Despite the dinnertime challenge I haven't given up on our family meal. I try mightily to win these young taste buds over, but the fact remains there are few meals that create an air of excitement for all.
But there are those few that earn a four thumbs-up rating (as in they all eat them willingly and speak positively about what's on their plate). I am grateful to fall back on those few meals as often as I can, and I'm happy to share these recipes knowing full-well they may or may not bring you the same relief at the dinner table.
Chicken Pasta Salad (Deconstructed)
This recipe is derived from a deli recipe sold at a popular Twin Cities grocery store. I have perverted the recipe so badly, I don't think it's wise to give credit to the original. What's more, I have borrowed from a tactic used by Jenny Rosenstrach, author of the book and blog, Dinner: A Love Story (anyone suffering through the dinnertime challenge will appreciate her book), which is the "deconstructed" method of serving dinner to kids with picky palates. In this way, grown ups can have their meal all mixed up, and the kids can choose those ingredients they find less offensive and then have the satisfaction of keeping all food items on their plate from touching, or worse mixing together. But here's the real reason why I recently needed to deconstruct this meal: Because what children like one week doesn't mean they will like it the next. A few years ago I could always count on my kids to eat this pasta salad as is, all mixed up, but recently one child has denounced the celery, another the cherries, and yet another the nuts. Instead of dropping the meal entirely I salvaged it but letting them add what they DO want in their pasta salad.
One box of medium shell noodles (can use gluten-free if you can get away with it), cooked according to directions.
1 1/2-2 cups cooked shredded chicken
Dressing: 1 to 1 1/2 cup mixture of equal parts mayo and poppyseed dressing
Salt and pepper to taste.
2 stalks celery sliced
1 apple peeled, sliced and diced
1-1 1/2 cups dried cherries, cranberries, raisins or whatever dried fruit your kids like
1-1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds nuts or whatever nuts your kids like
The newest addition to my dinner-time dilemma is something I call breakfast pizza. Breakfast for dinner is always a hit. Kids know pizza is a safe meal for them. Why not combine? I got the idea when I saw ideas for dough-free crusts. One included a crust made from thinly sliced potatoes. I tried this with left-over roasted potatoes and think it will work just as well with a bag of frozen hashbrowns.
One bag of frozen hashbrowns, cooked according to directions (or leftover cooked, sliced potatoes)
Cooked sausage (I typically buy the pre-cooked frozen sausage that's easy to microwave)
Spread the cooked potatoes on top of a sheet of greased parchment paper. Make the crust thin like a pizza crust but thick enough that it will stay together. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp. Add cheese over top and continue baking until cheese melts. Meanwhile cook, crumble or slice the sausage and cook the eggs to your children's liking (my kids like them over easy and runny, go figure). Add the sausage and eggs, then cut into slices and serve.
Jalapeno Cheeseburger Quesadillas
This is the meal I might be remembered for at the end of life. This is thee meal my kids will come home from college asking for; the meal that gets a "Yeah!" when I tell them what's for dinner. Created out of a necessity to use ground beef before it turned green, my very own, West Texas influenced, jalapeno cheeseburger quesadillas (just drop the jalapeno if that scares you or the kiddos).
Cooked ground beef (I often use left over ground beef that didn't make it in the meat loaf, spaghetti, etc.)
Sliced red onion (three out of six in my family skip the onions)
We use a panini machine to cook the quesadillas. I cook the onions for those who want them.
This is a traditional cheeseburger option with lettuce, pickles and ketchup.
Here is the I-Miss-Sonic's-Jalapeno-Cheeseburger version, with lettuce, jalapeno, and mustard.
Normally I make them all then keep them warm in the oven until we're ready to eat. Normally I don't serve a side with this, but on this particular night I cooked half a bag of frozen corn until charred, then sauteed it with diced zuchini, a little garlic and salt and pepper. Not a fan favorite with the kids, but a easy southwestern side for those who need and/or want a serving of vegetables.