There’s something that people without kids just don’t get: Dinnertime can be a battlefield. And, no, the metaphor is not excessive. Dueling motivations (deliciousness and familiarity for most kids; nutrition and variety for the parents) can complicate choosing a recipe for dinner, and when you think about the fact that dinner happens not once but seven times a week, well, it can the cause of meltdowns for family members of all ages. Enter these clever ideas for kid-friendly dinner ideas that the whole family will love. If it’s feeling tough, just remember: Your kids will probably grow out of whatever phase they’re in, and the days of buttered pasta on repeat might even seem like something worthy of nostalgia.
There’s a big debate about whether to hide veggies or not in meals for kids. If pushing peas and carrots across a plate ends up with more on the floor than in their bellies, it might be worth considering tucking a bunch of spinach into pasta sauce or folding some broccoli into fun tots. We’re not saying to lie to your kids, but there’s a fine line before coercion becomes fighting becomes a meltdown. Though we can’t promise empty plates, we think you’ll have a better chance with these ideas.
How to make it: Heat 2 tablespoons each extra-virgin olive oil and unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 roughly chopped 10-ounce bunch fresh spinach and 2 chopped cloves garlic. Cook, stirring often, until spinach is well wilted and garlic is soft and fragrant. Turn off heat and season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixture into a blender (or food processor). Add ½ cup whole milk ricotta, ¼ cup grated parmesan, and ¼ cup heavy cream. Blend until very smooth. Add 1 tablespoon heavy cream at a time to loosen the sauce, as desired. Season to taste with salt. Serve tossed with freshly cooked pasta. Refrigerate sauce in an airtight container for up to 3 days for up to 5 days.
How to make it: In the bowl of a food processor, combine 1 cup each cooked and cooled broccoli florets and cooked short-grain brown rice, ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, 2 large eggs, ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Process until uniform, adding up to ¼ cup more breadcrumbs until the mixture sticks together. Portion into 2-tablespoon sized nuggets and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375ºF until golden brown and firm, 24 to 28 minutes. Let cool slightly, then serve with buttered baked chicken breasts.
How to make it: In a large bowl, combine 1 pound ground beef, 2 large eggs, ½ cup plain breadcrumbs, ¼ cup grated parmesan, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, 1 grated or minced large clove garlic, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ¾ teaspoon onion powder, and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Use a fork to break everything up, then switch to your hands to blend the mixture. Form into gold ball-sized meatballs and arrange on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, evenly spaced. Spray the meatballs with cooking spray and bake in a 425ºF oven until lightly golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes.
How to make it: Stir together 2 tablespoons each miso paste and unsalted butter and spread on skinless filets white fish. Top with panko breadcrumbs and bake at 375º F until cooked through and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve with oven-roasted potato wedges and something green, if you like.
How to make it: Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 pound quartered button mushrooms and 2 tablespoons taco seasoning and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and tender. Set out in a bowl alongside heated canned refried beans, shredded iceberg lettuce, crumbled queso fresco or cotija, sliced avocado, and pico de gallo. Serve with warmed corn and flour tortillas.