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Reese Witherspoon Whips Up Tasty and Guilt-Free Chicken Tenders — Here’s How

She adds a special ingredient to her breadcrumb mixture that crisps up nicely once baked.

Whether you call them chicken tenders, strips, or fingers, these slivers of poultry are too delicious to resist. And it’s clear why: The seasoned chicken is covered in an outer shell of crunchy breading. Typically, chicken tenders are deep fried in oil, which gives them an addictive, crispy texture, but also adds unhealthy fat and calories. Good news: You don’t need to deep fry chicken fingers for crunchy results. Simply take a page out of Reese Witherspoon’s book — literally — and make a guilt-free (but equally delectable) baked version. Keep reading to learn how the actress creates a healthier rendition of this fast food staple. 

The Unhealthy Truth About Chicken Tenders 

Chicken tenders are often fattening due to their unhealthy oil content from deep frying. So, as a healthier way to achieve a crackling crust, Witherspoon coats the tenders in a breadcrumb mixture that includes crushed pecans. This type of nut has a crackly texture and is full of monounsaturated fat, which is associated with helping lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol that may increase chronic disease risk. This makes pecans the perfect ingredient to use when making these chicken tenders. As a nutritional bonus, Witherspoon bakes the tenders, which allows them to cook evenly and become crisp without using tons of oil. Plus, it prevents you from cleaning up grease splatters afterwards. Ultimately, you can whip up this nourishing twist on a nostalgic treat in 30 minutes or less!

How To Make Healthy Chicken Tenders

Making a healthy version of chicken tenders is easier than you think. Here’s how to make Witherspoon’s Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders recipe from her cookbook titled Whiskey in a Teacup (Buy from Amazon, $15.99):


  • 8 chicken tenderloins, boneless and skinless
  • ½  cup finely chopped pecans
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise 
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper (optional)


  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 15 to 20 mins 
  • Total time: 25 to 30 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings (2 tenders per person)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Season chicken with salt and pepper; set aside. In medium bowl, mix chopped pecans, panko, and Parmesan cheese. In another bowl, stir mayo and Dijon mustard until fully combined.
  4. Working one tender at time, dip each one in mayo mixture before coating in breadcrumb mix. Transfer tenders to baking sheet.
  5. Bake tenders about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy!

My Taste Test

If you ask me, these chicken tenders are in a league of their own. Unlike the fast food kind, these tenders had a pungent, salty flavor from the cheese and Dijon mustard; while the pecans provided a nutty taste. The meat itself was tender and juicy, which is often missing in fried chicken tenders, since they can easily overcook in hot oil. Most importantly, these tenders packed a mighty crunch thanks to the breading mixture. Overall, this recipe was simple to make and yielded mouthwatering results. Here are a few takeaways that I’ll remember when I prepare it again.

Next time, I’ll double the measurements for the breadcrumb mixture so there’s plenty to coat each tender with. I’ll also sprinkle other seasonings on the chicken, like smoked paprika and garlic powder, for an added punch. Additionally, I’ll try cooking these chicken tenders in the air fryer to see if it produces an even crispier exterior than the oven.

This chicken tenders recipe will become my go-to when I need a light lunch. While they’re perfect to enjoy on their own, placing these tenders in a salad or sandwich would make for a more complete meal. Enjoying this fast food favorite without any guilt is a guaranteed plus in my book!

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