thinking about dinner with kids
plus two bonus recipes for paid subscribers (chicken fajitas + eggplant parm sandwiches)
I just got home from a week visiting with one of my best friends and her family, which includes two very wonderful children who, like all of us, require dinner on a nightly basis. Feeding ourselves + the ones who depend on us is relentless. I don’t have anything to say that changes that. I just think it’s worthwhile to acknowledge.
Before I came home, I helped my friend figure out her dinner plan for the week ahead for her kids. While I’ve written about my dislike of meal planning and have shared lots of ideas on what to make for dinner/how I approach it, I thought it’d be useful to dedicate another newsletter to dinner focusing specifically on figuring it out when there are young people involved. Because young people require a lot of time + labor, which makes for even less time + labor to figure out what’s for dinner.
I really love my friend’s approach to planning what to make for her family. Every night of the week has an umbrella theme: Monday is chicken, Tuesday is vegetarian, Wednesday is fish, Thursday is pasta, and Friday is for pizza.
The umbrellas offer structure and direction, but they’re not too prescriptive. Even as someone who steers away from meal planning, I can get behind the umbrella approach. It eliminates so much mental work and still leaves plenty of room for creativity. The umbrella themes give you a framework under which you can riff. Alicia Kennedy has written wonderfully about a similar approach.
I left my friend with a list of ideas for each of her categories and I wanted to share those ideas with all of you, plus a few more categories. Whether or not you use them, I think having a list to work off of makes things easier. It’s kind-of like the writing process: getting the first draft down is the hardest part. Working off of it is when you get to make something great.
So here’s a ‘first draft.’ I hope it helps you + yours as you figure out, once again and over and over and over, what to make for dinner.
Breaded + pan-fried chicken cutlets
serve whole for adults with a lemony arugula + parm salad piled on top, cut into strips for kids + serve with ketchup and whatever else your kids will eat!
serve with rice or noodles and broccoli or greens
Chicken fajitas (bonus recipe at the bottom for paid subscribers!!!)
Chicken + green bean stir-fry (or whatever vegetable!)
Roasted chicken (homemade or store bought) + mashed potatoes + salad
Braised chicken with pinto beans (the easiest recipe from Simply Julia is right here inc. tips on ways to serve it— no chopping!!)
chicken with BBQ sauce / corn on the cob / coleslaw
rub the chicken — boneless pieces, bone-in, whatever— with smoked paprika + garlic powder, air-fry or grill or roast, then slather with BBQ sauce (here’s my favorite)
see chicken recipe above but use crispy cubes of tofu instead of chicken — I make mine in the air fryer — more details on that here!
Breakfast for dinner! Eggs, pancakes, waffles, whatever….
Eggplant parm or eggplant parm sandwiches / pizzeria salad on the side
bonus eggplant parm sandwich recipe for paid subscribers at the bottom of this newsletter!!!
Frittata with cheese + vegetables / salad on the side
Black bean + sweet potato tacos
black bean + roasted sweet potato tacos…just dice a sweet potato, toss with olive oil, salt + garlic powder and then roast or air-fry until tender…mix with cooked black beans —> pile into tortillas, top with avocado, crema or sour cream + pickled onions and/or pickled jalapeños
Baked potatoes with broccoli + cheese + sour cream
Bean chili + cornbread
Bean soup (or any soup really!!! see here for soup charts!) + garlic bread
Hummus, warm pita, Greek salad
Tomato soup + grilled cheese sandwiches
Vegetable + tofu coconut curry
sauté a chopped onion, add a big spoonful of curry paste (here’s my favorite), a can of coconut milk (here’s my favorite) + then add diced potatoes, maybe some carrots, zucchini, frozen spinach ± whatever!— simmer until the veg are soft, then add cubes of firm tofu »» serve over rice / top with nothing or you can do some toasted peanuts and/or cilantro and/or fried onions / this also works beautifully with chicken, fish, or just vegetables!!!!
Broiled or grilled fish with lemon + butter / rice / a vegetable
use frozen fish sticks or cut any white fish into pieces, season with garlic powder, paprika, a little cumin + salt— cook in a skillet, sheet pan in oven, or air-fryer! Then make a simple cabbage slaw of shredded cabbage massaged with salt with lime + then mix in a spoonful of mayo / serve it all on charred corn tortillas
Fish chowder (see soup chart) + bread + salad
Roasted salmon with maple + soy from Small Victories:
whisk together 2 tablespoons EACH maple syrup, soy sauce, and olive oil (add a tablespoon minced fresh ginger if you have it, if not it’s fine!) — cut 1 - 1.5 pounds salmon (no skin) into cubes and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and coat with the maple mixture. Roast in a 425ºF oven until firm to the touch — about 15 minutes. Serve with rice or noodles, a vegetable…whatever!
Easiest shrimp: put 2 cups of tomato sauce in a small baking dish (I use a pie plate when I do this), place 3/4 pound frozen shrimp on top (no need to defrost), bake at 375ºF until the shrimp are cooked through — serve sprinkled with feta / serve with rice or orzo + greens or green beans
Hoisin pork — cut boneless pork chops into 1/2-inch cubes, toss with hoisin sauce + stir-fry or air-fry until just cooked through (serve with rice or noodles and broccoli or greens)
Roasted or grilled sausages (serve with roasted sweet potato wedges + salad)
Grilled steak tacos
Hot dogs, grilled corn, salad!
Easiest ever pasta bolognese in an Instant Pot
if you don’t have an IP, just brown a pound of ground meat or Italian sausage out of its casing, add a jar of Rao’s tomato sauce + a splash of cream or half-and-half or sour cream, mix with cooked pasta….yummm
Pasta with garlicky greens, lots of parmesan, a fried egg on top of each bowl
Pasta with pesto + white beans
Mac + cheese / side of roasted tomatoes
ONE POT MEALS + CASSEROLES
A one pot rice situation — jambalaya, whatever! See my formula here!
Pot pie (doing a fun vegetarian one in my class this weekend! see below!!)
Hotdish! (love Molly Yeh’s)
Class this Sunday is a hearty, beautiful meal that happens to be completely vegetarian. We’ll start with blood orange old fashioned cocktails made with freshly squeezed juice and then make a stunning vegetable pot pie filled with root vegetables + kale. For dessert, super old school chocolate mousse. We’re going to use a bunch of bowls, do a lot of whisking, but it will be WORTH IT!! As always, lots of tips, tricks + ideas along the way.
»»»»» ALL INFO + SIGNUP RIGHT HERE!!! «««««
Wishing you well for your dinner plans. Let me/us know in the comments if you have other go-to dinner ideas. Or just tell us what you had for dinner last night! Or what you’re having tonight! I live for these details. Comments are only open to paid subscribers. For all of you paid subscribers, keep scrolling down for your two bonus recipes — chicken fajitas + eggplant parm sandwiches. Bangers!
Thanks all, xo, Julia
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