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At $3.86 a pound ($6.99 a package) Tyson’s makes enough profit to load up nuggets with fat and calories – at nearly four times the cost of sales priced chicken breasts and three and a half times the calories, it’s no bargain, even on sale.

Tyson's Chicken Tenders

“I don’t like Tuna Salad, Lima Beans or Casserole,” “Mushrooms look like Aliens,” “Spinach?  Not a big fan.” Several more unhappy kids, one doesn’t even speak a word, just gives a look, another says …”look’s like dwirty socks,” another says she, “doesn’t like any of those things.”

I saw the most adorable, freshly scrubbed clean little kids on a Tyson commercial today.  Notice the commercial is entitled “Tyson Chicken – Yuck”  I have to say of all the foods marketed to kids, chicken nuggets – from the fast food restaurant, from the meat aisle, or from the frozen food aisle, top the list.

They’re expensive, unhealthy, full of strange ingredients, and they don’t taste good…need I say more?  Well, yes, indeed, I do need to say more – if you’ve read any of my other rants (link bottom left),  when do I ever not need to say more?

Luckily, on the commercial, Tyson’s nuggets come to the rescue of Mom’s everywhere, with about 1/2 cup of ketchup, some potato chips and two apple slices…the kids are happy, happy, happy:  Thanks, Mom!  And Tyson’s makes a claim:  Made from 100% all Natural Ingredients…a kid chimes in “some more, please”…they’re the one thing kids love 100% of the time.

From the Tyson "Yuck" commercial...

From the Tyson “Yuck” commercial…

Now, the term “natural” does not have any legal definition in regard to food.  Arsenic is natural…so are many harmful poisons and chemicals. It means nothing to make a claim of “natural” on a product, other than consumers have an idea that “Natural” is a good thing.

The ingredients on the package list:

  • Boneless chicken breast with rib meat, water, salt and natural flavors.
  • It states, “minimally processed” on the package, but also says, “Breaded Tender-Shaped chicken breast patties with rib meat.”  (That means it can’t be “minimally” processed – how do you get that bit of meat that clings to the ribs off in a “minimally” processed product and how do they make the patties?)

When I called Tyson’s, 1 800 233-6332, the representative could not tell me what the “natural flavors” were, claiming they were probably spice “extracts.”  Neither could he tell me the process used for the nuggets.  He said they were “chopped up chicken meat.”

I can tell you that there’s nothing in these nuggets that look like “chopped up chicken meat,” they are an extruded product. He didn’t think they were “mechanically separated.” There is not other way to remove the meat from the ribs than mechanically separating it. Meat with heavy bones can be separated by a huge wash, but not chicken. What, do they have little elves with tiny fingers and teensy knives do it over night?

When I cut a nugget in half to examine it, it resisted my steak knife!  It was like cutting into a heavy foam. The breading was as thick as the chicken.  The taste, frankly, was awful – I don’t think even most kids will eat them without something to dip them in:  ketchup, honey mustard, barbecue sauce.  The taste, by the way, lingered in my mouth, even after brushing my teeth!

The rest of the ingredients appeared pretty straight forward:

  • Wheat flour, water, wheat starch, “white whole wheat flour,” (what is that?) salt, yellow corn flour, corn starch, dried onion, dried garlic, dried yeast, brown sugar, extractive of paprika and spice, set in vegetable oil.  Most of these I see in the food industry for all kinds of products. The dried yeast is a stand in for MSG, but it’s a product that doesn’t have to be declared as msg.

Paprika Extractive is Paprika Oleoresin.  (oleo and resin, num num)  From Wiki:

  • Paprika oleoresin (also known as paprika extract) is an oil soluble extract from the fruits of Capsicum Annum Linn or Capsicum Frutescens (Indian red chillies), and is primarily used as a coloring and/or flavoring in food products. It is composed of capsaicin, the main flavoring compound giving pungency in higher concentrations, and capsanthin and capsorubin, the main coloring compounds (among other carotenoids).[1]
  • Extraction is performed by percolation with a variety of solvents, primarily hexane, which are removed prior to use.
  • In case you were wondering – no, it’s not the same as sprinkling some paprika on your chicken.

What about Nutrition??  Serving size is 5 nuggets (weighed out to be 2.75 ounces)

  • Cal:  240, Cal fr Fat 130, (% of fat not given on package, but I figured it:  it’s 54%.) tot fat 14g, sat fat 3g; trans fat 0 (that ALWAYS means there is trans fat in the product – no transfat  is labelled “none,” not zero.)  Polyunsaturated fat 4.5g; Mono 5g. (What type is the other 2 1/2 grams of fat??) chol 35mg; sod 460mg; tot carb 15g; fib 0g; sug 0g; prot 12g.  (I question the amount of cholesterol listed here.)

Of interest, all the percentages of food values are given based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet – pretty normal for the food industry – but I think way out of whack for a food marketed to kids and to parents for kids – The fat is listed as 22% based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but that means it’s 44% of a 1,000 calorie diet.

Your two to three year old should be getting around 2 ounces of lean meat or beans a day and around 1,000 calories.  Your 4 to 8 year old, 3 to four ounces and 1200 to 1400 calories, depending on gender.  Your 9 to 14 year old 5 ounces of lean meat or beans, 1600 to 1800 calories, again, depending on gender.

Depending on age, 240 calories can take up a large part of that allowance.  Think of it this way, if you’re an adult on a 2,000 calorie diet, 240 calories is like eating a McDonalds Hamburger (which, by the way, has less fat grams then the five nugget serving.)  If you’re a child, 240 calories is like eating a Big Mac.  (Of course, I wouldn’t expect many three year olds to eat all five nuggets.)

  • By the way, 2.75 ounces of chicken breast:  Cal. 69; cal fr fat .68g; sat fat 0 (there is some, but the amount is miniscule); trans fat 0; chol 41mg; sod 171mg; tot carb 0; sug 0; prot 15g.  When you serve nuggets, it might be a fair assumption that the breading actually displaces protein.  (Check the cholesterol levels and you’ll see why I question Tyson’s values)

If you make something like Almost Bobby’s Oven Fried Chicken, which is super simple and easy, your nutritional values look something like this for a 2.75 ounce serving:

  • Calories: 142; carbs 4; fat 5.95g; chol 50mg; sod 183mg, prot 17.41;.  No trans fat other than the miniscule amount of naturally occurring trans fat in the chicken.

Two things to consider when thinking about serving nuggets, beyond just the basic calories and fat per serving size:

  • Kids don’t eat five nuggets, unless they’re very small kids.  My son ate the five and then microwaved up about 10 more.
  • Kids don’t eat nuggets alone!  They want a dipping sauce – honey mustard, ketchup, barbecue – and those, often, are full of calories, sugar or high fructose corn syrup, stabilizers and all sorts of unsavory ingredients.  Even Tyson’s, on their commercial, served them with about 1/2 cup of ketchup.
  • For small children, 2.75 ounces of nuggets exceeds their recommended daily allowance of protein – even my son’s 15 nugget serving exceeded his daily requirements of five to six ounces of daily protein by about 2 1/2 ounces.
  • Portion control is surprisingly difficult – if you’re a parent and counting out the amount, that’s one thing.  But if your children are eating them alone, and therefore eating more, or making the nuggets themselves – well, portion control seems to go way off – they’re too easy!

Had my son had an equivalent amount of baked or grilled chicken breast, he would have had one and a half or so breasts:  He would have consumed about 240 calories and about six grams of fat.  His nugget binge cost him 720 calories and 42 grams of fat.

Now, I do serve food at home – food that has fat, calories, etc., and I even fry something now and then.  I serve it because I’d rather make it at home with ingredients I’m sure of and I feel I have to compete with the school lunches, the fried fast food and the frozen junk food – kids are exposed to so much of it they’re comfortable with it, they want it, they crave it…maybe I’ve just caved.

At least I can serve it with some good sides and vegetables – something that’s impossible at a drive through – and something that I think a lot of parents don’t bother with when they nuke the nuggets for one to two minutes.  I seriously doubt that a 10 year old is going to steam up some fresh broccoli as a side when he nukes his afternoon snack. And, yeah, ketchup really is not a vegetable.

Years before my daughter ever ate at a McDonald’s she would cry out from her car seat in the back in a gleeful tone: “Mickey Dee’s!  I was introduced to “chicken nuggets” from reading my child’s school menus.  I was angry then, and now I’m just sad about the state of affairs.

Companies claim they don’t market to kids, but this commercial was on early in the afternoon on a summer’s day.  Gee, right about lunch time.  It was bright and happy and full of kids – kids that your child might watch and that might actually lend credence to their complaints about food.  It definitely touted nuggets as a solution to cater to the tastes of children.

Why we’re at it, why “Thanks, Mom,” why not “Thanks, Dad?” on the commercial?  I suppose it has nothing to do with whether “Mom” or “Dad” is nuking up the stuff – and more to do with some misplaced idea that “Mom” is more wholesome, educated about food, and nurturing. If Mom’s making it, it must be ok. If Dad’s making it, well then, there might be questions.

Man catches fish - woman cleans up...Clorox

Man catches fish – woman cleans up…Clorox

I guess maybe Mom is too busy cleaning the toilets or mopping up with Brawny or spraying or wiping with Clorox to cook dinner?  The commercial where Dad come in to the clean kitchen with fish and Mom jumps up to clean up the mess really chaps me, but I digress…

Let’s talk pricing:  The nuggets I bought were normally $6.99.  They were on sale for $5.99.  Had I had a $1.00 off coupon, it would have been $4.99.  If the coupon were doubled, $3.99.  The package was 29 ounces.  I’ll give you the price per pound at the different price points.

  • $6.99 per package is $3.86 per pound.
  • $5.99 per package is $3.30 per pound
  • $4.99 per package is $2.75 per pound.
  • $3.99 per package is $2.20 per pound

So it comes down to this, if you’re a great sales/coupon shopper, you can buy your nuggets for over twice as much per pound as you can pick up chicken breast (which is on sale several times a year in my area for 99 cents a pound – stock up then – and sometimes less) and for over three to four times as much as you can buy chicken quarters and thighs!

Keep in mind though, that these are heavily breaded in an oiled flour breading – so you are not even buying pure protein. You’re buying about half chicken and half oiled flour breading.

I know of several families who have been struggling in this economy who buy nuggets.  I even saw my daughter *gasp* serve them to her child – and I know, as a stay at home Mom, she was carefully budgeting and trying to make ends meet. I’ve stood in enough lines to see a lot of people buying nuggets – and I see, also, that a lot of those people appear to be carefully buying many less expensive or cheaper alternatives to other items – I’m guessing they have no idea how much they are actually paying for that glossy package and a few minutes work.

There is a reason why frozen food is not packaged in easy to figure amounts.  If they were sold in one pound packages, no one in their right mind would buy them – it’s far too easy to compare to real chicken.

I’ll say this much:  $3.86 a pound for meat is a splurge for me – just think about it – it’s a dollar less than fresh salmon at a really great sales price, a touch less than a great price on flank steak.  If I’m paying $3.86 for a protein, it had darned well better “wow” me.

My final Frugal Judgment:  “Nugget” has a connotation of being a good thing – a gold nugget, maybe a little nugget of information – I gotta say, I’m not nuts about the nuggets – and I won’t be trying them again.  Instead I’ll make Almost Bobby’s Oven Fried Chicken.  It works out to about $1.20 a pound, and it’s so good you won’t even want to think about nuggets – and you’ll throw out any other recipe you have for oven fried chicken!

Oven Fried Chicken, variation of Bobby Flay's

Oven Fried Chicken, variation of Bobby Flay’s