Baked Panko-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Ranch Dressing

baked chicken tenders

Chicken fingers and nuggets are hands down kids' most favorite things to eat. As a kid I ate my share from fast-food restaurants and even the store-bought frozen ones. But as an adult I can't even think back with any fondness toward that mystery meat. And I feel horrible that most kids still eat this sub-par chicken when it's so easy to make it from real chicken. Next time your at the supermarket, ignore the freezer aisle and pick up a package of fresh chicken tenders instead. It's the first step toward cutting out processed food from our kids' diets.

Making chicken fingers or tenders at home is easy as 1-2-3. All you need to do is bread them and fry them, but an even simpler method is baking. There is no need to stand over a hot pan of oil, when you can stick an entire batch in the oven and have it ready in under 15 minutes. Serve these chicken tenders to your kids as an after school snack or for dinner. It's also nice to get them involved in the cooking, teaching them it's fun to have a hand in making food. They will be proud of themselves when they help bread the chicken and stir up the dressing.

This kid-friendly recipe couldn't be simpler. Chicken tenders are soaked in buttermilk, which tenderizes them. Then they're coated with flaky Japanese breadcrumbs to create a crunchy coating once baked. The chicken tenders wouldn't be complete without a dipping sauce. Instead of ordinary ketchup, barbecue sauce, or honey mustard, I like the tang and refreshing coolness of ranch dressing. This dressing uses a combination of Greek yogurt and buttermilk to create a creamy sauce perfect for dipping. Plus it's low in fat. Adults will like this dish, too. Serve it as a game-day alternative to chicken wings and blue cheese dressing.

I made this recipe as part of Make Time for Change by Frigidaire's Kids' Cooking Academy. Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children every time you visit the site between now and March 25, 2011.

Baked Panko-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Ranch Dressing

for the chicken tenders:
olive oil cooking spray
1-1/2 pounds chicken tenders
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1-1/2 cups panko Japanese breadcrumbs

for the ranch dressing:
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon chopped chives

celery sticks, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick aluminum foil. Spray lightly with oil.

Lightly season chicken tenders with salt and pepper and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. Combine chicken and buttermilk in a bowl and stir to coat. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Combine buttermilk, yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and chives in a bowl.

Add the breadcrumbs to a shallow dish and season with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Remove the chicken tenders from the buttermilk, one by one, and dredge in the breadcrumbs, pressing to coat. Arrange evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tenders with oil. Bake until cooked through and light golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Flip them halfway through the cooking time. Serve with celery sticks and ranch dressing on the side for dipping. Yield: 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer or snack.