3 Genius Ways to Uplevel Homemade Chicken Tenders

Upleveled Homemade Chicken Tenders

Homemade chicken tenders are like the holy grail of kid food, aren’t they?

Unless a kid is hard-core against meat, I’ve yet to meet a child (or any meat-eater, really) who doesn’t love a good homemade chicken tender.

The problem, though? Homemade chicken tenders can be dry, tasteless, and the bottoms get all gummy.


I mean, my kids would still eat it. With enough ketchup, they’ll eat anything, actually.

Lucky for you, I’ve made approximately 9 billion chicken tenders in my life.

And along the way, I’ve figured out a handful of sneaky hacks and tricks that will seriously uplevel a plain old chicken tender.

Are you ready to hear what they are?

I outlined them in this video I made with my kids on Facebook Live in my private Facebook group, Busy Mamas Cooking In Tiny Kitchens (I’d love for you to join the community, btw!)

Oh, and you’ve been warned: this video is REAL LIFE, DUDES. My son was teething and crabby and clingy. He wouldn’t let me put him down so I had to cook without the use of both hands. My daughter dumped like, 18 tons of Parmesan cheese into the breading mix (whoops). My son dropped chicken tender on my shirt and then ate it anyway (and I had to go change).

This is life when you’re cooking with kids in the kitchen, and I’m sure many of you can relate! Plus, my kitchen’s not the tidiest, there are toys littering the background, and the linoleum on my rental apartment floor is truly hideous.


We got dinner made, and that’s the important part!

And here’s the recipe! I don’t usually use a recipe when I make tenders – it’s more of a general thing.

1/2 pound of chicken + 1/2 cup white flour + 1 egg, whisked + 2 tablespoons mustard + 1 cup panko breadcrumbs + 1/2 cup parmesan.

Mix the egg and mustard together in a large bowl. Mix the panko and parmesan together in another large bowl. Dredge the chicken in flour, then the egg/mustard mix, then the parmesan/panko mix.

Fry until golden brown and crispy, and drain on a paper-towel lined plate


Bake in a 400*F preheated oven, on top of a cookie rack lining a sheet pan. This helps (facilitate airflow above and below the tenders)


YUM! Do your kids loovvveee chicken tenders as much as mine do!?

Leftover Turkey Pot Pie Casserole with Biscuit Topping

Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving that is often overlooked with the planning, prepping and cooking; the dinner is only as good as its leftovers!

I mean, what’s Thanksgiving without leftover turkey sandwiches, pie for breakfast, and figuring out what to do with your leftover cranberry sauce? (I’ve got a great recipe on the way for that one, actually!)

But there are only so many days of turkey sandwiches one can take, right? That’s where I take what we’ve got left… and turn it into leftover turkey pot pie!

I’ll be straight up with you here: this isn’t a super quick recipe, like most of the recipes you’ll find here on Percolate Kitchen. It’s not crazy weeknight friendly, and you can’t throw it together in 20 minutes.

BUT, it’s relatively simple, and each part of the recipe comes together while another part cooks. So it won’t take you half an afternoon to put together – maybe an hour or so.

If you want to make it even faster, you can use precooked vegetables (frozen and thawed, veggies leftover from another meal, or made during a meal prep power hour), and instead of the biscuit topping, use a sheet of puff pastry or phyllo dough. It should bake in about the same length of time, and the instructions are similar: just make sure the veggies are soft and cooked through, the liquid is bubbling at the sides, and the pastry or topping is browned and flaky.

Another variation for when you don’t have leftover turkey

Just use leftover roast chicken! Or chicken thighs browned beforehand and diced. Poached chicken breast, shredded. Poached turkey, diced. use what you have!

The beauty of a pot pie is that it’s crazy amenable to leftovers. That’s the whole idea of the dish!

The only important things I would stress? Potatoes are a must, as far as I’m concerned. Their starchiness adds thickness to the pot pie sauce that is hard to replicate- without them, the dish runs the risk of being too liquidy and soggy.

But seriously? This is not a complicated casserole.

It’s a great way to change up the Thanksgiving flavors that you might be a little, ah, over by Day Three.

AND, and it makes pretty dang good leftovers itself!

That’s like, the inception of leftovers, right? Using leftovers to make a dish and then eating the leftovers to that dish!?

You’re so clever. I knew I liked your brain.

Enjoy your turkey, your family time, and your leftovers. Happy Thanksgiving!

Leftover Turkey Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping
Servings: 6
Author: Ruthy Kirwan
for the casserole:
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 large carrots peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 small white onion peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 2 large russet potatoes washed (about 1 pound) and diced
  • 1/3 cup white flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 3 cups diced cooked turkey (about 2 pounds)
for the biscuits:
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk or buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 400*F.
  2. Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add the carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes and stir to coat.
  3. Whisk in the flour until thick and creamy, then slowly whisk in the chicken stock/broth. Let the mixture come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes have softened through.
  4. While the vegetables are cooking, make the biscuits. Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl and whisk or sift to combine. Slowly add the milk and stir until the dough is wet and sticky.
  5. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and carefully pat into a large square. Using a sharp knife or a pastry scraper, slice the biscuit into 6 squares/rectangles and let the dough rest for a few minutes.
  6. While the dough is resting, spread the cooked turkey evenly on the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish.
  7. Once the vegetables have softened, remove from heat and pour the mixture evenly over the turkey.
  8. Using a metal pastry scraper or spatula, lift the squares of biscuit dough and arrange on top of the casserole, side by side and evenly spaced, but not touching. Sprinkle the biscuit dough squares with a little salt.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling at the sides of the dish, and the biscuits have browned.
  10. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

Pan Seared Spinach Stuffed Chicken and Mushroom Marsala

Ok, so there's everything my family LOVES here; it's an easy one pan chicken weeknight recipe, marsala sauce is so yummy, and she even suggests how you can serve this so KIDS will like it! Pinning for later for busy dinner

An easy one pan chicken recipe with a sauce so delicious, you’ll want to lick the pan clean.

But maybe don’t, because not only is that a little like, you know, germy, but the pan could be hot.

Kind of not really a good look. You know?

But seriously, this is an easy one pan chicken marsala recipe that you’ll want to add to your weeknight recipe repertoire, pronto.

It does have a decent amount of butter and oil, and the base of the sauce is made with marsala wine (obvi), so this is not a low-fat diet recipe you pull out when you’re looking to lose some weight.

But what this easy chicken marsala recipe is is a comforting, delicious, savory and warming weeknight dinner, and I think your family is gonna love it.

You know those kinds of recipes that you just keep in your back pocket for the nights when you want to just… kinda fancy?

That’s this easy one pan chicken marsala, straight up.

The marsala makes it feel ever so fancy, but really it’s just a basic fortified wine you keep in your cupboard so it’s ready when you are. Leave the good wine for drinking. Marsala wine is slightly sweet and makes a way better sauce base.

I know I keep going on about this sauce, but this is another thing I love about it: the sauce is thickened with flour that the chicken has been dredged in, which accelerates the browning of the chicken while adding body to the marsala sauce.

A word about the spinach stuffing; I tested this recipe using frozen chopped spinach, which I found to mix great with the grated parmesan. I haven’t tried using fresh spinach, but if that’s what you have on hand, I think using about a third less than the recipe calls for and roughly chopping it before mixing with the grated parmesan would work just as well.

Oh, and that ‘lick the pan clean’ marsala sauce? It goes best with a simple starch on the side, like egg noodles. There’s a lot of richness from the parmesan and spinach stuffing, plus the buttery marsala sauce, so a mellow starch balances out the dish.

Adding in a mellow starch like egg noodles keeps this easy one pan chicken dish squarely in the kid-friendly camp, as well.

Because hands up if your kid prefers to only eat the boring stuff you serve them and not the actually delicious stuff.

(raises hand)

Which means that this is a dish that keeps the whole family happy!

And in the meantime, who’s got tips on how to actually get my kid to eat dinner?

Um, asking for a friend.

Anyway! Easy one pan chicken marsala with melty cheese and mushrooms for the win!


Pan Seared Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Marsala Wine Sauce
This recipe is inspired by a number of classical recipes, especially spinach stuffed chicken and marsala chicken, but it’s a flavor all its own. Even better? It comes together in an easy 20 minutes, making it a perfect weeknight dinner option. I prefer using pre-chopped frozen spinach in this recipe since I feel it binds best with the grated parmesan. Feel free to play around with fresh spinach in similar quantities, if it’s what you have on hand. Also, I use pre-mixed shredded “Italian blend” cheese in this recipe, which is often just a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. If you can’t find a pre-mixed blend of these cheeses, substituting with provolone or mozzarella is fine.
Author: Ruthy Kirwan
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1.5 cup chopped frozen spinach thawed and drained of excess liquid
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup white flour
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock or broth
  • 1 ½ cup marsala wine
  • 8 ounces shredded Italian blend cheese
  • Toothpicks for securing the chicken breasts
  1. In a large bowl, combine the spinach and grated parmesan and stir to combine.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit in the side of each chicken breast. Season the breasts al over with salt and pepper.
  3. Stuff each breast with about 2 tablespoons spinach and parmesan mixture. Use a toothpick to securely close the opening and set the breasts aside.
  4. In a large, wide saucepan set over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil. Stir to combine and heat until the butter has melted.
  5. While the butter is melting, pour the flour onto a plate.
  6. Once the butter has melted, dredge each chicken breast in the flour, coating each side of the breast. Place the chicken breasts in the pan on by one, leaving a small amount of space between each breast.
  7. Cook the breasts in the butter and oil, turning once or twice, until each side has lightly browned.
  8. While the chicken is browning, mix together the chicken broth and marsala wine in a bowl or large measuring cup.
  9. Once the chicken has browned, add the mushrooms to the pan, distributing evenly around the chicken breasts. Pour in the chicken broth and marsala mixture and turn the heat to medium-high.
  10. 10. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let cook 5-8 minutes, or until it has started to reduce, the chicken breasts have cooked through, and the smell of any alcohol from the marsala wine has burned away.
  11. 11. Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top of each chicken breast. Let the cheese melt, then remove the pan from the heat and serve.

20-Minute Cheese Tortellini and Vegetable Soup

An easy soup that comes together in only 20 minutes and is so tasty, it feels like cheating! This cheese tortellini soup is a kid favorite, too.An easy soup that comes together in only 20 minutes and is so tasty, it feels like cheating! This cheese tortellini soup is a kid favorite, too. An easy soup that comes together in only 20 minutes and is so tasty, it feels like cheating! This cheese tortellini soup is a kid favorite, too.

This cheesy tortellini soup is only 20 minutes from start to finish and your family is going to love it!

Whenever I’m trying to survive through a busy week, I turn to quick soups like this one. They’re packed with vegetables, customizable (hello, using up leftovers), freeze well, and they’re cheap to make. It’s like a one-two-three punch of deliciousness.

Like, I’m not even sure ‘deliciousness’ is a word, but it totally can be when you’re talking about making this easy, flavorful and low-cost soup.

Earlier this week in the Meal Plan Buddies email, I talked about meal planning during weird weeks.

You know the weeks I mean: when the ish is hitting the fan and you’re busy, trying to hang on to your sanity, yet you’re not always sure how your evenings will be so how the heck can you plan for the cooking? 

If you’ve ever had a week like that, then I feel ya sister. That’s when knowing how to pivot, understanding your kitchen strengths, and being kind to your future self will come into play big time.  

It’s also where dishes like this 20-minute cheese tortellini and vegetable soup make an appearance on our dining room table.

Just 20 minutes and it’s so easy that it kinda feels like cheating.

As in, “I’ve just called Dominos for dinner and now I’m going to lie here and stare at the wall til they arrive’ kind of cheating.   

It’s full of flavor, bursting with vegetables, comforting to make and kids love it.  

It also freezes awesome, although the tortellini have a tendency to taste a little soggy if they’ve been cooked prior to freezing and thawing. So if you want to make this ahead of time, I ‘d recommend planning ahead on the soup part, and then storing the soup in the freezer alongside a separate baggie full of tortellini. Then you can add them in during the reheat.  

I also made a video for this cheesy tortellini soup! It’s slightly choppy, since I’m still honing my little video skills, but you can see how simple the soup actually is. Especially for one with so many vegetables packed inside!

It’s slightly choppy, since I’m still honing my little video skills, but you can see how simple the soup actually is. Especially for one with so many vegetables packed inside!

And, before you say it- in the video, I added crumbled brown sausage. This is totally up to you in this recipe; you can leave out the sausage and swap vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian soup. You could even use vegan pasta and hold the cheese to make these even more of a plant-based soup! So when you see me popping the crumbled sausage into the soup but don’t see

So when you see me popping the crumbled sausage into the soup but don’t see that part in the recipe, have no fear: it’s simply an addition we like to do around here because I <3 sausage, but it’s not needed for this delicious soup.

In any case, it’s an easy, flavorful, family-approved soup. It takes 20 minutes from start to finish and most of that is waiting for the carrots and onions to soften.

I mean, come on. When you’re looking for an easy dinner, you can’t do much better than a cheesy tortellini soup.


20-Minute Cheese Tortellini and Vegetable Soup
This soup is so easy it almost feels like cheating; with just a few handfuls of ingredients and a box of stock, you’ve got a flavorful soup comes together quickly and is so flavorful! Crumbled sausage is a nice addition to this soup, if you have some on hand. If you’ve got fresh tortellini and diced kale, all the merrier; but I also keep both in my freezer so that this soup can be pulled together in a pinch.
Servings: 4
Author: Ruthy Kirwan
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 2 large carrots diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2-3 stalks celery diced (about 1 cup)
  • teaspoon chili flakes
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4-5 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 2 handfuls fresh spinach
  • 3 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cup cheese tortellini
  1. In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and carrots have softened, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and stir to combine, cooking until the garlic has whitened and become fragrant about 1-3 minutes.
  3. Add the corn and the spinach and stir to wilt the spinach, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Once the spinach has wilted, pour in the chicken broth.
  5. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Add the tortellini and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 3-5 minutes.
  7. Serve hot, garnished with grated parmesan cheese.

Make Ahead Breakfast Egg Muffins, 3 Different Ways

I am LOVING these easy, low-carb make ahead breakfast egg muffins on busy mornings! I just make a tray ahead of time, pop in the freezer, and we can eat them for a healthy breakfast throughout the week. This post has three different kind of fillings ideas, too!

These easy, low-carb, make ahead breakfast legg muffins a just the thing for busy mornings!

They’re so easy to make the night before and then pop into the freezer once cool. You can also fill them with leftovers, extra veggies, and CHEESE.

The word ‘cheese’ is capitalized because cheese is life around here.

And did I mention the leftovers part? Other than glorious cheese, using up leftovers is totally my jam.

Shredded chicken from tacos? Add it in with some onions and cheddar.

Leftover spinach from dinner’s salad? Toss with some tomatoes and add it in!

Leftover roasted broccoli? Add those babies in!

It’s up to you, and I love that.

These make ahead breakfast egg muffins are made 3 different ways.

I played around with the fillings, but I have a basic ratio for you: For every four cups, you’ll need:

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk (doesn’t even have to be dairy! Coconut milk worked great in these muffins)

2 tablespoons filling, whatever you choose that to be.

That ratio will vary slightly depending on your filling, but it’s pretty standard. Just double it or triple it depending on how many breakfast egg muffins you feel like making!

A note about the coconut milk I used in these breakfast egg muffins:

It totally works just like milk! Those of you who have always been down with milk alternatives probably knew this, ut if you’re like me, or you’re new to the world of living dairy free, this may make your day.

Make sure it’s unsweetened (for no other reason than vanilla egg muffins might be…. odd tasting. But you do you, boo). And try other plant based milks, like almond milk, or cashew milk, or even soy milk.

The world is your milk oyster.

Below, I’ve written out the ‘recipes’ I used, although like I said earlier, making a make ahead breakfast egg muffin is more about playing around with ratios than anything.

But this is a recipe post, and thee shall have a recipe.

But I’d love to know what kind of combos you guys dig! Have you tried making make ahead egg muffins? Have you tried making eggs with plant based milks?

Make Ahead Breakfast Egg Muffins, Three Ways
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
20 mins

Use the recipes below as guidelines; depending on your fillings, your egg muffins mixtures may make one or two more muffins than what is described below. Typically, the different recipes below will make about 4 muffins each. 

Servings: 3 people
Author: Ruthy Kirwan
For the Sundried Tomatoes and Spinach:
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced sundried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons shredded spinach
  • 2 eggs whisked
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
For the Asparagus and Cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced asparagus about 3 trimmed stalks
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 eggs whisked
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Spanish chorizo and potato
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced Spanish dry-cured chorizo sausage
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced white potato
  • 2 eggs whisked
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 375*F
  2. Spray a muffin tin with vegetable or coconut oil, or line with paper liners.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the bottom of each muffin cup.
  4. Combine the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together in a bowl.
  5. Evenly pour the egg and milk mixture on top of each, evenly distributing between each. Leave at least 1/2" space below the rim of the cup.
  6. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until the center has set and is no longer jiggly.
  7. Remove and let cool, then remove from the muffin tin.
  8. Eat immediately, or store, tightly covered. These will last up to 6 weeks in the freezer if tightly wrapped, or up to 5 days in the fridge.

4-Ingredient Peanut Butter and Jelly Protein Balls


No bake, 4-ingredient, healthy peanut butter and jelly protein balls! Try these addictive, simple paleo and low carb snacks whenever you need a push of energy. They whip up super quick and keep stored in the fridge for up to two weeks! Gluten free and great for kids.

No bake, 4-ingredient, healthy peanut butter and jelly protein balls! Try these addictive, simple paleo and low carb snacks whenever you need a push of energy. They whip up super quick and keep stored in the fridge for up to two weeks! Gluten free and great for kids.

No bake, 4-ingredient, healthy peanut butter and jelly protein balls! Try these addictive, simple paleo and low carb snacks whenever you need a push of energy. They whip up super quick and keep stored in the fridge for up to two weeks! Gluten free and great for kids.

I think I figured out why these easy, 4-ingredient pbj protein balls are so tasty and delicious – it’s like eating a ball of cookie dough, without any worry of raw egg or flour!

Plus, with no added sugar, these are a great after-school snack for hungry kids. And hungry adults, too!

The apricot adds just enough sweetness to these protein balls. When combined with the peanut butter flavor, it tastes just like a tiny little peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I found peanut butter powder at my regular old grocery store, stocked with the prepared peanut butter. I used to think powdered peanut butter was just for bodybuilders making smoothies, or thrifty people who prefer to mix their own, but I’m finding that there are dozens of other uses for powdered peanut butter than what you might think.

I’m pretty psyched to keep using it, to be honest! I like how it adds peanut butter flavor without extra sugar or oil. It’s a bit pricier than regular peanut butter, but a little goes a long way.

As for the protein powder, I used a neutral flavor in this recipe, but I bet most flavors would work well here; especially chocolate!

One other awesome thing about these protein balls: they’re a great grab and go snack on the way out the door.

Some mornings are so insane around here that I barely have time to make my kids breakfast, let alone myself. But grabbing a protein ball on the way out the door gives me just enough energy that I don’t turn into a hangry mom-monster before I can eat. Nobody like hangry mom-monster, right?

So I think it’s not a stretch to say, making these protein bars would be doing your family a favor. I hope you love them as much as we do!

4-Ingredient PBJ Protein Balls
Servings: 4
Author: Ruthy Kirwan
  • 10 dried apricots
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with an "s" blade, and pulse 10-12 times, until the apricots have chopped into uniform size. 

  2. Turn the food processor to high and blend until mixture resembles wet sand, about 1-2 minutes. 

  3. Pour the mixture into a bowl and using your hands, roll into balls about 2" wide. 

  4. Serve at room temperature. Store in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks. 

Recipe Notes

This recipe makes about 6 balls total. 

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