Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Meal Made for a 9 Year Old

I made my husband a very happy man last night.

Those of you having dirty thoughts right now, get your minds out of the gutter! :)

It wasn't because of that, it was because I made a meal that would make 9 year olds the world over jump up and down with excitement.

Buffalo Chicken Fingers and....

Mac 'n Cheese

In our house we pretty much swoon over anything buffalo-flavored and anything draped in cheese, so these foods are an obvious hit for us. But I've tried making healthier recipes for both of these items in the past and was totally unimpressed. I either ended up with soggy chicken fingers or not-so-cheesey mac. Not cool.

These recipes, however, totally accomplished the healthy-yet-delicious feat that I was searching for. The chicken tenders were perfectly crispy and tender and the mac was awesomely cheesy and creamy.

The Mac 'n Cheese actually has canned pumpkin in it for added nutrition, but I waited to tell Hubs that until after he tried it and began singing its praises. I'm sneaky like that!

The overall verdict on this meal was that "I can feel free to make this meal every week, or actually every day if you want"....and that is a direct quote from the Hubs.

Lightened-Up Buffalo Chicken Fingers
source: adapted slightly from the Active Foodie


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Frank's Red Hot
  • 1 cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs or whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup crushed whole wheat Saltine crackers - about 10 crackers
  • 8 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Cooking spray (olive or canola oil)
  • 1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot


  1. Whisk together chili-garlic sauce, Frank's, buttermilk, vinegar and salt. Add chicken and marinate for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight (I only marinated for 2 hours and it still turned out great).
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray wire rack with cooking spray.
  3. Combine panko, cracker crumbs, flour, paprika, cayenne and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Dredge chicken in flour mixture, shake off excess and place on wire rack. Repeat with all chicken pieces.
  5. Spray chicken breasts with cooking spray, making sure to hit all parts of the chicken.
  6. Cook for 10 minutes. Take out, turn chicken pieces over, spray again, and return to oven for another 5-10 minutes, or until all pieces are golden brown and crispy.
  7. When chicken strips are done, brush them with Frank's Red Hot (or just pour it over like I did). Serve immediately after topping them with sauce (otherwise they will get a little soggy).
Note: After I started cooking I realized I didn't have enough panko or whole wheat breadcrumbs, so I crushed up the Saltines to substitute. We ended up really liking the addition of the cracker crumbs, so I'll probably make them that way from now on. But if you don't want to use the cracker crumbs, feel free to just double the amount of breadcrumbs.

Lightened-Up Mac 'n Cheese
Source: adapted from Meals & Moves


-3 cups whole wheat elbow macaroni
-2 cups broccoli florets (cut into small pieces)
-1.5 cups part-skim ricotta
1/2 cup 1% milk
-1/2 cup canned pumpkin
-a couple dashes of hot sauce
-3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar
-1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
-salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Boil noodles according to package directions and toss in the broccoli for the last 3 minutes of cooking time. Drain well.

While pasta is cooking, combine ricotta, milk, pumpkin, hot sauce, salt & pepper in a large bowl. Stir well so that the mixture is completely incorporated and smooth.

Add drained pasta and cheese to the sauce and stir to incorporate. Pour the whole mixture into a square 9x9 inch pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 10-15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly.


Note: Janetha's original recipe called for cottage cheese (blended until smooth) instead of ricotta, but I didn't have it so I just thinned out ricotta with milk instead. This method saves you from having to clean an extra dish (the blender) and it turned out great. However, I'm still curious to try the cottage cheese blender method sometime soon! Click here to check out her method!

Also, I think the addition of the broccoli was a great way to add some extra veggies in the mix, but feel free to omit that if you'd like. If you don't use the broccoli, you will want to increase the pasta to 4 cups total.

Last but not least, don't worry - you CANNOT taste the pumpkin in this at all. I promise! Even the Hubs says so. :)


  1. Yum oh!!! I made both these dishes tonight for dinner and it was super good!!! I followed it exactly. The only thing I would change next is how much cayenne to use...the husband is not into really spicy food. I loved it!!!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yay, glad it turned out well for you, Lindsey!!

  3. My husband and I loved this! Thanks for sharing!


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