Over the past week, I prepared these meals for my family of four plus—we had one or two extra neighbourhood kids over. These dinners are dietitian- (and mama-) approved and received rave reviews from the kiddos in our house.
Meal 1: Muffin Tray Dinner
Ingredients: bread sticks, cheese, grape tomatoes, popcorn, veggie chips, hummus, pepperoni sticks, grapes, trail mix (pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate chips, dried cranberries), baby carrots, whole grain crackers, cucumber slices
The beauty of this meal is that you can use any leftovers and snacks in the muffin tray. Bonus: no need for any plates or cutlery!
Tip: As a dietitian who specializes in working with picky eaters, I often encourage parents to use this strategy to offer a new or less liked food. You can include one or two items that your kids don’t normally eat along with some of their favourites. Offering a food this way feels safe because it is not directly touching other food and your kids can choose to take some or decide to leave it in the muffin tray. Either way, they still get exposure to new foods.
Meal 2: Picnic Sandwich Dinner
Ingredients: Sandwiches: whole wheat bread, spreads (pesto, hummus, babaghanouj), turkey breast, marble cheese slices, grated carrots, spiralized beets, spinach
Dessert: green smoothie popsicles, watermelon slices
For this meal, try and channel an outdoor picnic. Easy finger foods like sandwiches, fruit, and popsicles are something that kids love. Put everything out at once and let your kids decide what to eat first. It may be the popsicles and that is OK—icy cold treats are part of what makes summertime so delicious!
Tip: Letting your kids make their own sandwiches for dinner is a fun and easy way to get them involved in the kitchen. Sandwiches are simple to throw together when you are short on time and can be an opportunity to include some fun vegetables and spreads. It is also an easy meal to adapt for parents who may be limiting their carbohydrates—just toss the sandwich toppings on top of a bed of mixed greens, add a drizzle of dressing and you’ve got yourself a satisfying salad.
Other ingredients ideas: Sliced boiled eggs or canned tuna are quick and easy proteins. Leftovers from the weekend barbecue also work well (grilled chicken, steak, tofu etc.). The veggies don’t have to be fancy. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce are classic. Additional condiments like grainy mustard, aioli, and pickles make the sandwiches even more fun. Store bought popsicles work well too. In the summer, pretty much any kind of melon is flavourful and you can usually buy them pre-cut.
Meal 3: DIY Greek Salad Dinner
Ingredients: diced cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, feta cheese, olives, balsamic vinaigrette, whole wheat pitas, tzatziki, meatballs
A great way to offer kids more vegetables is with a make-your-own salad. Little ones will often reject mixed greens outright, but when they get to pick their own ingredients they tend to be more open to the idea.
Tip: Frozen cooked meatballs are a weekday dinnertime lifesaver. They can be tossed in some seasoning, reheated, and be ready to go in five minutes flat.
Other ingredient ideas: Proteins like grilled sausage or chicken or canned chickpeas are quick and an easy addition to boost the protein and fibre in this meal. Falafel (either refrigerated or frozen) is a great plant-based option.
Meal 4: Breakfast for Dinner
Ingredients: whole grain waffles and pancakes, mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, diced strawberries), natural peanut butter, maple syrup, Greek yogurt
Most people love breakfast for dinner (adults, too!). It’s a novelty and makes you feel like you are breaking the rules.
Tip: The next time you make waffles or pancakes, cook a double batch so you can freeze some.
Other ingredient ideas: Any natural nut butter can boost the nutritional content of this meal adding fibre, healthy fat, and protein. Heat store bought frozen waffles and pancakes in the microwave or toaster oven to get dinner on the table quickly. There are great whole grain waffle mixes available that take minimal time to mix up. If your kids are not waffle or pancake fans (it happens), swap in granola for make your own yogurt parfaits. If you want to be a bit more decadent, add eggs, sausage, or bacon. Worried about the lack of veggies? It is OK to sometimes have a dinner that doesn’t have the green stuff, but a smoothie or some green juice can help round out the meal.
Meal 5: Deconstructed Sushi Dinner
Ingredients: mixed wild and brown rice, cucumber, carrots, radishes, edamame, pickled ginger, black bean marinated tofu, smoked salmon, candied salmon, roasted seaweed, soy sauce, sesame-ginger dressing, sesame seed topping
This meal looks complex but is very simple. Many kids really like edamame and roasted seaweed. This meal give them a chance to be a bit more adventurous with food without committing to full sushi.
Tip: The rice takes the longest to cook. If you have a rice cooker or Instant Pot, set it and forget it. Otherwise, packaged minute rice can work. Whole grain rice freezes well so it’s something you can cook a big batch of in advance, portion out, freeze and then reheat it in the microwave for a quick meal. Buying pre-made dressing and marinated tofu that is ready to serve is another way to cut down prep time.
Other ingredient ideas: Pretty much any seafood goes well with this meal. Frozen cooked shrimp is a great match and takes minutes to thaw under running water. An egg omelet cut into strips is another easy protein option. White rice works well too and cooks more quickly than brown rice. Avocado and frozen corn are tasty and flavourful addition.
Meal 6: Build Your Own Fajita Dinner
One of the best things about this meal is that it can be made ahead and served cold.
Ingredients: flour tortillas, salsa, guacamole, grated cheese, grilled chicken, black beans, sliced bell peppers
Tip: Store bought salsa and guacamole cut down on time. Bagged coleslaw will also get dinner on the table quickly.
Other ingredient ideas: Hard tacos can be used in place of the soft tortillas. Turn this into a taco salad dish by increasing the amount of coleslaw and adding tortilla chips instead of the soft tortillas or hard tacos. Canned brown beans or refried beans are a delicious addition to this meal and provide adequate protein if your family doesn’t eat meat. If you don’t feel like cooking chicken, sliced roasted chicken deli meat works well or try ground beef cooked in taco seasoning.