Feeding a family can be a challenge sometimes. Getting kids to try something new, pleasing the adults, making something fast because everyone is hungry now…it can all lead to meltdowns and headaches.
I call these five categories of kid-friendly meals my “sanity-savers.” They are my go-to options for weeknight meals because they are (relatively*) fast to prepare and everyone enjoys them. Below I explain the five categories’ strengths and also provide some recipes to get you started. I’ll be updating the recipe lists periodically, so be sure to check back for new ideas. I hope you find this a helpful tool for your family!
Kid-Friendly Meal Categories:
- Kid-Friendly Factor: Most kids I’ve met love pasta. It’s fun to slurp and it comes in lots of fun shapes. Since the base of the meal (pasta) is a familiar ingredient, kids are more likely to try new things that are added to it.
- Adult Appeal: This is a meal you can create when you think you have nothing on hand. Keep a box (or two) of pasta in your pantry and you almost have dinner ready. Use up those veggies that are lingering in the crisper drawer, or use frozen ones. Sauces can be created with olive oil, cheese, canned tomatoes, or any combination of those. This is probably the most frugal dinner option.
- Recipes: Broccoli Rabe & Sausage Rigatoni, Campanelle with Bacon/Onions/Tomatoes, Creamy Spinach Pasta, Fennel & Sausage Rigatoni, Gnocchi, Kale & Tortellini Minestrone, Pumpkin/Portobello/Pepita Pasta Sauce, Ratatouille Ziti, Squash & Sage Penne, Vegetable Lasagna
2. Tacos & Burritos
- Kid-Friendly Factor: This is great for picky eaters. I usually let my kids eat tacos “deconstructed” so that they don’t have to eat all the parts all together. They get to pick and choose the toppings that they like, so they don’t feel like they’re being forced to try something.
- Adult Appeal: You can cater to everyone’s tastes without feeling like a short-order cook. Those who like it spicy can add as much hot sauce as they want without frying the taste buds of everyone else. Family members can add or leave out any loved or hated ingredient.
- Recipes: Chorizo-Potato Tacos, Pork Tacos with Avocado-Mango Salsa, Shrimp Tacos, Mexican Skirt Steak Sliders (not technically a taco/burrito, but you could serve it that way), Pork & Pineapple Burritos
- Kid-Friendly Factor: Wackiness! It feels like a celebration, like a crazy backwards day. Another bonus is that most entrees are sweet, which is something that kids love.
- Adult Appeal: Remember before you had kids and you could savor a leisurely brunch? Bring back all your favorite recipes that you just don’t have time for in the morning anymore. Add in a Bloody Mary while you unwind from a long day, and you’re good to go.
- Recipes: Apple French Toast, Eggs Benedict, Pumpkin Pancakes, Swiss Chard Quiche, Asparagus & Scallion Frittata, Blueberry-Bran Muffins, Banana Bread, Australian Fruit & Nut Bread, Cranberry-Tangerine Scones, Dad’s Cheesy Scrambled Eggs
4. Stir-fry & Curry
- Kid-Friendly Factor: Sauce! Have you ever noticed how a kid will leave a pile of “naked” broccoli untouched on their plate, but if it has a yummy sauce on it, it disappears? Once you figure out what types of stir-fry or curry sauces your kids like, you can make all kinds of dishes (change up the proteins and veggies) but keep it familiar with that favorite sauce.
- Adult Appeal: Unless you live in a big city where picking up takeout is even easier than cooking, dragging the kids to a restaurant on a weeknight is not necessarily the most appealing idea. If you have a craving for some Indian or Thai food, why not learn to make it yourself? It’s cheaper and (in most cases) faster than ordering takeout.
- Recipes: Chicken & Broccoli Stir-fry, Mattar Paneer, Pad Thai, Thai Seafood Kebabs, Thai Chicken with Green Beans
- Kid-Friendly Factor: These have stood the test of time and therefore belong in the kid-friendly hall of fame.
- Adult Appeal: You were a kid once, right? Enjoy one of these favorites and get nostalgic.
- Recipes: Best Burgers Ever, Super Simple Roast Chicken, Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings, Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n’ Cheese
*Note: Some of the recipes that I have listed here might not quick enough for a weeknight meal, but they do fit the “kid-friendly” category. If you want a breakdown of recipes by cooking time, check out my Quick/Easy vs. Labors of Love page.