Trying to get dinner ready for the family can be especially challenging during the shorter daylight, winter months. Between work, school, homework and everyone’s extracurricular activities—finding time for anything but fast food is difficult. Family dinner time shouldn’t have to be a chore or add stress to the day. Try these easy, healthy and kid-friendly prep options to make dinner fun again.
Kids Can Cook!
Get your tiny tots involved in the prep work. Kids of all ages can help in the kitchen. You know best what your own kiddos can handle, but consider:
With supervision, little ones (ages 2 to 5) can:
- Measure ingredients
- Rinse herbs and vegetables
- Mix herbs and seasonings, or even wield the garlic press
- Set out napkins and silverware
Slightly older children (ages 5 to 10) can:
- Handle pre-cut raw meats
- Use scissors to cut up some fruits and veggies
- Combine and mix ingredients
- Set out dishes and glasses
Ages 10 and up can do any of the above, plus:
- Slice meats, veggies and eggs
- Prep entrees like pizza, “with some assembly required”
- Man the oven
- Load the dishwasher
Which leaves you to:
- Mince and chop
- Simmer and cook on the stove top
- Supervise the prep work
- Talk with your kids about whatever they want to discuss
Ham and Pineapple Pita Pizza
You can’t go wrong with pizza! This recipe from Real Simple adds a little bit of healthy eating without your kids even noticing. TIP: Choose to build any ingredients on your pizzas or sliced French bread for a great and quick pizza party!
- 4 pitas
- 8 oz. sliced deli ham
- 18 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
- 18 oz. can pineapple chunks, drained
Heat oven to 425° F. Place the pitas on a baking sheet. Layer with the ham, mozzarella, and pineapple. Bake until the pitas are crisp and the cheese has melted, 10 to 12 minutes.
Chili is great because you can make it in one pot and it lasts for more than one meal. Add veggies and black beans to kick up the health factor but still keep the smiles on your family’s faces. TIP: Stretch the life of your chili. Day 2: Turn it into taco salad. Day 3: Use it as a topping on baked potatoes.
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- ground beef or turkey
- 1-2 cans diced or whole tomatoes
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Seasoning (A great time to experiment with the kiddos. Use your favorites. A good chili mix is 1 tsp. of each: chili powder, cumin and garlic powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper)
- 2 bay leaves, if you have them
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-3 cans of your favorite beans
- Tomato paste, if needed
Sauté chopped onion in skillet, Dutch oven or large pot. Add ground beef and Worcestershire sauce to pan and cook. Add diced tomatoes (TIP: if using the whole peeled tomatoes, your little ones will get a kick out of smooshing the tomatoes in their hands to break them up for the pot). Nest, add seasoning, bay leaves and minced garlic. The beans go in now, then simmer for 15 minutes. At this time check the liquid consistency, adding tomato paste to thicken or water to thin the chili as desired. Simmer until ready to serve.
Salad in a Jar
Perfect for the whole family: The kids get complete control over what to put in their salad jars—with your list of options laid out in front of them—and layering these jars is like a group craft project. TIP: Take your kiddos to the grocery store or market to pick out some new foods to try in your salad jars for even more family fun-time!
The concept is easy enough, layer salad ingredients in a jar. You can pre-make these a couple days in advance and they’ll be great for quick dinners or lunch boxes. Just shake it up—maybe the best part for tiny tots—and dump the jar out on your plate to enjoy! Check out this entire blog post from Hello, Wonderful on the art of the mason jar salad.
Mini Lasagna Cups
It’s so easy, so quick; have it for dinner tonight! The wonton wrappers, which you can usually find in the produce department of your local grocery store by the Kimchi and eggroll wrappers, cuts way down on the calories of a full-on pasta lasagna. Cup sizing makes it FUN! TIP: You can make these with ground turkey or chicken, or go vegetarian if you’d like as well. Yum.
- A jar of marinara sauce (or make your own, if you prefer)
- 15 oz. tub of ricotta cheese (light ricotta will work for this recipe)
- 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- Grated Parmesan cheese, we like to grate this from a block, but the canister works too.
- Wonton wrappers, 1-16 oz. package will be more than plenty
- 16 oz. ground beef or sausage, cooked and drained
- Seasoning, whatever you’d like but we suggest basil, oregano and thyme
Spray a cupcake pan with cooking spray and place a wonton wrapper in each cup. Layer sauce, cheese and meat and then repeat. Sprinkle with seasoning and a bit more Parmesan cheese and back in a pre-heated 375-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before popping out with a knife. A serving size is usually 1 – 3 mini lasagnas. Great served with a side salad.
Breakfast Toast Cups
Breakfast for dinner! Who doesn’t love this switch up every once in a while. This recipe from B. Britnell also works great on a busy weekend morning. Mix it up and add some other ingredients if you’d like, just remember you may need to adjust the baking time. We love this one because the spinach is so sneaky but a great way to add some iron to your little one’s diet. TIP: Use a glass to cut out bread circles if you don’t have a round cookie or biscuit cutter. TIP: Frying bacon can take some time; we love doing it in larger quantities during our down time and using the cooked bacon in recipes throughout the week.
- 6 slices – bread of your choice
- 1 – handful of fresh spinach or baby spinach
- ¼ c. shredded cheese of your choice
- 6 – eggs
- 6 – slices of bacon, cooked and drained
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp. of butter, or butter cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 375-degrees. Lightly butter 6 cups of a cupcake pan. Thin bread with a rolling pin to half their thickness. Cut out a 4” or 5” circle from the corner of each piece of bread and save the scraps of your bread for later. Lightly butter the top-side of your bread circles and cut each in half. Fill each buttered cup with a scrap of bread to cover some of the bottom, 2 circle halves of bread—positioning to eliminate most of the holes, 3 spinach leaves, some cheese and a slice of bacon. Crack an egg over each cup. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the egg whites have set. Remove from oven and cupcake pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper to serve.
Photo Credit: Pinterest