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Crispy Chicken Fingers
Ellie Krieger's Crispy Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Sauce recipe. Food Styling by Lisa Cherkasky. / Renee Comet/USA WEEKEND

A Labor Day gathering calls for food that is fun, casual and all-American, without requiring too much um, labor. Nothing fills the bill better than chicken fingers, a sure crowd-pleaser. Children love them, of course, but grown-ups also relish their festive, finger-food appeal.

Far from ordinary, these crispy chicken fingers are what most aspire to be — juicy inside, crunchy and flavorful outside and because they are baked, they are healthier and less messy to prepare than the fried kind. They owe their extra tenderness to a quick marinade in low-fat buttermilk, which has a gentle acidity that makes it an ideal tenderizer.

You can prepare the fingers a few hours in advance and refrigerate on baking trays until you are ready to bake and serve. I like to offer them with sweet-tangy honey-mustard sauce for a more upscale dipping option, as well as old-fashioned, all-American ketchup.

Crispy Chicken Fingers with Honey-Mustard Sauce

• 1¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut across into ½-inch-thick slices
• ½ cup low-fat buttermilk
• Cooking spray
• 4 cups whole-grain corn cereal such as Corn Chex or corn flakes
• ¼ tsp. salt
• Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
• Honey-mustard sauce (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the chicken and buttermilk in a shallow dish, turning the chicken once to coat with the buttermilk. Cover and chill for 15 minutes. Coat two baking sheets with cooking spray.

Put the cereal in a sealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Transfer the crumbs to a shallow dish and season them with the salt and pepper. Dip each piece of chicken in the cereal to fully coat and arrange on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Let chicken cool slightly on the baking sheets; it will become crispier. Serve with the mustard sauce.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving (10 chicken fingers): 262 calories, 23g carbohydrates, 35g protein, 2g fat (1g saturated), 0.5g fiber, 83mg cholesterol, 502mg sodium

Honey-Mustard Sauce

• 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
• 2 tsps. mayonnaise
• 2 Tbs. honey

In a small bowl, stir together the mustard and mayonnaise until smooth. Stir in the honey.

Yield: 5 servings

Per serving (2 Tbs.): 97 calories, 19g carbohydrates, 1g protein, 3g fat (0g saturated), 0g fiber, 0.5mg cholesterol, 413mg sodium

Contributing editor and registered dietitian Ellie Kriegeris best known as the host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite. Her most recent cookbook is Comfort Food Fix: Feel Good Favorites Made Healthy.

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Ellie Krieger is host of the The Food Network’s hit show “Healthy Appetite,” which airs on The Cooking Channel. The author of three cookbooks, her latest is Comfort Food Fix: Feel Good Favorites Made Healthy. A registered dietitian, Ellie has helped out with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and has teamed up with New York City SchoolFood initiative, where she created healthy, delicious menu items for students citywide.