Having kids is tricky. You have to feed them every day. Multiple times a day. Then, the more you feed them, the more they grow. The more they grow, the hungrier they get. The hungrier they get, the more opinions they start to have. And that, my friends, is where it gets complicated.
We have three of these hunger machines, aka kids, and it used to be that they’d eat whatever we put in front of them. But now dinnertime has become a minefield. Tomatoes are out of the question, don’t even think about it; a burrito bowl is not the same as an actual burrito, nice try; and casseroles are convenient but totally off the table because—obviously—all the ingredients are touching At The Same Time. You get the point.
Anyway, I’ve still got mouths to feed. So I’ve combed through Joy’s extensive catalog of recipes to find five dishes that are kid-approved and easy to prepare. Each of these meals were eaten by at least 2/3 of my kids and now have a place in our regular dinner rotation. EnJoy!
Family Friendly Meals
(20 min prep + No cook!)
I served this herby chicken salad on those little Hawaiian buns and the kids were over the moon. In fact, the only time my kids have scarfed down a dinner this happily is when they’re eating my mother’s meatloaf. I like that I can prep this in the morning then have it waiting for us when we get home. And it’s a magic unicorn of a dish because it has a protein, vegetable and fruit all in one. My oldest even paid the ultimate compliment, which is asking if he can have this in his lunchbox the next day.
Coarsely chop 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (poached and cooled OR just use supermarket rotisserie). Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together: 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, 3 tbsp half and half, and season with salt + pepper. Add the chicken, 2 stalks celery (thinly sliced), ½ cup sliced green onions, 1/3 cup chopped parsley, and 1 cup halved purple grapes. Toss. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
(10 min prep + 30 min cook)
I chose this recipe because it has olives and chickpeas, which our kids would eat by the fistful. And I love salmon, so it was a win-win. It’s also another dish you can prep in the morning then throw in the oven when you get home. My daughter tends to keep a low profile at dinner. She flies under the radar by systematically picking all the nutrients out of her meal until she’s left with just the carbs. But this time she made a point to pick up her head and tell me this is the best salmon I’ve ever made.
Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lay out one large piece of foil per portion of fish. In a large bowl, toss together: 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 1 can chickpeas (rinsed, drained), 1 can castelvetrano olives (rinsed, drained), and 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes with oil. Keep the oil in there! Sprinkle 5 salmon filet with oregano, salt + pepper then lay in the middle of the foil. Spoon the veggie mix onto the salmon evenly then fold up the sides of the foil, sealing like a present. Transfer parcels to a baking tray and cook for 30 min. Be careful of the steam and excess oil when you open the packets. Serve with white rice or crusty bread.
(20 min prep + 45 min cook)
As I mentioned above, we live in a house full of tomato haters. But even they couldn’t resist the siren song of this rich and comforting soup. I’m looking forward to making this dish all winter long. Next time, I plan to double the recipe so we can have it for lunch for the week. Or I’d even consider freezing it for future nights. This is also the perfect dish to put in one of those nice glass Tupperwares for a friend who’s going through some major life stuff. Leave it on her porch with a quality loaf of bread and some flowers. She’ll feel totally loved.
In a large heavy bottom saucepan or Dutch oven melt 4 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/3 cup diced carrots and 1 medium chopped onion and season with salt + pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent and the carrots are well on their way to softening, about 7 minutes. Add 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and stir until cooked off. Turn flame to low and add ¼ cup all-purpose flour. Stir into the onion and carrots. Add 3 tbsp tomato paste and cook for 1 minute to distribute the paste and cook off the flour taste. Add 3 cups chicken broth and 1 dried bay leaf. Add 2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, breaking up with a spoon. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Using an emulsion blender, puree soup until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Stir in ½ cup heavy cream. Season with salt + pepper to taste and serve with grilled cheese.
(30 min start to finish)
Okay, since we’re all family here, I’ll be honest and tell you none of my kids loved this meal. But, here’s the thing: the adults did. And sometimes that’s just how it’s gonna be. I hate when I find myself catering to these miniature food critics! And I’ve never fallen into the trap of becoming a short order cook because I’ve always been determined to serve what looks good to me, the cook. When they don’t like dinner, sure, there’s griping. But no one ever starves in our house. In this case, the recipe is a safe bet because most kids like pasta in all forms. And there were enough exotic ingredients, like pistachios, to pique their interest. I loved how fresh and bright this dish tastes. And it has an easy cleanup so Mother can watch her shows.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and 1 pound Cavatappi pasta. Wait until the pasta has just become al dente and add 1 lb asparagus (chopped into thirds). Cook until the pasta is cooked through and the asparagus is soft, but still slightly crisp. Drain and set aside. In the same pot that you cooked the pasta in, add 2 tbsp olive oil. Return the pasta and asparagus to the pan and toss. Drizzle in juice from 1 lemon. Sprinkle in 1 container mozzarella balls, 1 handful chopped parsley, 1 handful chopped basil, 1 handful shelled roasted pistachios and season accordingly. Serve on its own or with a big green salad.
(30 minutes start to finish)
I know I just went on a rant about not catering to kids and their sharknado of complaints but…sometimes kid food can be so comforting. And there’s nothing better than letting your inner child sit down to dinner with your actual child. I love gooey quesadillas, French bread pizza, and chicken nachos. Don’t you? Sloppy Joe’s have a flavor of nostalgia and this recipe is delicious. You’ll notice Joy has a whole set of instructions for baking your own buns, which look dazzling. But, in reality, I’ll never get around to that. So we were happy enough serving these with the store bought variety. Honestly, if your kids don’t go for this, trade ‘em in for new ones.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 diced yellow onion and 1 diced red pepper and cook until softened and slightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add 1 lb ground turkey and stir, breaking the turkey into bits as it cooks down and browns. Add 2 tbsp tomato paste, 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1½ tbsp chili powder, some salt + pepper. Stir to combine. Add 1 can tomato sauce, ½ cup barbecue sauce, and 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Stir until thoroughly combined and warmed through. Taste and season with more salt + pepper if necessary. Serve on buns with pickles and potato chips.