Healthier Homemade Chicken Fingers That the Whole Family Will Love

For all you busy moms, or kids at heart, this recipe is for you.

Vertical image of three breaded tenders on a plate, one with a bite taken out of it, next to a glass of ketchup, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

While possible, it isn’t always easy to find recipes that are both kid-friendly and healthy. But these chicken fingers fit the bill perfectly.

It’s no secret that fast food isn’t the most nutritious option. And when you’re studying nutrition in college, it’s really hard to eat those nuggets and not think about all the added ingredients it takes to make them taste a certain way.

However, life without chicken fingers isn’t right either.

So, what’s a foodie and dietitian to do? Make your own healthier homemade version instead!

In addition to using skinless, boneless breasts, there are two keys to making your own healthier strips: homemade breading, and baking.

While convenient, pre-made breadcrumbs are often high in sodium, low in fiber, and can contain a whole lot of unnecessary ingredients.

Vertical image of a plate of baked tenders next to a baking sheet with more tenders and a bowl of ketchup.

To give the traditional recipe a makeover, we’re making our own crumbs with some added nutritional powerhouses. And the best part? Making your own only takes 1 minute of pulsing in a food processor!

To start, we’re using gluten-free bread. If your kiddos aren’t gluten-free, feel free to use whole wheat bread instead. I found a whole wheat sourdough once and it made the best crumbs!

When you’re choosing your bread, make sure to take a look at the sugar, sodium, and fiber stats on the nutrition label.

Ideally, a healthy slice of bread should have no more than 2 grams of sugar, at least 2 grams of fiber, and 225 milligrams or less of sodium.

After the bread, we’re adding some nutritious seeds.

Traditionally found in Asian cuisine, sesame seeds are high in fiber and a good source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc – all of which play a role in bone health.

Sunflower seeds go in next. While these seeds may bring you back to those long afternoons that you spent playing little league baseball, they happen to be high in B vitamins, which are essential for nervous system health, and vitamin E, an antioxidant, as well as healthy iron, calcium, and potassium.

Vertical image of a hand dipping a breaded tender in a glass bowl of ketchup.

Finally, we’re adding a dose of essential omega-3 fatty acids with ground flaxseeds. Omega-3s are a pretty big deal in the nutrition world as we can’t make them ourselves, meaning we have to get them through our diet.

Specifically, flaxseeds are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 that’s primarily found in plant-based foods. ALA has been associated with a decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

In addition to healthy fats, flaxseeds are also a good source of protein, fiber, and magnesium.

Finally, to add some flavor to these strips, we’re also adding paprika, salt, and pepper. If you’re watching your salt intake, feel free to cut the suggested quantity of salt in half – after all, that’s the best part of making food at home: you have full control over what goes into it.

Besides making your own breadcrumbs, the process of assembling these is the same as it is for most breaded chicken recipes: dredge in egg, coat in breadcrumbs, and place on a baking sheet.

Which brings us to the final key to making healthier strips: baking instead of frying.

Vertical close-up image of a hand holding a chicken tender with a bite taken out of it over a bowl of ketchup.

Yes, frying = super crispy chicken. However, it also means lots of extra (unhealthy) fat and calories.

Instead, we’re achieving a crispy texture by baking these strips on a wire rack that’s been placed on top of a baking sheet. This allows for full circulation of the heat when they cooking and prevents soggy bottoms – and nothing ruins this type of recipe more than one side having a sad, wet coating.

So, forget the drive through and whip out your food processor instead. After the first crisp bite, I bet these strips will earn a spot on your regular dinner rotation!

Print
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Horizontal image of homemade chicken fingers on a white plate with a glass of ketchup.

Healthier Homemade Chicken Fingers


  • Author: Kelli McGrane
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Coated with flaxseeds and gluten-free breadcrumbs, your family is going to love these healthier homemade chicken fingers. 


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 slices gluten-free bread (or whole wheat)
  • 1/3 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds 
  • 2 tablespoons raw sesame seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 pound skinless chicken breasts or tenders

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a metal cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and set aside. 
  2. Add eggs to a shallow bowl or small baking dish. Whisk well with a fork and set aside. 
  3. Place bread, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, paprika, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Process for about 1 minute, or until small crumbs form. Transfer to a shallow baking dish or large plate and set aside. 
  4. Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Slice chicken into 1-inch-thick strips and set aside. 
  5. Assemble your ingredients in the following order from left to right: chicken, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, and the baking sheet. 
  6. To bread the chicken, place a strip into the egg, and allow the excess egg to drip off as you slowly pick it up. Next, put the strip on top of breadcrumb mixture and lightly roll to coat on all sides. Place on the cooling rack-topped baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining strips. 
  7. Bake chicken for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through. Allow to cool slightly, then serve.

  • Category: Chicken
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Dinner

Keywords: chicken, chicken fingers, healthy recipes, gluten-free, flaxseed, sesame seed, sunflower seed

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Preheat Oven and Measure Ingredients

Horizontal image of a package of raw poultry, bowls of dry ingredients, bread, and eggs.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a metal cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and set it aside.

The cooling rack helps to keep the bottom of the strips from getting soggy during baking, as it allows the heat to fully circulate around the poultry.

If you don’t have a suitable wire rack, you can use a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and just flip them halfway through baking.

Measure all of your ingredients.

Step 2 – Whisk Eggs, Pulse Breadcrumbs, and Slice Poultry

Horizontal image of a white cutting board and sliced raw poultry.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk them with a fork (or your favorite whisk!) until they start to become frothy. Set aside.

To make the breadcrumbs, tear the bread into pieces and add it to a food processor along with the sunflower seeds, ground flaxseeds, sesame seeds, paprika, salt, and pepper. We prefer freshly cracked salt and pepper. Process for about 1 minute, or until small crumbs form. Place crumbs in a shallow baking dish or on a large plate and set aside.

Trim the poultry as needed, and slice it into strips that are 1 inch thick. Set aside.

Step 3 – Bread Strips

Horizontal image of a bowl of whisked eggs, a bowl of breadcrumbs, and a baking sheet.

To bread, start by setting up an assembly line. Arrange the ingredients and your equipment in the following order from left to right: chicken, whisked eggs, breadcrumbs, and cooling rack-topped baking sheet.

Horizontal image of a poultry finger in a bowl with whisked eggs.

Begin breading the chicken by dredging a strip in the egg, allowing excess to drip off as you slowly pick it up.

Horizontal image of coating a piece of chicken in a breadcrumb mixture.

Next, put the egg-soaked strip on top of the breadcrumb mixture and lightly roll to coat it on all sides.

Horizontal image of a row of coated unbaked tenders on a cooing rack on top of a baking sheet.

Place the breaded chicken strip on the cooling rack-topped baking sheet and repeat with the remaining strips.

Step 4 – Bake and Serve

Horizontal image of three breaded chicken strips on a white plate on top of a baking sheet next to more chicken and a bowl of ketchup.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s cooked through. Allow to cool slightly, then serve with your dipping sauce of choice. For a balanced meal, I recommend serving these with roasted vegetables or a salad.

Ketchup, Honey Mustard, or BBQ Sauce?

When I was growing up, we ate a lot of fast-food chicken. From nuggets to strips, each restaurant had characteristically different breading and textures. And depending on the seasoning, I was either a ketchup or barbecue sauce kid, but never honey mustard.

Horizontal image of homemade chicken fingers on a white plate with a glass of ketchup.

To this day, I’m still all about the tomato-based sauces. However, many store-bought brands are filled with excess sugar, salt, thickeners, and stabilizers.

Since you’re already making the effort to whip up a batch of healthier, homemade strips, why not make your own dipping sauce as well?

Give one of our tried-and-true recipes for homemade ketchup, Alabama white barbecue sauce, Apple City barbecue sauce, or vegan aquafaba chipotle aioli a whirl. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

What’s your favorite condiment to dip chicken into? Share in the comments below! Also be sure to let us and others know how much you love this recipe by giving it a rating after you try it.

And for even more delicious chicken dinner recipes, give these a try next:

Photos by Kelli McGrane, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published  on September 20, 2011. Last updated: February 16, 2020 at 12:20 pm.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

The written contents of this article have been reviewed and verified by a registered dietitian for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as personalized or professional medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.

About Kelli McGrane, MS, RD

Kelli McGrane is a Denver-based registered dietitian with a lifelong love of food. She holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in nutrition science from Boston University. As a registered dietitian, she believes in the importance of food to nourish not only your body, but your soul as well. Nutrition is very personal, and you won’t find any food rules here, other than to simply enjoy what you eat.

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