We scouted the freezer section for the best chicken and meatless options available.
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Sometimes you need a quick and easy meal, and that's when frozen food can come in handy. And one option that's both kid- and adult-approved: chicken nuggets. To help you find the best available, we scouted the freezer section and tasted almost 30 chicken tenders and nuggets (and their meatless counterparts) to find the healthiest bites that still delivered plenty of yum. Plus, we learned a few key shopping tips along the way.

A hand holding a chicken nugget on a designed background
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

What to Look for When Shopping

Understanding the Label

Identifiers like "tender" and "nugget" tell you about the shape and size to expect. But as for the meat under the breading, some brands boast cut pieces of chicken, whereas others have uniformly shaped bites of meat that can contain binders and fillers. We found brands that list the specific cut—"chicken breast," for example—tend to be the least processed, compared to those that simply list "white chicken meat."

Vegetable Add-Ins

These days, many products focus on sounding positively healthy-ish, touting benefits like having vegetables mixed in with the meat or breading. It may boost their fiber and help lower calories a little, though it's not enough to count as a serving of veggies, so don't get too hung up on them.

Be Mindful of Excess Sodium

Sodium is an issue with many convenience foods, and with nuggets, it tends to lurk in the crispy coating. The meat may also be tenderized or "marinated" in salty solutions before breading. Look for brands with less than 450 mg of sodium per serving of chicken and less than 500 mg for plant-based.

Keep an Eye on Protein

Because breading is a big component of these crunchified chicken pieces, they aren't the protein powerhouse that the same amount of plain chicken breast is. Most brands of chicken or meatless tenders and nuggets, especially vegan versions, have less than half the 26 grams that a 3-ounce portion of skinless breast has. Aim for at least 12 grams of protein per serving, and if you're going meatless, at least 8.

5 Healthiest Frozen Tenders and Nuggets

Tyson Naturals Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

Tyson Naturals Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips

The craggy bits of thick breading on these make them look like chicken fresh from a fryer. A mix of spices gives them a nice hit of flavor.

150 cal, 16g protein, 430mg sodium

Perdue SimplySmart Organics Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

Perdue SimplySmart Organics Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips

These tender strips of real chicken breast have just the right amount of breading for a meaty bite with a light crisp coating.

150 cal, 15g protein, 410mg sodium

Raised & Rooted Whole-Grain Plant- Based Tenders
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

Raised & Rooted Whole-Grain Plant-Based Tenders

Made with pea protein, whole grains and vegetables, this vegan option also gets you a hit of fiber (5 grams of the stuff). It has just as much crunch as a traditional tender and we like the hint of nutty flavor from the whole-wheat breading.

210 cal, 8g protein, 480mg sodium

Good & Gather Popcorn Chicken
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

Good & Gather Popcorn Chicken

If you like a good crunch, reach for these—the small popcorn-size chicken means you get a higher breading-to-meat ratio (which also means a touch less protein). The little bites are perfect for tossing on a salad.

190 cal, 12g protein, 440mg sodium

Buy it: Target, $7

Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets Gluten Free
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets Gluten Free

Because these are made with raw chicken pieces, they take longer to prepare than most nuggets, but they're worth it because it ensures the meat won't dry out. (A bit of salt solution helps with that too.) We found this pick to be the most juicy and tender.

190 cal, 20g protein, 400mg sodium

This article originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine, September 2021.