I’m always on the lookout for new foods to feed my 3-year-old. Thankfully, she has somewhat of an eclectic palate for a child her age—and loves vegetables, phew! But she still has that picky toddler thing going on. Being a chef and food-lover myself, I try to introduce her to unusual, exciting flavors so that hopefully, one day, she’ll ask me for something other than “dippy egg and toast.” Not that there’s anything wrong with most of her food choices. I just think trying new foods is a sort of risk-taking, and I like to encourage that adventurous trait in her whenever possible.
One of my secrets to getting kids to try new foods is to put a spin on one of their favorites. That way the transition is gradual, and much less scary. For most kids, chicken nuggets and chicken fingers are high up on the preferred foods list, so they’re something I regularly modify with different herbs, spices, sauces, and the like. Our current favorite are these lightly spiced chicken strips, coated in crushed cashews and coconut flakes, and accompanied by a lightly sweetened mango mustard sauce.
Total prep time: 45 minutes (with an additional 30 minutes to 24 hours for marinating)
Total cook time: 20–30 minutes
For the Cashew-Coconut Chicken:
½ cup coconut milk or buttermilk
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons curry powder (you can eliminate or reduce for kids)
½ lime, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs
2 tablespoons coconut oil or melted butter
½ cup roasted, salted cashews, finely chopped
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
For the Mango Mustard Sauce:
¼ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup chopped fresh or frozen mango (try to find a really ripe one or else the flavor will not be terribly predominant)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Combine coconut milk or buttermilk, yogurt, curry powder, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl. Slice chicken breasts or thighs into ¼–½ inch strips. Be careful not to cut the strips too thick or the crust will get too dark before the chicken is cooked through. (Alternately, you can make nuggets instead.) Place chicken pieces in a sealable bag or container and combine with curried coconut-milk marinade. Let marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature, or 2–24 hours in the fridge.
2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, rub with melted butter or coconut oil, and set aside. Meanwhile, combine chopped cashews and coconut in a medium-sized dish.
3. Remove chicken pieces from marinade, shaking off excess. Place chicken in the coconut-cashew mixture, pressing so crumbs adhere to chicken. Place strips on prepared baking sheet. Flipping them over every 6–7 minutes or so, bake the strips until golden brown and cooked through, about 20–25 minutes total.
4. To make the Mango Mustard Sauce, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until smooth.