Build a Healthier Nugget for Kids: Double Cauliflower Turkey Nuggets Recipe
Like soooooooooo(breathes)ooooo many children, my young boys love nuggets. Fine. Whatever. Not every meal needs to be a gourmet broadening of their wee culinary horizons, and there’s no doubt that some nights, convenience needs to win out.
But let’s not kid ourselves about the nutritional content of that jumbo bag of “natural all-white meat” nuggets with a double-digit sodium intake % and woefully low vitamin numbers. And while I’m happy to see more and more organic, humanely-raised options that offer stuff like hidden vegetables, extra fiber and fewer preservatives, the price tag and small number of servings per package (particularly when it comes to my three hollow, always-hungry children) make them not so convenient for our budget and supply/demand needs.
I’ve attempted homemade nuggets and tenders tons of times, trying lots of different recipes and techniques, always in search of a nugget that packs maximum nutrition while being super easy to bake in bulk and freeze. This recipe is one of my (many) favorites, as it’s the perfect “blank slate” recipe that can be tweaked and played with for more adventurous eaters, while its original state remains delicious and nutritious and unlikely to spark Vegetable Suspicion from even the pickiest of eaters.
These nuggets use an entire head of cauliflower, both inside and as part of the breading. This makes them chock full of Vitamins C, K, B-6, folate, and more. But your kids won’t see or taste any evidence of your vegetable trickery. If you’ve got children who DON’T recoil at a hint of color, broccoli, zucchini or shredded red pepper are both delicious additions. By all means, up the spice level. Add some oregano and parsley and dip in marinara sauce. Add garlic and ginger and chives and serve with a hoisin mayo. Hide a little cheddar cheese in the center while you shape them for a gooey surprise — the possibilities are endless.
You can absolutely use ground chicken, if you prefer, but ground turkey is often 1) easier to find in most grocery stores, and 2) typically contains a few grams more protein and less fat than chicken (though this can vary by brand/grind, whether the skin is removed, etc.). Whatever you go for, just remember that “all white meat” is marketing jargon garbage, plain and simple. A grind that includes the dark meat will be more flavorful, less dry, and dark meat contains significantly more vitamins and minerals (including iron, zinc, amino acids, and more) than white meat. And even if your kid recoils at the texture of a drumstick, that’s not going to matter one bit in nugget form. Embrace the dark side!
Double Cauliflower Turkey Nuggets Recipe
1 lb. ground turkey
1 head cauliflower
2 ¼ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp. black pepper
(Makes 40-45 nuggets)
Prep step: Preheat oven to 425°F. Place steamer basket or sieve in a pot over a few inches of water, bring to boil.
Vegetable prep: Cut cauliflower in half. Cut florets from center stem and keep halves separate.
Put half the florets in the steamer basket for 5 – 7 minutes, under very tender.
Put other half in a food processor and blend to a crumb-like texture. Transfer to large bowl and mix in bread crumbs. Season generously with salt and pepper. (And/or any other desired spices/seasonings. Blank slate, people!)
*NOTE #1: For a gluten-free version, omit the bread crumbs completely and bread nuggets with just the seasoned cauliflower crumbs. They’ll work just fine!
Rinse out the processor blade and bowl. Transfer steamed cauliflower florets and puree until mostly smooth. (If the mixture seems too dry or chunky, add a teaspoon of water or stock at a time and continue to pulse.)
Prepare a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and baking spray.
Using hands, mix turkey, cauliflower puree, onion and garlic powders (and any other desired seasonings or veggies), salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix until it holds a nugget-like or ball form easily. If too wet, add some of the raw cauliflower/bread crumb mixture. (Or GF flour of choice.)
Form mixture into desired nugget size and shape. (You can use a fun cookie cutter to form shapes, but I gotta admit that gets mighty tedious as this recipe yields a lotta nuggets – my average is 40-45!!!) Roll in cauliflower/crumb mixture. (Use a small bowl for rolling and add more breading as needed – you’ll likely have leftover to freeze so don’t contaminate the whole batch!)
*NOTE #2: For a crispier breading, you can toast the bread crumbs and cauliflower mix in a dry pan on the stove, and/or dredge formed nuggets in a lightly beaten egg before breading. That’s my personal texture preference but my kids don’t seem to care either way so…?
Place on baking sheet, spray lightly with baking spray, and bake 15 – 20 minutes, flipping and rotating halfway through.
*NOTE #3: The cauliflower breading on pre-cooked nuggets will admittedly not turn out as crispy, so if that’s your plan I recommend you try one of the options from Note #2. Or play around with your oven temperature. (Mine sucks.) Or brown them up on the stove. Or use them as a soft turkey nugget-meatball hybrid with spaghetti. It’s your life, and your nugget.
Photos by Jen Tilley