Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Got the Chicken Nugget Mama Blues

Honestly, I LOVE cooking. Back when I lived in L.A., I even started my own small-scale catering business, which was more successful than I had ever thought it would be. I gave it up after just a short while because, frankly, I was a little too young and a little too “green” to run my own business. I also didn’t like smelling like cheese and onions when I climbed into bed at night. And I was afraid of going grey prematurely due to the stress involved. And I wanted to wear shoes that were NOT practical, NOT made out of canvas, and NOT stained with tomato sauce every once in a while.

But still, for the most part, cooking as a career was GREAT. I loved shopping for new ingredients, coming up with my list of “go to” favorite recipes, and learning how to put new spins on old classics. I loved that cooking could at times provide me with an adrenaline rush (like those 15 minutes before the guests of a party start arriving), and at other times bring me into an almost meditative, zen-like state (while chopping 80 carrots into equally sized pieces). Most of all, I loved seeing the smiles on the faces of people whose bellies I had made very very happy.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to put that same smile on my daughter’s face seven nights a week with mama’s home-cooking. But the sad truth is that there is only one food that puts a smile on Emmy’s face these days: out-of-the-bag, pre-formed, uniform-shaped, is-that-even-real-meat-in-there(?) chicken nuggets.

Of course I blame myself. Since my return to work full-time, cooking dinner has quickly become a thing of the past. During the work week, my husband, Em and I get home around 5:30 or 6:00ish, and my daughter is in a state of near-starvation. We have become the parents that grab whatever food-like substance is most convenient to prepare and stick it in ye olde microwave. If it can be cooked up in less than one minute on “high”, and Emmy agrees to open her mouth and eat it, by golly, it is a perfect food.
Thus, over the past several months, chicken nuggets have become a god-send, a small miracle, a sort of neo-manna sent from heaven. And I’ve become an oh-so-remorseful Chicken Nugget Addict’s mama.

I know this makes me a horrible parent. I know Em’s not getting the full spectrum of nutrients that would be provided by a really decent, home-cooked meal. I know that I myself should be forced to eat chicken nuggets (without ketchup) for the rest of my life as punishment. After all, I have enabled my child’s chicken nugget addiction. She refuses other foods, pushing them away with her little hand. She even cries when I put the chicken nuggets in the microwave because that means she actually has to wait 45 seconds (plus 15 seconds for cool down time) before she can stuff them into her cheeks like a squirrel preparing for winter.

Since I don’t want my daughter turning into a teenager who is rushed to the hospital for chronic Chicken Nugget Addiction like this girl, and don’t want our family to be the subject of Morgan Spurlock’s next documentary, I figure now would be a good time to stage an intervention.

So here’s my goal. I don’t think it’s too ambitious. I just want to find the best, most nutritious, home-made chicken nugget recipe out there (that is also REALLY easy to prepare, or REALLY easy to make ahead and store in the freezer for microwaveable reheating), that my daughter will actually eat. I consider it the first step in the twelve-step program back to preparing home-cooked meals that my whole family can enjoy.

If you have suggestions for tried-and-true, kid-tested, mother-approved, homemade chicken nugget recipes, please share. I will gladly test-drive them, and will let you know which is most successful.

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