Cooking for Kids :: 4 Easy Meal Ideas for Overwhelmed Days

My husband is our family cook. He can open the fridge, without a prior plan, and come up with an amazing, healthy, and delicious dinner each night. He has a knack for figuring out a dinner that consists of safe foods for each of the seven of us, as well as a new or interesting ingredient to try to spice up familiar dinners.

Now, there are occasions when dinner is left in my hands. I used to dread these nights and order takeout more often than not. But that led to guilt — both because I was not providing a “cooked with love” meal and because of the financial burden of eating out.

But I would truly loathe my dinner nights. I would get anxious as the night approached. I would overthink it and end up planning some “fun” dinner that was over cooked, under cooked, or just plain gross. So, I decided to find something in the middle. Something more “homemade” than ordering a pizza, but less involved than a seven-course meal. I came up with four easy meal ideas for these nights, leaving lots of flexibility for substitutions, depending on what is in the cupboards! Give one of these a try!

English muffin pizzas

OK, so it is still pizza — but with a twist. I loved this dinner when I was younger because I got to make my own. We put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and grab a bowl for sauce, a bowl for cheese, and a few spoons. English muffins get cut and placed on the cookie sheet, and the pizza party commences. We may add pepperoni or other toppings, depending on what we have at home. The kids write their name on the parchment paper next to their two pizzas, and in the oven it goes. One of my sons makes his sauce-less, while my daughter puts sauce all the way to the edges. I consider the experience of English muffin pizzas to be as beneficial to my children as any nutritional value!

“Pickings” plate

A charcuterie plate may sound way too fancy or upscale to make for young children, but a “pickings” plate? It is one of my favorite easy meal ideas, especially when it is simply too hot to cook. I use sectioned plates then grab whatever finger foods I have on hand. I make sure to set out one or two “fun” things, like goldfish or a cheese stick, as well as one food I am not sure they will eat, like cherry tomatoes. Sometimes I even put a piece of chocolate or a sweet on there to get them interested. There’s a little something for everyone, and almost no prep needed from me!

Breakfast for dinner

This isn’t a new idea, but it’s something we do rarely so it has a “wow” factor. Breakfast for dinner is wonderful because none of my children complain about breakfast foods! We have waffle irons that make waffles in the shapes of bunnies, flowers, and stars, or I make simple shaped pancakes. I make a HUGE batch and continue to cook right through dinner. Then all the leftovers get thrown into the freezer to be toasted for breakfast one morning. The whole meal is so easy to prepare and, best of all, everyone eats it happily.

Tupperware parties

A Tupperware party in my house might be a little different than the traditional version. On these nights, we take out all the Tupperware in the fridge — aka leftovers from the past few nights — and everyone gets a custom dinner. Want some meatballs, corn, and tomatoes? Go for it! Taco meat on a roll? Rock on! A fruit salad with the three strawberries, five raspberries, and one apple left in the fruit drawer? All yours! Sometimes the kids get really adventurous with their choices, so there’s always cereal as a backup for any ill-conceived pairings.

What I’ve found from creating these easy meal ideas is that they center more on the experience than the food. For me, it is fun and takes the anxiety out of food prep. I can be more present and engaged when I am in charge of the kitchen for a night, and that really makes the meal more pleasurable.

Michelle is a lifelong New Englander who lives in Stoneham and works in Charlestown. She is a preschool and toddler teacher at a small private preschool and holds a master's degree in early childhood education, which has come in useful at both work and home. She has a supportive stay-at-home-dad for a husband and is a mom of five children. She has three boys in middle and high school, plus two girls in elementary school. Michelle teaches infant and toddler classes for early ed teachers, runs workshops for parents through Boston Naps, and runs her own business, The Parenting Survival Expert, offering parenting tips and support. In her spare time, she can be found reading a murder mystery novel, sipping far too much coffee, and dreaming of a home in the mountains.