Before I became a mom, I didn’t think there was anything complicated about food. I would just throw whatever I had in the fridge on a pan and call it a day. It’s just my luck that my kids would be such picky eaters! Nowadays, I have notebooks full of dinner ideas for kids that are easy to make.
Parenthood is challenging enough without adding meal planning to the list. When my babies started eating solids, I allowed myself to get them into a routine of eating bread with cheese spread almost every day. I saw no reason to make them eat anything other than what they already liked.
I suppose that was my first mistake.
Hopefully, this list of recipes will help you get your kids to eat a more diverse range of foods. But don’t worry, I’ll also mention some universally liked foods that should appeal even to the pickiest of eaters. With that in mind, let’s get cooking!
Soups: Dinner Ideas for Kids Who Like to Chow Down!
To begin with, let’s talk about soups! Liquid chowder is the best food you could possibly serve to your kids. It’s yummy, filling, and filled with nutrients that will help your children fight off any cold!
1. Chicken Noodle Soup
If you’re looking for dinner ideas for kids who love soup, you can’t go wrong with a good chicken noodle brew. The initial prep time should only take about 20 minutes. Once you have everything sliced and diced, you’ll let it simmer for another 20 minutes. After you serve the soup, your kids will have to wait for it to cool before they get to enjoy it.
When you’re shopping for ingredients, keep in mind that you’ll need:
• Chicken meat, preferably thighs, but the breast will work just fine too
• Broth, which can be store-bought or homemade, by brewing chicken bones and herbs for several hours
• Thyme, bay leaves, or even rosemary, as well as other herbs you like
• Any kind of pasta
Keep in mind that seasoning needs to be added both at the beginning and at the end of the process. Some herbs are more effective when they get the chance to release their flavors in hot water while others are better when you add them immediately before eating the chowder.
One alternative to this time-honored recipe would be to use ramen noodles instead of traditional soup pasta. You’ll need chicken and chicken broth, as well as a mix of seasoning, herbs, and possibly even a cooked egg or two. You could add a tablespoon of sesame oil to three tablespoons of soy sauce, some garlic cloves and green onions, minced mushrooms, and ginger.
Lastly, sprinkle some salt and sesame seeds into the mix and add your eggs.
2. Tomato Bisque
If you’re looking for dinner ideas for kids who hate textured foods, you could always prepare a creamy tomato bisque. Start by covering the bottom of your soup pot with olive oil, chopped onions, and celery. Cover the veggies in a generous pinch of salt and put the pot on medium heat. Stir until the onions turn soft and slightly translucent, then add garlic into the mix.
For your liquid base, you can use either water, chicken broth, or even mushroom stock. After you add one of those, you can chuck a can of crushed tomatoes into the pot as well. Add black pepper, cayenne, and paprika. At this point, you could also add salt if you used water as your base.
The most important ingredient you’ll need to achieve that bisque consistency is rice. Once your liquid comes to a simmer, you can stir in about three tablespoons of rice and let it simmer on low for about forty minutes. When it’s all done, you should taste the bisque to determine if you’re happy with the flavor. You may need to toss in a few teaspoons of sugar, depending on how sweet your tomatoes were.
When the flavor is just right, get your immersion blender and stir the mixture until it becomes smooth. Add some cooking cream into the soup, whisk it in, and do a final taste test. If you want to get fancy with it, you could decorate the dish with a sprinkle of neutral cream and chopped basil.
If your kids don’t like eating this kind of broth, you could throw in grilled cheese sandwiches on the side. Just tell them to dip the sandwiches into the bisque!
Main Course: Dinner Ideas for Kids Who Love to Get to the Meat of the Matter
If you live with a bunch of hearty meat lovers, no amount of soup will be able to satisfy their hunger. So let’s talk about some more substantial main courses.
3. Baked Chicken Tenders
If you’re trying to think of dinner ideas for kids who love to munch on meat, baked chicken tenders are going to be one of your best options. Most kids love the crunchy crust — and you get to let the oven do most of the work.
Before you pop the tenders into a preheated oven (450 degrees Fahrenheit) though, you’ll have to coat them in sauce and breadcrumbs. Specifically, you’ll need to prepare a mixture of:
• Flour, salt, black pepper, and paprika in one bowl
• Eggs and barbecue sauce (or any other sauce your kids love) in another
• And breadcrumbs with paprika, black pepper, and garlic powder in the last bowl (you can use crushed cornflakes with chopped parsley and salt as an alternative)
Roll your tenders in each bowl and set them onto a foil-lined tray, preferably one topped with an olive oil-coated metal drying rack. After the tenders have been in the oven for ten minutes, take them out and flip them, coating both sides with spray-on olive oil.
While you wait another ten minutes, prepare a dipping sauce. If you stop to get the sauce after you serve the chicken, you’ll come back to see empty plates — trust me!
4. Skillet Chicken Pot Pie
If you’re looking for dinner ideas for kids, you probably had something simple in mind — and you may even assume that chicken pot pie isn’t it. But trust me, this dish is hilariously easy to make. Start by putting a relatively deep, oven-safe skillet on medium heat. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil, a pound of diced chicken, a teaspoon of salt, and some pepper.
Stir until the chicken releases most of its juice and take the meat out. Now, add half an onion, two cloves of garlic (though you can always put more in), and two cups of diced potatoes. As a rule, you don’t want to let the garlic brown, so keep stirring the mixture as the onions and potatoes soften. When they do, add two cups of peas and carrots — you’ll probably have to use a frozen mix.
Combine everything and wait for the peas and carrots to thaw before you toss in four tablespoons of butter and flour each. Add two cups of chicken broth and some salt and pepper. Wait for some of the liquid to evaporate and combine with the rest of the mixture before putting the meat back in.
After stirring everything together, get a piece of pie dough and pinch it over the rims of the skillet. Cut a few holes in the center of the dough for the steam to escape through and brush egg yolk over the whole thing. Lastly, put the skillet into an oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about half an hour. When you take it out, the crust should be crunchy, golden, and ready to eat!
5. Shepherd’s Pie
While I’m on the subject of meaty pies, let’s talk about another fan-favorite — shepherd’s pie! First, you’ll need to peel 3.5 pounds of potatoes and cut them down into quarters. While you boil them in salted water, dice about seven ounces of carrots, one large onion, and some rosemary.
When the potatoes are soft, take them out and mash them with some butter, milk, cheddar cheese, and egg yolk. Add salt and pepper in and mash until the potatoes are smooth.
Now, it’s time to fry your filling in a well-oiled pan. First, sauté the onions, then add three cloves of crushed garlic and all the carrots you chopped earlier. When all the veggies are soft, add two pounds of ground lamb and mix it all up for about five minutes. Add all your seasoning — salt, rosemary, and thyme — as well as a few scoops of tomato paste.
When everything is combined, add four tablespoons of flour into the pan and stir it up before adding two cups of beef broth in as well. Once it starts simmering, add seven ounces of frozen peas in and stir until the mixture thickens. Pour the meaty mix into a baking dish and top it off with the mashed potatoes from earlier. Smooth out the potatoes, then score them with a fork before putting the dish into a preheated oven for about twenty minutes.
6. Sloppy Joes
For the longest time, I was afraid to let my kids eat sloppy joes, even though I knew they’d love it. I’ll admit, I balked at the thought of the aftermath. But as my kids grow older I find that sloppy joes are the perfect test of their fine motor skills. And as expected, they do love the dish — if it can be called that — and I love to indulge them.
Of course, the secret to getting the most kid-friendly sloppy joe is to prepare a mixture that’s not too flowy. You want it to be at least somewhat spill-resistant but not too dry. It should take you about an hour to prepare and cook the ingredients.
First, you need to mix a pound and a half of ground beef with a diced onion in a skillet on medium heat. Once the beef is brown, put in two cloves of garlic and a diced bell pepper. Add a cup of water into the mix several minutes later, and follow it up with less than a whole cup of ketchup, a bit of Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and brown sugar.
After you stir everything in, add another cup of water and bring it to a simmer. Cook the mixture for another forty minutes, stirring and seasoning it as needed. Most of the liquid will evaporate, leaving you with a juicy sloppy joe mix you can stuff into a lightly toasted bun.
Nothing is easier than throwing some burgers on the grill (or the pan) and serving your kids old-fashioned cheeseburgers for dinner. Ground beef chuck can be shaped, seasoned, and fried within minutes. You could get your burger buns from the store or make them yourself, though that would obviously mean a longer prep time.
Once you have your burger and your bun, all you need to do is assemble all the ingredients. You could even make it a fun little group project by having your kids choose their fixin’s! Set out all the lettuce, tomatoes, American cheese slices, and dressings you have and let them at it. It may not be the healthiest meal you could make for your children, but it’s a classic for a reason.
I can’t talk about dinner ideas for kids without mentioning hotdogs. They’re even easier to make than hamburgers, so it’s good to have them in your arsenal. Besides, kids love these kinds of handheld foods!
There are three ways to make the hotdog sausages (without turning the oven on) — you can grill, fry, or boil them. That step should take ten minutes at most. Once it’s done, prepare your buns by cutting them open or drilling a hole down the length with a specialized tool.
Layer some sauces in there, whether it’s barbeque sauce or just plain old ketchup and mustard, and you’ll be good to go! Alternatively, if you want to spice it up, you can try any of the hacks in this video.
Macaroni Mania: Dinner Ideas for Kids and Pasta Fanatics
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all kids love mac and cheese. So let’s talk about some pasta-centric dinner ideas for kids.
9. Mac and Cheese
Whenever my kids are being particularly choosy, I tend to fall back on a meal I know they’ll love — mac and cheese! When I’m feeling lazy, I usually go for the simplest version of the recipe. Boil the pasta as per the box instructions, using milk instead of water. Add some salt and black pepper, maybe a dash of paprika, as shown in this video.
When the pasta is done, dunk as much cheddar cheese as you’ve got into the mix — or as much as you’re willing to sacrifice. As you keep stirring the pot, most of the milk will evaporate and the remaining liquid should turn into a cheesy cream. You can throw in some herbs for garnish or serve the mac and cheese straight out of the pan.
If you have some time before the kids come running into the kitchen, you could pop the whole thing into the oven with an added layer of cheese on top.
Alternatively, if you want to sneak some veggies into your kids’ diet, cauliflower is the perfect addition to the melted cheese. It makes the dish taste even creamier! But if you’re not concerned about your kids spotting the veggies, you could also toss in some broccoli or spinach in there.
10. Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti with meatballs in tomato sauce is another classic and kid-approved option you could use whenever you want to be done with the kitchen in twenty minutes flat. Place your pound of ground beef into a bowl along with a third of a cup of bread crumbs, a quarter-cup of chopped parsley, and grated parmesan.
Add some garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and an egg, and fold everything together until you get a fairly even mixture. Then, form your meatballs and fry them in olive oil.
When the meatballs are brown on all sides, take them out of the pot. Replace them with half a cup of chopped onions and a can of tomato sauce, as well as a bay leaf for flavor. When you unify the sauce, put the meatballs back in and let them simmer for another eight minutes.
You’ll boil your spaghetti in water for however long the box instructions say you should. Usually, that’ll only be about eight minutes. When they’re cooked, you can either add them to the sauce or serve them separately. Leaving them separately will allow you to recycle the meatballs in sub sandwiches if the pasta is eaten first.
When in doubt, I go for stuffed store-bought tortellini in a cream sauce. Following the instructions on the product packaging, I boil the meat or cheese tortellini for about eight minutes in salted water.
After draining the water, I add neutral cooking cream, a bit of parmesan (or a lot), more salt, pepper, and garlic flakes. Then, you just have to bring the mixture to a simmer, and you’re done — the dish is ready to be served.
A Taste for the Exotic: Dinner Ideas for Kids Who Like Flavorful and Spicy Food
Obviously, there’s a reason most kids love all the foods I’ve listed above. They’re household staples. Still, if you’re tired of cooking the same things over and over again, here are some tasty dinner ideas for kids who are a bit more adventurous.
12. Baked Chicken Quesadillas
In my experience, tweens and teens just love quesadillas. They’re exciting enough to hold their attention while still being nutritious.
But before I get to the quesadilla part of this recipe, let’s talk about the stuffing. First, you’ll need to season your diced chicken. Get as much as you think you’ll need and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Then, add cumin, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, pepper, and olive oil, and mix it all in with the meat.
Next, you’ll need red and green bell peppers. Mince them into small cubes to get them ready for the pan. As always, you’ll start the pan on medium heat to sauté your onion and garlic. When they’re soft but not brown, throw in your minced bell peppers. When all the veggies are ready, set them aside into another bowl and put your seasoned chicken in the same pan.
After the chicken’s done, let it cool before combining it with the veggies. Then, fill and fold the tortillas in half. In addition to the filling you made, you can also throw in some cheddar cheese. Now, just pop them into the oven for a few minutes and you’ll be good to go.
13. Beef Empanadas
The making of beef empanada filling starts pretty much the same as many other meals I’ve described. You’ll toss chopped onions into a well-oiled pan, adding several minced cloves of garlic when the onions soften. Keep stirring as you add a pound of ground beef (obviously, you’ll adapt the measurements according to your preference).
When your stirring separates the beef, add half a cup of tomato sauce and an equal amount of water. Put a lid on the pan and keep it on medium or low heat for about ten minutes, occasionally stirring the contents. Throw in a diced potato or two along with a diced carrot, salt, and pepper. Cover the pot back up and let everything simmer for another five minutes before tossing in some frozen peas.
If there’s any more water in the pot after the peas thaw and soften, drain the mixture and let it cool. Now, get your empanada dough out — again, store-bought is fine if you don’t want to make a mess. Put a scoop of the meat filling into every piece of dough, then fold it in half and press the edges down with your fingers. You can also twist them to give them a more secure hold.
From here on out, it’s only a matter of frying or baking the little half-circle stuffed pasta. If you opt for the second option, remember to brush some egg yolk over each empanada before putting them in the oven for about half an hour at just under 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
14. Chinese Chicken Fried Rice
If you’re looking for filling, nutritious, and cheap dinner ideas for kids, you can’t go wrong with chicken fried rice. Better still, these Chinese rice dishes are usually ready fairly quickly, as long as you take the time to prepare all the ingredients first.
To begin with, you’ll want to dice your chicken — it’ll shrink in the heat, so don’t make the pieces too small. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil, corn starch, and soy sauce, as well as a pinch of baking powder, to tenderize it. Mix everything up and let it sit for half an hour.
Add a generous amount of oil into your frying pan and toss your chicken right in. Two minutes later, push the meat to the side and put in your garlic, peas, chopped carrots, and onions. But really, any veggies will do the trick. After stir-frying the vegetables for several minutes, combine them with the meat, and add as much salt as you’d like.
Now, it’s time for the rice. Take the meat and veggies out of the pan, add more vegetable oil in, and get your pre-boiled rice. Stir-fry it in with a few hits of any soy sauces you’ve got. After all the rice is brown, add your meat and vegetables, then season everything with salt and pepper.
Before you transfer everything to plates, add minced spring onion in and mix it well. The result isn’t as picturesque as some other meals on this list, but I guarantee your kids will love it!
The next time you find yourself wondering what to cook, refer back to this list of dinner ideas for kids. But remember: don’t blindly follow these recipes. Learn from each dish you prepare to make future ones even tastier! Soon enough, your kids will love your food so much, they’ll eat anything you set before them.