Crunchy baked chicken tenders are the ultimate meal that kids and adults will enjoy!
I do my best to make the most wholesome meals for my family, but sometimes it can be a struggle. I feel like chicken tenders always get a bad rap, but kids LOVE them! After some serious chicken finger testing, I’ve conjured up something delicious in the test kitchen just for you. The trick is the crispy cereal coating, with a Thai-inspired mixture of coconut and lime. I’ve even paired it with an easy to make orange dipping sauce.
I’ve got a crunchy baked chicken tenders recipe that gets two thumbs way up in the taste department, but guess what? It’s also a much healthier option compared to fried alternatives. Keep reading so I can show you how to put this dish together.
When thinking about what makes chicken tenders so satisfying, it’s all about what’s on the outside for once. I want that CRUNCHY shell that makes whole lotta noise when you eat!
To make the coating stand out, I had to get creative. Some types of bread crumbs are so unexciting and don’t add much wow factor. Thankfully after taking a peek into my overfilled pantry, a tall shiny yellow box caught my eye. My mind starting churning at the thought of adding Honey Bunches of Oats cereal to the coating. Why not, right?
It was hard to decide between classic honey roasted or the one filled with almonds. We’ve got the cabinets stocked with both since I like almonds and the hubby just likes honey. There is even a new gluten-free chocolate flavor, perfect for those with gluten sensitivities or intolerance. I went for the almond flavor for this recipe to add a nutty element.
As a curious food scientist, I have a habit of reading nutritional labels. I was excited to see whole grains from wheat and oats, plus vitamins and minerals as ingredients. This had my mom senses tingling. I could make a low-fat, high protein, fiber and nutrient packed dish that everyone would chow down on. Not only could we enjoy a big bowl of cereal together for breakfast, but we can add it to something tasty for dinner too.
My family had a blast making this recipe together. I let 18-month-old James help out by crushing the cereal into smaller pieces. I put the cereal flakes in a large sealable plastic bag and gave him a tiny rolling pin and let him bash away. I wish I got those big smiles and giggles on video!
After some fun with the rolling pin, I began a standard breading process. I dipped each chicken tender in flour, then a coconut lime-egg batter, and lastly a cereal coating containing toasted coconut flakes.
No additional oil was needed in this recipe to help the chicken tenders get crispy in the oven. I tested spraying both sides with a light oil spray, but it didn’t show a tremendous benefit.
You could go without a sauce, but that just wouldn’t be as fun! I wanted to compliment the coconut and lime flavors, so I made an easy honey orange dipping sauce.
All you need is fresh orange juice, zest, lime juice, honey, soy sauce, and cornstarch for thickening. Whisk together and cook for about two to three minutes and you’ve got a sweet and tangy sauce that everyone will fight over.
Check out those golden brown chicken tenders! I was impressed with the way this cereal coating came out. Those little crispy ridges and groves are just right for catching the sauce and filling each little nook.
My husband and baby are my official taste testers. Like any relieved mom, I was delighted to see James reaching for the chicken as we watched them bake in the oven. Too bad he had to be patient and let them cool for a few minutes after we took them out.
The subtle sweetness of the honey in the cereal and toasted coconut adds that extra oomph to each nourishing bite. This crunchy baked chicken tender recipe is a welcome addition to the mealtime rotation, and the seasoning can be easily switched up depending on your mood.
Basic Breading Technique:
- Flour Dredge– All-purpose or whole wheat works well. This helps the egg batter stick better and serves as a light moisture barrier.
- Egg Batter– Eggs plus seasonings. I added a touch of coconut milk, lime juice and a pinch of salt. This is the glue for the coating and makes it stay on after baking.
- Coating- Traditionally breadcrumbs plus seasoning. I used crushed Honey Bunches of Oats with almonds, coconut flakes, lime zest, salt, and pepper. This gives the essential texture and taste experience.
Crunchy Baked Chicken Tenders with Cereal Flakes
- 1 pound chicken tenderloins
- 4 cups cereal, Honey Bunches of Oats with almonds, crushed
- 1/2 cup coconut flakes, sweetened, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons coconut milk, or water
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, or whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup orange juice, plus 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 4 teaspoons soy sauce , low sodium
- 8 teaspoons honey
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 6 tablespoons water
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking pan with foil or parchment paper. Place a baking rack on top, spray with nonstick cooking spray, or lightly coat with oil.
- Heat chopped coconut flakes in a large pan over medium heat. Lightly brown, stirring continuously for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until toasted and no longer sticky on surface. Transfer to a bowl, the coconut should slightly harden and become crisp once cooled.
- Place 4 cups of cereal in a large resealable plastic bag. Remove air and seal. Use a rolling pin or side of a cup to crush the cereal, oat clusters, and almonds into smaller pieces. It's good to have a mix of fine crumbs to larger ones the size of oats. You want the cereal to be able to stick to the chicken and leave some larger pieces to add more crunch.
- Combine in a medium sized bowl the coating ingredients; 2 ½ cups of the crushed cereal, ½ cup of toasted coconut, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon lime zest.
- In a separate medium sized bowl whisk together the batter; 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons coconut milk and 1 teaspoon lime juice.
- Add 1 cup of flour in a separate medium sized bowl.
- Set up batter station starting on the left with chicken, flour, batter, and coating.
- Bread the chicken as follows: Use left hand to place chicken in the flour, coat well and shake off excess flour. Use the same hand to dip into the egg batter, fully coating the chicken. Place in the coating bowl. Use your right hand to coat and firmly press the breadcrumbs into the chicken, turning over as needed to press in any spots not coated. Gently shake off any excess crumbs and place breaded chicken on the baking rack. Repeat with other pieces. You want to make sure that the chicken is coated as much as possible to achieve a crunchy coating.
- If any excess coating falls on the baking sheet after breading, lift up the baking rack and discard the crumbs. The high temperature may cause those extra bits to burn if left in the baking pan.
- Bake chicken on the center rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and use your fingers to flip gently, it’s warm to the touch but not hot. Tongs may cause the coating to flake off.
- Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown, crunchy and the meat reaches at least 165-170°F internal temperature. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving. While the chicken is baking, make the orange sauce.
- In a bowl whisk together cornstarch and water. In a small saucepan, add orange juice, soy sauce, honey, lime juice and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking continuously until sauce thickens slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Serve with chicken and enjoy!