Few dishes exude childhood comfort like a plate of fresh-outta-the-oven chicken nuggets—delightfully crispy on the outside, mouthwateringly juicy on the inside and perfectly sized for little hands. Even picky eaters love them!
Depending on how they’re prepared, however, chicken nuggets can be loaded with some less-than-wholesome stuff: unhealthy fats, excessive sodium and questionable preservatives. The good news is that there are plenty of nugget options to choose from, and we’re giving some insight into chicken nuggets nutrition for five popular brands below.
Keep in mind that the following food labels aren’t a perfect chicken nuggets nutrition comparison, as some include just the nuggets and others include nuggets plus sides. In either case, this list is a great jumping-off point to find a healthier take on this classic kid favorite.
What to like: In terms of sheer convenience, it’s hard to beat a grab-and-go Happy Meal. McDonald’s has also made efforts to clean up its menu, removing artificial preservatives and banning chicken raised on certain antibiotics. Although fries do come standard, you can add apples, low-fat yogurt or reduced-fat milk to up the nutrition factor with calcium, fiber and vitamin D.
What to consider: This meal has the highest total fat of all the nuggets we compare, likely because they’re deep-fried (and served with a side of deep-fried potatoes). Another important consideration to make if you stop by McDonald’s is this: What will everyone else eat? While your youngest may be satisfied by a 290-calorie Happy Meal, older kids and adults may have a harder time finding nutritious yet filling choices.
What to like: These frozen chicken nuggets can be oven baked in just 12 minutes or microwaved in less than two—making them great for busy days. Made with all-white-meat, antibiotic-free chicken, they’re tied with Earth’s Best nuggets for the lowest total fat (1.5 g per nugget), while at the same time offering nearly twice as much protein (2 g per nugget).
What to consider: Although these nuggets are ready to heat and eat, they’ll have to be supplemented with side dishes in order to provide a balanced meal. The chicken nuggets’ nutrition alone won’t provide the vitamins, minerals or fiber needed to keep your little one satisfied.
What to like: Lunchables are probably the most iconic meal for kids on the go, whether at the school lunch table or on the way to soccer practice. Since the package is already sealed, you won’t have to spend any time preparing or portioning.
What to consider: Although some pre-packaged meals are relatively well balanced, Lunchables chicken nuggets nutrition falls unfortunately short. Instead of a nutritious side like a veggie, cheese stick or whole grain, these nuggets are served with Double Stuf Oreos and ketchup for a whopping 21 grams of sugar (For some perspective, most nuggets on our list have less than 1 gram of sugar per serving.).
Additionally, each Lunchable package contains 540 milligrams of sodium, which equates to almost 30% of the recommended 1,900 milligrams for kids ages 4–8. This combination of high fat, high sugar and high sodium makes Lunchables perhaps the least health-conscious option on the list.
What to like: Earth’s Best Chicken Nuggets are baked rather than deep fried, which reduces unhealthy fats and lowers calories. On a per-nugget basis, these chicken nuggets have the lowest saturated fat and sodium of any on our list, and they’re made with whole wheat breading and no artificial coloring or flavoring.
What to consider: Because these nuggets are the least protein rich (at around 1.25 grams per nugget), your little ones may need to eat more of them in order to feel full. Similar to the Applegate nuggets, you’d also want to supplement these nuggets with kid-friendly vegetables and a whole grain for a more balanced meal. If convenience is your top priority, the additional food prep may outweigh the benefits.
What to like: Nurture Life’s oven-baked Chicken Bites with Mashed Yams & Green Beans are a well-rounded meal, offering the only option that comes with a hearty serving of veggies while providing 15% of the recommended daily value of calcium, 45% of iron and 15% of potassium. Compared to others on the list, these nuggets significantly lead the pack in dietary fiber and protein as well, which play an important role in digestion and satiation. They’re also incredibly convenient, as they can be delivered directly to your door and ready to serve in three minutes or less.
What to consider: In terms of chicken nuggets nutrition, these nuggets do fall on the higher end of total carbs (second behind Lunchables Chicken Dunks). However, because these carbs come from yams, they’re accompanied by essential vitamins and minerals that are lacking in other chicken nugget options on the list. Plus, yams are a complex carbohydrate, meaning they’re broken down slowly and utilized for sustainable energy (unlike refined carbs, which are quickly broken down into sugar).
For many kids, there’s no higher praise than “tastes like chicken!”—and we hope that this chicken nuggets nutrition comparison will make it easier for you to serve up that famous taste with a more mindful balance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Your little ones will love the familiar flavor, and you’ll feel good about providing a well-rounded meal.
Looking for more insight on comparing kid-friendly meal options? Check out our mac & cheese comparison!