Perdue Farms‘ brand-new Chicken Plus products combine chicken boneless chicken breast (with rib meat!), cauliflower, and chickpea into a slurry that’s eventually formed into frozen tenders, patties, and the undisputed champ of the genre, dino nuggets.
“Chicken Plus” is a name built to connote both that it’s chicken with other stuff—true!—and that it’s better than just chicken. It’s this latter claim that deserves scrutiny.
For the environment, Chicken Plus is an improvement. Growing vegetables is less resource-intensive and produces less waste than raising livestock, so it follows that replacing some of the meat with plants is a net positive for the earth.
For your kid, however, these things aren’t meaningfully different from the dino nuggets you probably ate as a kid because they don’t offer either of the two kinds of benefits, nutritional or behavioral, of feeding kids vegetables.
Vegetables are good for you because they offer fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients, chemicals that offer health benefits to the humans who eat them, often antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Processing vegetables on an industrial scale does away with many of these benefits, leaving, essentially, filler behind. Unprocessed cauliflower and chickpeas are what ketchup is to tomatoes. Some of the good is still there, but not enough to say, “I just ate my vegetables!”
Which leads to another real concern. Childhood is a time when habits form, habits that can carry into adulthood. Part of a parent’s job is to inculcate good habits (e.g. sharing and eating vegetables) and stymie bad habits (e.g. robbing banks and eating junk food). Hiding vegetables in breaded, ketchup-dipped nuggets is a trick. You’re setting your kid up to become an adult who requires a sleight-of-hand to eat their vegetables.
Getting kids to eat vegetables is tough. We get it. The pickiest eaters need to see a food dozens of times before they’ll even taste it. But that’s nothing compared to a lifetime of eating vegetables, a habit that can’t form if kids don’t even know they’re eating veggies thanks to parental trickery.
So what’s the best thing a parent can do? If chicken nuggets are a must, go with Chicken Plus to be a bit easier on the environment. Just don’t forget to serve them with fresh veggies on the side.