Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders

We don’t eat fast food very often in our house and are more the type to indulge in a really amazing meal a few times a year, rather than waste the money on a lot of fast food eating.

That being said, I will admit that I I do love fast food drinks and my favorites happen to be the $1 Diet Cokes from McDonald’s, an occasional iced coffee, and of course a little Starbucks every now and again.

It became a habit when my daughter was small to get myself a Diet Coke or coffee to deal with those demanding toddler days. Caffeine was my lifeline with a daughter who didn’t sleep the first 21 months of her tiny life.

As we pulled into the line to place our order one day, my son said to me, “Do you think we could go to that McDonald’s that has food? You know, not just the McDonald’s that has coffee?”

Yes, even now my kids think our McDonald’s only has fun drinks for grown-ups.

They never even ask for food when I order.

Pretty funny stuff.

Although my kids love my homemade Happy Meals (and I love the cost on them), last week I wanted to switch up our Friday pizza routine so I decided to make fancy gourmet chicken tenders for a fun family treat. These tenders are crispy and delicious, but have a lot fewer calories since they aren’t deep fried.

The kids absolutely flipped for them, but still had to be reassured that I would make their favorite pizza on Saturday night instead. Some family traditions just shouldn’t be messed with.

I made a triple of these tenders and these will be reheated for fun lunches and topping salads and made into gourmet wraps with a drizzle of ranch dressing and lettuce for a fun weekend lunch. I think your family will flip for these too and I can’t wait to share how to make them!

Here is this week’s cast of characters. You may recognize a few of  these ingredients from our Panko Crusted Tilapia Nuggets that I made a couple of weeks ago on the site. This week we will need chicken tenderloins (or chicken breasts cut into strips), panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, eggs, canola oil (or olive oil), cooking spray, Dijon mustard, thyme, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and flour. Basically, everything except the kitchen sink goes into these delicious tenders.

Get out three bowls and make your filling station for your chicken tenders. In one bowl,  mix together Parmesan cheese, panko bread crumbs, and oil together. In a second bowl, mix together the egg whites, water, mustard, thyme, and the Dijon mustard. In the third bowl, mix together salt, cayenne pepper, flour, and your garlic powder.

Next to your filling station, place a baking sheet with a cooling rack on top that has been sprayed with your cooking spray. This is going to give you a crispy tender without having to flip anything halfway.

Now it is time to bread your tenders. Dredge your tenders in the flour, then the seasoned egg white mixture, and then the panko coating.

Gently place each chicken tenderloin the greased cooling rack. It is okay if a few of the crumbs come off. You want a tender that looks nice and evenly coated with the cheese and panko breadcrumbs.

Just continue repeating this process until all of your tenders have been breaded. Make sure that all the tenders have enough room to evenly cook. Feel free to spread them out on two cookie sheets if you need to!  Lightly spray them with a little cooking spray on top to help them achieve their golden fried color.

Bake these at 475 degrees for ten to twelve minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with your favorite sides like roasted green beans, lemon rice pilaf, or even crispy oven fries for a finger food night. Dips can include a mustard dipping sauce, ranch, honey barbecue sauce, or ketchup. The leftover tenders are fabulous reheated and wrapped in a tortilla with fresh spinach, a drizzle of ranch dressing, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese . Making a big batch of these is like a gift that keeps on giving throughout the week and eased lunchtime preparation a lot for our family.

I hope you like them as much as I do.

PS- Please don’t tell my kids that our McDonald’s has food. I don’t know how I have gotten away with it for eight years now.

Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders (Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook)

2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. canola oil or olive oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
3 large egg whites
1 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or ¼ tsp. dried
Cooking spray
1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ¾-inch wide strips (or chicken tenderloins)

Preheat the oven to 475˚ F.   In a shallow dish, mix together the panko breadcrumbs, oil, and Parmesan cheese. In a second shallow dish, whisk together the flour, garlic powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.  In a bowl, whisk together the egg whites, water, mustard and thyme. Spray a wire rack lightly with cooking spray and place over a rimmed baking sheet.  Working in batches, dredge a few pieces of the chicken in the flour, then the egg whites, and finally the breadcrumbs to coat, shaking off the excess between each step.  Lay the coated pieces on the prepared wire rack and repeat with the remaining chicken. Spray the tops of the chicken pieces lightly with the cooking spray.  Bake until the chicken is cooked through, 10-12 minutes.  Serve warm.

Optional: Before pulling together your breading, in a large skillet, toss the panko with the oil.  Toast over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Transfer the toasted crumbs to a shallow dish or pie plate. I skipped this step, but you could do this, if you desire a crisper exterior to your panko crumbs. The toasting will help the tenders taste even more fried!

What fast food dishes do you like to recreate at home? Feel free to share those recipes and links! I would love to hear how you makeover fast food dishes into healthier ones!

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Published March 07, 2011 by:

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of You can read all about her here.

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