm in the hospital with our boy's sibling some time next month (God and the baby willing). Aside from the time it took to roast the chicken and strip it of meat, it took about five minutes to assemble the balls and about half an hour to cook them all - not really a long time when you consider that a toddler is unlikely to eat more than five or six in a meal and it makes about 40 of them. And aside from the roast chicken meat, they were made with ingredients that are usually in my kitchen. I'll be making them again, I know!
Home-made Chicken Nuggets (makes about 40 small balls)
175 grams (about a cup and a half) cooked chicken meat (I used a mix of dark and light meat)
1 1/2 slices of whole wheat bread
60 ml (about 1/4 cup) chicken broth
1 heaping tsp dried sage
90 grams (about 2/3 cup) bread crumbs for coating the balls
Butter for frying - several tablespoons
Put the chicken, egg, bread and sage in a food processor and process until you have a fine meal. Gradually add the chicken broth, until you have a meat paste that will hold together but is not too moist to hold together. You may need slightly less broth or you may need to add a tablespoon or so of water to get the right consistency; it depends on how dry your chicken meat and bread are. Taste the mixture and add salt as necessary.
Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a non-stick frying pan until it froths. Using a small teaspoon, scoop out a small amount of meat mixture and form it in a ball. Roll it in the bread crumbs and place it in the butter. Repeat until you have filled the pan with balls. They should not be touching. As the balls begin to brown, turn them to cook several sides. If you get impatient - or they all start getting done around the same time - you can simply give the pan a few shakes to turn them all a bit randomly. We are not McDonald's and we don't care if they are not uniformly browned. (Especially if we forgot to take a photo for the blog.) Because of the egg, you'll need to heat them all the way through. When they are cooked through, remove to a sheet of paper towel and repeat with the remaining meat paste and breadcrumbs until they are all cooked.
Serve to toddler while still warm but not hot. Lukewarm cooked carrot sticks go pretty well with them, as do cucumber disks. You could try a tomato sauce or mayonnaise on the side, but the odds are he won't like them. Toddlers are suspicious of sauces suspecting (quite rightly) that someone is likely to have hidden vegetables in them somewhere....