With veggie-centered meals growing in popularity, you might be curious about exploring plant-based meats for your family given many of their health and sustainability advantages versus conventional meat. (And bonus points if you can get your kids excited about trying something new!) But where should you start??
Believe it or not, vegan nuggets are a great place to start! Plant-based chicken nuggets have gotten much closer to the taste and texture of the old tried-and-true. Depending on which brand you buy, kids may not notice a difference or even prefer them. And, plant-based chicken nuggets make it super simple to throw together an after-school snack for your kids or a plate of midnight munchies that you can feel good about. (Nuggets and fresh-cut veggies, anyone?) A plant-based “chicken” nugget is also incredibly adaptable, from delicious crispy tacos with fresh pico de gallo to rounding out a school lunch and so much more.
In this guide, you'll learn the ins and outs of vegan chicken nuggets, including tips for picking high-quality and nutritious nuggets your whole family will enjoy. Let's jump in!
Choosing Your Plant Based Chicken Nuggets
Nowadays, we know there are a lot of types of nuggets to choose from, whether you’re at your local grocery store or buying your favorite brands online. For example, are you interested in a plant-based nugget reminiscent of fast-food favorites or something closer to a more homemade, breaded whole meat cut-like experience? Or, are you avoiding certain ingredients, like gluten or soy?
Here's a rundown of different types of plant-based nuggets available these days.
Pea Protein Vegan Chicken Nuggets
Behold the power of peas! Pea protein-based nuggets are easy to digest, especially compared to many plant-based options on the market. Sometimes called pea protein isolate, pea protein is a great fit for a variety of dietary needs since it's naturally vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free.
What’s more, peas themselves have loads of benefits. Research shows that they’re high in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and important micronutrients like selenium, folate, and fiber. While pea protein doesn't offer the same nutrition as whole peas, it still has some good things to offer.
It contains all nine essential amino acids. It's a great source of iron and branched-chain amino acids — especially arginine, leucine, isoleucine, and valine — which are a must for muscle strength and heart health. They’re also low glycemic (so they won’t spike your blood sugar) and can improve gut health. Vegan chicken nuggets made from pea protein also help you work toward your daily value of dietary fiber — a quarter-cup of pea protein can provide up to six grams of fiber.
Another upside of pea protein nuggets? Pea protein uses fewer natural resources to make than some other meat alternatives and is more sustainable than animal-based nuggets. (It’s good both for you and the planet!)
Nowadays nuggets are made with non-GMO pea protein made from organic yellow peas and pack 13 grams of protein into each serving size. These animal-free plant-based chicken nuggets are lower in sodium than standard nuggets and other vegan nugget varieties. Made with just a few simple ingredients (that you'll actually recognize!), Nowadays nuggets are a sustainable and better choice for you and your family.
Some vegan chicken nugget brands made of pea protein, like Nowadays, have a recipe that mimics the fibrous texture of real chicken, compared to the “blended and formed” consistency of many other types of plant-based nuggets that more closely mimic processed, fast-food. This makes them a terrific pick if it's your first time trying vegan nuggets and you want an experience closer to that of conventional chicken.
Soy Protein Vegan Chicken Nuggets
Several plant-based chicken nugget brands (such as Gardein, Morningstar Farms, and Boca) use soy protein as a main ingredient. Soy protein is highly refined and made from soybeans.
While soy protein is high in nutrients like copper, manganese, and phosphorus, it also contains phytates, which can impede nutrient absorption. It may also be a little harder on your digestive system and cause an upset stomach, so if you have a food sensitivity or allergy, be sure to keep that in mind.
Still, soy nuggets average 13 grams of protein per serving and can supply up to a quarter of your daily iron requirements, which is comparable to pea protein nuggets and some made from vital wheat gluten.
Soy protein-based nuggets that are available today are typically blended and formed into nugget shapes, rather than mimicking whole cuts of meat, so they typically have more of a traditional processed nugget eating experience.
Most soy crops are genetically modified. If this is something you'd like to avoid, you'll want to look elsewhere or find a product that only uses non-GMO ingredients in their plant-based chicken nuggets. Choosing certified organic soy nuggets is another way you can avoid genetically modified foods.
Wheat Gluten Vegan Chicken Nuggets
Sometimes called seitan, vital wheat gluten is a popular plant protein. This plant-based meat is made by mixing wheat flour with water to create a dough, which activates the gluten. Once the dough is rinsed away, only the gluten remains, and it can then be processed into a powder for culinary use.
Generally speaking, wheat gluten “chicken” has fewer carbohydrates than other meatless options, and because it's soy-free, you don't have to worry about related allergies. Wheat gluten nuggets average 14 grams of protein per serving but can be low in iron, so keep an eye on nutrition labels when shopping.
On the flip side, since this meat alternative is made from wheat gluten, it's not the best option for those with wheat or gluten intolerances. If you want to minimize food allergies and digestive issues, consider grabbing a nugget made from pea protein instead.
3 Tips for Picking the Best Plant-Based Chicken Nuggets
Now that you're a little more familiar with your options, let's talk turkey (or chicken rather!) about some other important considerations when shopping for veggie nuggets. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Inspect Ingredient Lists
When you peek at the side panel, and you feel like you need a science degree just to decipher an ingredient list? Are you wondering why certain ingredients are in your nuggets in the first place? No thanks. Keep your eyes peeled for some of these common offenders.
- Extra Ingredients: Be mindful of additional ingredients in your vegan chicken nuggets. If shopping for products made from simple, wholesome ingredients is a priority for you, avoid vegan chicken nuggets made with extra additives like methylcellulose (a bulk-forming laxative) and food coloring. Another additive you might see is titanium dioxide. It's typically used as a whitening agent in paint, paper, plastics, and food (yikes) and could be carcinogenic (double yikes).
- Breading: If you or anyone in your family has food sensitivities, be mindful of the breading used for your vegan chicken nuggets. Breadcrumbs made from wheat flour could be an issue. Look for breaded nuggets made with yellow corn flour or pea flour for a gluten-free option.
Flavoring: It's not uncommon to see flavoring from whole foods like paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, or nutritional yeast in your plant-based chicken nuggets. But what about "natural flavors"? What are those really? Well, "natural flavors" can mean almost anything and can be derived from yeast extract, eggs, fruits, plant and animal material, etc. Safety data isn't always disclosed, so steer clear if you're unsure or need to be careful about food sensitivities.
2. Preparation Methods
While heating up your vegan chicken nuggets in the microwave can cut down on cook time, consider tossing some plant-based nuggets in your air fryer or on a baking sheet instead. You'll get crispy, golden brown nuggets without the saturated fat, cholesterol, and mess from deep frying. And besides, many vegan nuggets don’t cook well in the microwave.
All that's left is adding a little ketchup, BBQ sauce, or other favorite dipping sauce for a tasty, plant-forward meal.
Plant-based meat can be a sustainable alternative to animal-based products. Still, it's good to be aware that some of the cooking oils added to your vegan chicken nuggets may not be. Soybean, palm, and canola oil aren't always eco-friendly options. Palm oil is a leading cause of deforestation and threatens orangutan populations. Seek out products made with a more sustainable oil, such as sunflower oil, or choose brands that indicate sustainably sourced palm oil in their product information.
Choosing Better Vegan Chicken Nuggets
Navigating the world of plant-based chicken nuggets is much easier than you think. When you know how to shop and choose the best vegan chicken nuggets for your family, you know you're putting a healthier and satisfying meal on the table.
Enjoying more plant-based meals should be a fun, delicious, and stress-free experience that leaves the kids with full tummies and gives you more time to relax with family and friends.
So skip the McDonald's drive-through and cook up a platter of vegan chicken nuggets from Nowadays for you and your family. You'll get to enjoy all the flavor, none of the junk, and you won't have to choose between the health of your body or the planet.