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Planning a family dinner can be a daunting task. You want to make something that is healthy and everyone will enjoy, but you also don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. Never fear, we have 10 delicious and family-friendly meal ideas for you! These ideas are all simple to make and are fun for even the pickiest eaters. So gather your ingredients and get cooking!
As a pediatric dietitian, and busy mom myself, I need fast and easy options and I know my clients value that as well. I love family style meals because it allows the family members to customize their plate based on preference, but the base work of preparation is streamlined. Children value autonomy and independence – it can help them feel more confident at meals because they will know what foods are on their plate. Another bonus about family style meals is the children benefit from seeing and smelling those non-preferred foods on the table without the pressure to try them.
Family style meals, or assemble your own bars are a great format to use and lots of menus can be adjusted to work this way. In this blog post I’ll share a round up of 10 of my favorites! I hope you’ll find these family-friendly meals a great source of inspiration, and be sure to tweak for your own family!
For the Baked Potato Bar, you can pre-bake several potatoes (I do mine in the instant pot) and put out various toppings such as bacon bits, green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese and leftover chili, broccoli, whatever your family really loves. Lay all the ingredients out, help your child pick their potato and let them build. Note, if you’re working with a picky eater don’t insist they fill the potato with their preferred toppings, let them keep it separately on the plate. Remember we are playing a long game here, practice is the goal.
Salads are easy to customize for everyone’s tastes by putting out a variety of dressings. I also love to lay the ingredients out on a giant platter or cutting board so your family can see all of the options clearly. For many of the families I work with in my practice, the parents are feeling bored with repeating the same foods, or like their own health is sacrificed when they prioritize foods that food safe for children. When we make a salad board you can include the foods your child loves right alongside your favorites. You build a salad that feels good and tastes good, they build a salad that only makes sense to them.
Chili night is always a hit with my family. I love to make a big pot of chili, and then assemble the toppings bar so everyone can customize their own bowl. Toppings like sour cream, shredded cheese, green onions, chopped tomatoes and pickled jalapeños are great options that allow everyone to add as much or as little as they’d like. When I take the time to make a big meal like chili, I make a larger batch and freeze it so I have more options in future weeks. I’m currently loving my Souper Cubes for chilling and freezing our leftovers.
This is a great way to use up leftovers from earlier in the week, or just start from scratch! Arrange tortilla chips on a platter and have small bowls with pre-mixed ingredients ready for assembly. Add any additional toppings you prefer – chopped tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, refried or black beans, corn kernels, avocado, salsa, leftover fajita veggies, the options are up to you! For kiddos that love chips, and or food preparation, let each kiddo build their nachos on an individual cookie sheet and once they’re topped with cheese you can pop the cookie sheet into the oven and let your kiddo watch the cheese melt.
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a grilled cheese sandwich? Put out an array of ingredients and let everyone build to their own preferences. Start with the basics: cheese, sliced bread, butter and then add anything else you’d like – deli meats, tomatoes, avocado slices, sautéed peppers or onions. Let your family butter their bread then build the sandwich. Set up the platter and panini press (I love this one) on the counter, so once your family has assembled you can melt the cheese. Leave out a fruit and veggie platter, and maybe some chips in the middle of the table and once the sandwiches are melty goodness you all get to build a tasty meal.
Charcuterie (cheese, cold cuts, crackers, fruit, olives, pickles etc.) boards can be a great way for everyone to choose their favorite foods and make a meal. You can even set out some veggies and dip or crackers to add variety to the board. You can build this with your favorite standard charcuterie ingredients, or you can have a different theme each time!
Who doesn’t love a good taco night?! Start with a spread of tortillas (flour, corn and crunchy shells) along with traditional taco toppings: shredded lettuce, tomatoes, grated cheese and your favorite salsa. Then mix it up and add some other options like refried beans, black beans, salsa verde, diced bell peppers or jalapeños for a little kick. Like with the chili above, I make a larger batch of taco meat and freeze my leftovers to use for the next taco Tuesday or in quesadillas or even on a salad.
Is breakfast for dinner a usual occurrence at your house? I could probably do it two to three times per month and still not get bored. If you include a combination of sweet and savory so all your different palates are covered. You never know what great combination your kids will come up with. Remember, we want to include fat, fiber and protein at meals so for this breakfast board you could include berries with their pancakes, eggs and bacon. Scrambled eggs with toast and leftover veggies could be another fun option.
With stir fry bowls you can easily swap proteins – Korean beef, crispy tofu, orange chicken, kung pao shrimp, the options are endless. Next cook up some fun veggies, be sure to leave a couple veggies raw for the kiddos that prefer crispy veggies to mushy ones. Make a big batch of rice in the instant pot and let your family assemble their bowl. I like to have a few different sauce options to further customize.
If you’ve been here before you know this is a staple in our house, and it was one built just for Charlie. We were feeling bored with our food routine and I made this random mash up which much to our surprise, Charlie absolutely adored. It was renamed as the Charlie Special and quickly filled our monthly meal plan. We build ours with roasted sweet potatoes, grilled chicken or leftover taco meat, rice or quinoa, black beans, corn and tomatillo salsa. Depending on my appetite I will sometimes add avocado and tomatoes. You can get the full details here.
While these are go-to options in my house, Meg of ain’t too proud to meg is an endless source of inspiration including her amazing card deck. If you’d like to get more of a handle on family-friendly meals without spending part-time hours preparing them then check out my book, Busy Mom Meal Prep.