They’re not just for kids anymore!

By Stacey Ballis
Updated September 09, 2020
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Chicken tenders get a bad rap. A byproduct of butchering the more desirable boneless chicken breast (or worse as food for children only), these small cuts are dismissed by many a home cook who wouldn’t be caught dead with tenders in their freezer. But it is time to reclaim this bastion of the kiddie menu as the base for some seriously sophisticated home cooking! Whether you choose to buy fresh tenders and bread them yourself before freezing or have the commercially made breaded tenders already in your chiller, a bag of these versatile treats can be the start to a whole new set of fabulous meals. Here are 5 creative (and impressive) ways to use them.

1. Creating awesome appetizers

Many of the most impactful cocktail nibbles are simply adorable miniature versions of beloved larger dishes. So, think about using tenders to create two-bite treats! A half-tender atop a miniature frozen waffle with hot honey or spiced syrup is a fun twist on chicken and waffles, or a tender on a toasted buttered Hawaiian roll with sliced pickles and shredded lettuce is a fried chicken slider. Chunks of fried tenders skewered with a cooked cheese tortellini, half a grape tomato, with pesto for dipping make for a fabulous canapé.

2. Building super sandwiches

Fried chicken tenders ready to heat and eat from the freezer can make for some amazing sandwiches. Place two on a soft brioche roll with a slice of cheese, a piece of butter lettuce, some pickled onion, and a drizzle of sriracha ranch and you won’t have to care whether Popeyes has its supply chain in order or not. A toasted length of garlic bread baguette with three tenders, topped with some marinara and melted provolone makes for a classic chicken Parm sub.

3. Energizing boring salads

Boring desk salads are a thing of the past. Whether you are featuring a new take on the overworked chicken Caesar, or making a Cobb to beat all others, chopped fried chicken tenders serve as both protein and crunchy crouton in one simple step. Make a curried mayo and toss with chopped chicken tenders, pecans, and sliced grapes for a salad that can be scooped on top of spring mix or piled into a soft roll.

4. Revolutionizing your snack game

Do you get the 3 pm hungries? Before you reach for a decadent sweet or a bag of something salty, just remember that those quick carb energies make you crash just as quick as they elevate. A frozen chicken tender is fast to heat in a microwave or toaster oven, can be eaten one-handed, and brings much-needed protein to the party to keep you satisfied until supper. Need something a little more? Wrap in a tortilla for a balanced snack wrap that will beat any vending machine offering or sad protein bar.

5. Saving dinner

Let’s be honest: More weeknights that we’d like to admit to, we succumb to boring suppers or takeout just because something needs to be on the table. We can do better, faster. Frozen chicken tenders wrapped in a slice of prosciutto with some sage leaves and baked is a no-muss saltimbocca. Prefer a French take? Try ham and melted Gruyère for a riff on a traditional Cordon Bleu. Need a casserole to fill up your family? Place tenders on a bed of frozen broccoli florets and top with a simple Mornay sauce before baking to get a chicken Divan on the table in less time than it takes to order a pizza. Speaking of pizza, some store-bought dough or a pre-made crust topped with BBQ sauce, chopped chicken tenders, slivered red onion, and smoked mozzarella makes a super easy BBQ chicken pizza that just needs a sprinkle of chopped cilantro or parsley before you serve.