I don’t know about you, but predicting my children’s culinary tastes from day to day is a nearly impossible task that often ends in tears. (Mine or theirs.) Those granola bars they loved last week that I bought in bulk? They hate them now. The same goes for the Bolognese I made several batches of and then froze for quick weeknight dinners I thought they’d happily gobble up. Joke’s on me. “It’s repulsive,” said my 9-year old, as she scraped the sauce from the noodles and ate — you guessed it — just the noodles.
This list of dishes includes some that my daughters have eaten and loved, others that I plan to make. So in sharing it to you, I do so with a hopeful heart but no guarantees that your kids will truly love them. (Or maybe they will — at least today, if not tomorrow.) They are easy, adaptable, delicious recipes with just-exciting-enough flavors. Many of them also have an interesting history or inspiration, so there’s something fun to learn here, too. If you have the time, cook these recipes with your kids, because they’re more likely to at least taste a dish if they help prepare it — even if they don’t actually eat it — and that’s a step in the right direction.
It’s a marvel of a dish, this mac and cheese from Ali Slagle, and it comes together in about 25 minutes and all in one happy pot. Everyone gets along: the noodles and broccoli cook together in the milk, the starch thickens the milk and the pasta absorbs the seasonings.
That smart fellow Eric Kim looked to California Pizza Kitchen’s now-discontinued Greek pizza for inspiration when he created this lovely mash-up of two perennial kid favorites: quesadillas and pizza. Sprinkle tortillas with a little mozzarella and oregano, broil until crisp, then top with a cold and crunchy Greekish salad, as Eric does here, or honestly, with whatever you like. Eric calls for drizzling the finished dish with a little honey, a popular pizza dipping sauce in South Korea, to really bring everything together.
This clever recipe from Hetty McKinnon was inspired by Cantonese chow mein, in which crunchy and soft noodles come together in a single hard-to-stop-eating meal. Soak instant ramen noodles in a little hot water until soft, toss on a sheet pan with hoisin-marinated tofu and bok choy (or broccoli), then bake until the noodle edges are crisp.
Potato chips in an omelet?! Absolutely. Alexa Weibel adapted this three-ingredient recipe from “The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adrià” (Phaidon, 2011). Mr. Adrià was the chef at El Bulli, the now-closed Michelin-starred restaurant, but this dish, reminiscent of a Spanish tortilla, could not be any simpler or more fun to make. Whip the eggs into a frenzy, fold in the chips, then sizzle in a little olive oil, flip and cook until set. (It scales easily, so reduce the eggs and chips as you wish.) Serve with something crunchy and green, like this cucumber salad from Martha Rose Shulman.
Recipe: Potato Chip Omelet
The inspiration for Kay Chun’s 15-minute delight is jiao yan xia, a classic Chinese dish of fried shrimp finished with a Sichuan or white pepper salt seasoning. Here, she calls for a simple milk-then-cornstarch breading, frying the shrimp until they’re super crunchy, seasoning with plenty of salt and pepper, then tucking them into mayo-slathered hot dog buns.
Recipe: Salt and Pepper Shrimp Rolls
Jocelyn Ramirez pan-sears mushrooms with a little cumin until they are crisp and golden like chicharrón, or fried pork belly, in this quick 30-minute vegetarian dish. (Consider doubling the mushrooms because they shrink quite a bit.) The recipe calls for oyster mushrooms, but cremini (button) or portobello work just as well. Serve with homemade or store-bought pico de gallo.
Recipe: Mushroom Chicharrón Tacos
My friend Lucy’s kids love this comforting, brothy soup from Ali Slagle, which is inspired by tom kha gai, a Thai chicken-coconut soup. It takes less than 30 minutes to throw together — enlist the help of little hands to form the meatballs. Serve it over rice or farro for a full meal.
Tender chicken breasts coated in a cheesy-crunchy combination of Ritz crackers and Cheddar? Sign us up. A quick dip into a mixture of sour cream, egg white and Dijon before breading helps keep the chicken moist while baking. It seems right to serve this dish from Eric Kim alongside a pile of Tater Tots, but a crisp green salad would be nice, too.
Recipe: Ritzy Cheddar Chicken Breasts
“You’ll want to drink the sauce,” is what everyone says about this wildly flavorful vegetarian dish from Yewande Komolafe, and they’re right. The mouthwatering combination of lime juice, peanut butter, miso, ginger, fish sauce, chile and honey would liven up just about any protein, but tofu soaks up the flavors and browns upon roasting. The coconut-lime rice makes a nice base for the tofu, but it would also be great tucked into soft rolls with a handful of peppery greens.
I’ve made this comforting, quick soup from Alexa Weibel so many times I’ve lost count. It works with fresh or dried herbs, onions instead of shallots and chopped boneless chicken thighs in place of the ground chicken. I usually serve it with four of Erin Jeanne McDowell’s small-batch biscuits, but a sleeve of Saltines would be great, too.
Recipe: Easiest Chicken Noodle Soup
Khachapuri is the signature stuffed cheese bread of Georgia. It’s made by wrapping cheese in dough, then baking until the cheese is gooey and hot. The Adjara region’s version, which is boat-shaped, open-faced and served with an egg and a slice of butter to stir in at the table, is the most popular. For a shortcut, Daniela Galarza’s recipe (adapted from Carla Capalbo) uses store-bought pizza dough. Serve with a salad or a pile of tangy, sautéed greens.
Ali Slagle, the queen of low-effort, maximum reward cooking, comes to us with a from-scratch tomato sauce that is mostly hands-off and that has all of the flavor of one simmered for several hours on the stove. Here, canned tomatoes, garlic and olive oil are cooked at 325 degrees for a couple of hours on a sheet pan, then broken up and tossed with pasta. For something green, add broccoli florets to the pasta in the last few minutes of cooking time.
Kefta is a ground beef or lamb mixture seasoned with herbs and spices that is popular across the Middle East. In this Moroccan version from Nargisse Benkabbou, she calls for shaping kefta on skewers into kebabs before grilling them, but you can also make them into patties and pan-fry them, or into meatballs and bake them. The spiced mixture can also be tucked into dumplings or meat pies.
Recipe: Moroccan Kefta
This crispy baked fish is like homemade fish sticks for people who don’t have time to make homemade fish sticks. Ali Slagle borrows a clever trick from the recipe developer Molly Krueger: Spreading tartar sauce on the fish adds flavor, keeps the fish moist during cooking and helps the bread crumbs stick. I’d serve this dish with baked store-bought crinkle-cut French fries and steamed and buttered green beans.
It’s not sushi, it’s kimbap, or “seaweed rice,” a popular Korean meal that has entire restaurants dedicated to serving variations of it. Traditionally, kimbap are filled with meat, eggs and vegetables, as Darun Kwak’s recipe calls for here. But you can really roll up anything you like in there, including cucumber, avocado, canned tuna, imitation crab, smoked salmon or kimchi.
Ali Slagle calls these dreamy grilled cheese sandwiches “mozzarella sticks in sandwich form,” and that’s a very good thing. The dish is known as mozzarella in carrozza (the Italian word for carriage) because the strands of gooey melted mozzarella resemble a horse’s reins. To make, just tuck slices of low-moisture mozzarella between two slices of bread, dip in egg, then coat in bread crumbs and fry. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.
Recipe: Mozzarella in Carrozza (Fried Mozzarella Sandwiches)
Larb (pronounced lahp) is a Thai dish traditionally made with ground meat, lots of fresh herbs and a spicy, citrusy sauce, then piled into soft lettuce leaves and eaten like a taco. (Here are pork, chicken and fish variations.) Hetty McKinnon’s calls for crumbled tofu, which soaks up the bright sauce for a filling vegetarian version that my 9-year-old loves. The toasted rice powder, which you can make or buy at an Asian market or online, is optional, but it adds a lovely nutty flavor to the dish.
Recipe: Tofu Larb
These incredibly simple and adaptable bean cakes from Yewande Komolafe can be made with any canned bean you have in your cabinet. Drain, combine them with a little harissa (or any red chile paste), scallions, herbs, lemon zest, cornstarch and whipped egg white, shape them into patties, then fry until crisp. Serve the bean cakes as a main dish with a veggie and a grain on the side, or slip them into buns and top with a leaf of crunchy green lettuce, a little mayonnaise and a squirt of harissa.
When you’re tired of pizza, this dish from Melissa Clark, which is like a savory Dutch baby, scratches the cheesy carb itch. Peering into the oven and watching it puff and climb up the edges of the pan is one of the best parts of this recipe, so make sure your kids are around for the show. Serve it with a fresh green salad and maybe a fried egg atop each serving.
Recipe: Gruyère Puff