As a child, Kid Cuisine was one of my favorite “special treat” meals. Just seeing that cool, skateboarding penguin makes my mouth water for corn niblets and chicken nuggies. But does it hold up?
I grew up in a home that prioritized good food above all else. We booked vacations around meals. We had nightly dinner at the dining room table. There was no “kid’s option,” which was fine because my parents are both excellent cooks and I was happy to scarf down jambalaya or frittata or shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon or whatever else they whipped up. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t psyched when they went out at night and left me to eat Kid Cuisine.
Essentially Hungry-Man Frozen Dinners for the under-12s, Kid Cuisine is a line of frozen meals. The packaging has evolved over the years, but it continues to feature a hip cartoon penguin named KC, a rainbow-hued logo, and corn—always corn. The company honestly might be owned by the corn lobby.
Before we get into the food, let’s talk about KC for a second. The Kid Cuisine website features a little Q&A with KC in which you find out that KC’s full name is actually…Kid Cuisine. He is the titular kid! You also learn that he likes to wear a lot of hats—literally—and that he loves “getting the last laugh,” which feels a bit ominous and makes me think that we should really be paying attention to whatever KC is planning right now (it probably involves gnarly extreme sports *guitar riff* and, of course, corn).
But let us leave KC and his plotting for now, and turn our attention to the food. Most of the options feature some sort of fried chicken product. I picked up a few selections and shared them with my husband (a man who was apparently eating Hungry-Man Dinners as a child instead of child-appropriate frozen foods) and our toddler (who is an actual kid and therefore the target audience for Kid Cuisine). Here’s how that went:
The description of this meal on the website demands that you “Celebrate America with KC’s All American Chicken Breast Nuggets!” The tray includes chicken nuggets (made with chicken breast and “rib meat”), mac and cheese, corn (shocker), and dessert the packaging refers to as chocolate chip cookies but are more like spherical Cookie Crisps. Let’s take it item by item:
Nuggets: Both spongy and dry, these nuggets were not the crispy bites pictured on the box. But they did have a delightful pepperiness that brought something to the party.
Mac and Cheese: It was Kraft-esque in its appearance and mouthfeel, but not as cheesy in flavor. Still, we enjoyed it.
Corn: Look, I loved the corn as a child and I still love it today. It’s much closer to canned corn than fresh. The kernels are huge. It’s a little bland. But it is straight up a comfort vegetable.
Cookies: These were not cookies. They were cookie balls. My toddler couldn’t get enough. I managed to sneak one away from him and they were pretty good. Crunchy, sweet, cookie-like. A satisfying end to a meal.
“It’s like all the joys of a carnival in a meal,” boasts the packaging. The reality is a small pile of nearly spherical corn dogs (that might sound like pigs in a blanket but the batter is a corn dog batter rather than biscuit dough), a handful of accordion-style fries, corn (the best part of any carnival), and a pitch black pool that purports to be a brownie.
Corn Dogs: I’m not a corn dog connoisseur so I’m not sure how soft corn dogs are supposed to be. If the answer is “very,” then these puppies did their job. Honestly, they tasted pretty good. The coating was sweet (it also included an ingredient simply called “predust,” which I love), the sausage was salty (and made from turkey, which somehow was reassuring), and they were overall pretty satisfying.
Fries: These were fine. There were probably eight of them. End of review.
Corn: Again, the kernels were huge. Again, they were reminiscent of corn. And, again, I loved them. I could snack on a pile of these microwaved kernels at my desk like they were Goldfish.
Brownie: It tasted like chocolate brushed onto a squishy sponge in the best store-bought cake kind of way. I was really into it. I finished it, if we’re talking truths.
The box features KC doing his best Ryan Seacrest impression with a hint of Guy Fieri. It’s a pretty good start. Popcorn chicken is hard to define beyond small bites of fried chicken, but KC tried; the box described the meal as, “chicken breast with rib meat patty fritters.” These are paired with corn (because no meal is complete without corn), accordion-style fries, and strawberry cake, which ruined the experience for me a bit. The aroma of faux strawberry and chicken that wafted from the microwave just didn’t set an appetizing scene. But I tried not to let that influence me too much.
Popcorn Chicken: These were smaller chicken nuggets, essentially mini, breaded cylinders of chicken. They weren’t crunchy but they had that tasty peppery flavor that keeps you coming back for more.
Fries: Soft, well-seasoned, and pleasantly potato-y. These were microwaved fries and that’s about all you can say about them.
Corn: Let’s give it up for the corn. It’s always there for you and your nutritional needs. It’s the constant throughout your Kid Cuisine journey.
Strawberry Cake: It wasn’t for me. I don’t want to yuck anyone else’s yum. So, I’ll just say that I liked that it was colored with beets. That was a nice touch.
So, does nostalgia triumph? Does it overcome years of a changing palate and growing aversion to microwaveable meals? Yes. I think it does. I genuinely enjoyed most of these meals. I’m not going to eat one for dinner regularly, but I’ll continue to think about the food fondly. And I will never stop defending that good, good corn, even if it is part of some penguin’s diabolical plan.