10 Fun Dinner Ideas for Kids That They’ll Actually Want to Eat

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After a long day, the last thing any parent wants is to have to think about what to make for dinner. It can be especially hard for those of us with picky eaters who want to avoid a meltdown at the dinner table, no matter the cost. But do you really want to make chicken nuggets again?

 As parents, we have all most likely worried about our children’s diets at some point. Kids start to develop food preferences in their toddler years, and our previous adventurous eaters may now request buttered noodles or frown at the sight of anything green.

 Making mealtimes a little more fun and less ho-hum is a great first place to start when planning a meal the whole family will be excited to eat.  Putting a new spin on traditional recipes might be just the key to getting your kiddo to try something new. By getting in touch with your creative side, you can have lots of fun in the kitchen with your kiddos while making some of these fun and easy dinner ideas for kids.

The Importance of Fun at the Dinner Table

Creating a positive and pressure-free zone at the dinner table is vital in establishing a lifelong, healthy relationship with food. Parents are responsible for deciding which foods to serve, when, and where to serve them. Children are responsible for deciding what and how much they want to eat. That’s it!

Gathering at the table gives busy families a time to pause and reconnect.  Research shows that families who eat meals together all benefit from having healthier eating habits and have children with higher self-esteem and grade point averages. 

 Making mealtimes fun enables children to learn to love food and listen to their bodies hunger and fullness cues. Eating as a family is good for the mind, body, and spirit.

How to Make Food Fun For Your Kids

Here are some fun, tried and tested ways to get your kids to love any meal time, and of course, the food that comes with it:

Get Creative with Presentation

Apicius, a first-century Roman gourmand, is known for the famous quote “We eat first with our eyes.” He’s not wrong. Science proves that visual stimuli can alter our sense of taste, flavor, and even smell. So, food presentation is key to making a meal that people are excited to eat.

A simple way to make food look more fun is to cut it into pleasing shapes. Using a cookie cutter makes this process quick and easy and is something the whole family can do together. 

Any relatively soft food can be cut into fun shapes using a cookie cutter.  Family favorites include star-shaped melon, heart-shaped sandwiches, and flower-shaped pancakes. Let your kids decide which shape to use and get cutting!

Another way to pretty up the plate is to use color. Serving a variety of colorful foods adds interest to the plate and is better for us too! Fruits and veggies are packed with phytonutrients, which give them their distinct colors.

Nature has provided us with a rainbow of foods, from juicy, red tomatoes, earthy, orange carrots, sweet, golden pineapple, flavorful, green broccoli, and floral blueberries to crunchy, purple cabbage. Eating the rainbow ensures we get a wide variety of those vitamins and minerals found in fruits and veggies.

 

Involve Kids in Cooking

Children who help out in the kitchen are more invested in meal time and are more likely to try new foods they’ve helped prepare. Cooking teaches many other important skills too, like meal planning and nutrition. It engages fine motor skills and teaches basic math skills like measuring, counting, and fractions. Cooking also improves self-confidence. 

Starting at an early age, children are able to do simple tasks around the kitchen to help with meal prep and, as they age, can take on more challenging tasks.

Play with Textures

Texture also plays an important role in the meal experience. A variety of textures adds excitement to the plate and improves the overall mouthfeel of what we are consuming. Imagine a fresh garden salad without those crunchy croutons or chicken enchiladas without a delicious, creamy sauce? It’s just not the same! The meal can feel like something is missing without a variety of textures.

When meal planning, think about including at least 2-3 textures per meal. Try things like raw carrots or crisp bell peppers to add some crunch. Nuts and seeds are an excellent crunch garnish option.

Foods such as avocado, sour cream, and cheese add a nice creaminess to foods, making them feel a little more comforting and often more crave-able.

Make it a Theme Night

Who doesn’t love a theme night? Taco Tuesday, anyone? Making mealtimes more of a themed event gives the whole family something to look forward to.

My family has a tradition of having Pizza and a Movie night on Fridays.  Our living room transforms into a movie theater, complete with a register for purchasing tickets and a concession stand with popcorn and drinks.  Having this on the calendar ensures that even if the week is busy or stressful, we can all come together and relax together with good food and family time.

An Italian pasta night is also a favorite. Set the mood with some classic Italian music. If you’re feeling fancy, splurge for some red and white checkered tablecloths and create a personalized menu. You can even encourage the family to dress up for the evening. 

If you feel a little more adventurous, close your eyes and spin the globe.  Chances are, you might land on a country you aren’t as familiar with.  This gives you an opportunity to learn about a new food and culture and share it with the family. Playing a typical game or learning a few words in that country’s language is icing on the cake!

Serve Food in Fun Containers

Another way to jazz up dinner is to serve the meal on kid-friendly dinnerware. When my kids were younger, they used to love eating off divided plates with a colorful, floral design. 

Divided plates or bento boxes are great options for many kids because they keep foods separated into their own spaces, preventing foods from unwanted mixing.  A six-compartment muffin tin serves the same purpose.

Experimenting with different utensils can make mealtimes more interesting too! Let your child “play” to figure out which utensil works best for the foods served. Chopsticks require more fine motor skills and can help a child stay engaged in mealtime while learning a new skill.

Turn Mealtime and Snacktime into a Game

Turning dinner time into game time can get your kids excited when the dinner bell rings. 

Eating the Rainbow is fun and encourages kids to try new fruits and veggies! Choose one food from each color of the rainbow and let your family work their way down the line. Be sure to include a few familiar and safe foods for your kiddos so they will be more inclined to try a few new foods as well.

  • Red: Strawberries, watermelon, tomatoes, cherries, beets
  • Orange: Sweet potato, papaya, carrots, orange bell pepper, apricots
  • Yellow: Banana, mango, pineapple, corn, squash
  • Green: Broccoli, green beans, peas, kiwi, honeydew
  • Blue & Purple: Blueberries, blue carrots, plums, blackberries, purple cabbage

 

Get your kids moving by creating a treasure hunt to find healthy snacks around the house. Once all of the treasure is found, enjoy the snacks together. Discuss how the food looks, feels and tastes.

10 Fun Dinner Ideas Your Kids Will Like

Let’s take a look at some fun dinner ideas that will your kids eating nutritious, healthy meals in no time: 

Rainbow Veggie Pasta

This simple dinner starts with a tri-color pasta that gets its color from spinach and tomatoes. Cook per package directions. Saute your family’s favorite veggies in a bit of olive oil until tender. We like bell pepper, onion, zucchini, peas and tomatoes. 

Season with salt and pepper and your favorite herbs, and toss with prepared pasta.

This meal is colorful, simple, and delicious. If you’re looking for more flavor, add the veggies to your favorite marinara sauce before serving. Garlic bread and a garden or Caesar salad complete the meal.

Baked Potato Bar

A baked potato bar is perfect for a busy weeknight dinner. Wash potatoes well. Poke with a fork a few times to allow steam to release while baking.  Then, rub it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 400°F for approximately 45-60 minutes or until tender.

Set up a toppings bar with items like butter, shredded cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, chives and salsa. 

Let your kids create their own perfectly loaded baked potato. This pairs well with grilled chicken or lean steak and a green veggie.

Mini Meatloaf Muffins

Everything just tastes better in mini form like these mini meatloaf muffins.

The meatloaf mixture comes together quickly with simple ingredients, starting with a pound of ground beef (we suggest using lean ground beef or turkey), breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, onion, green pepper, an egg and spices. 

It’s topped with a sweet and tangy sauce prior to baking.  Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Breakfast for Dinner

Breakfast for dinner is a near-weekly occurrence in our home. Breakfast foods are typically kid-friendly and quick to prepare, making them perfect for families on the go. 

A pancake buffet with fresh fruit, whipped cream, chocolate chips, or syrup is sure to please. Be sure to serve with some protein-packed eggs for a balanced meal.

Another breakfast-for-dinner favorite is breakfast tacos. We like scrambled eggs, cheese, and avocado. Serve with a side of fresh fruit.

Cheesy Baked Tortellini

Nothing says comfort quite like a bowl of warm, cheesy pasta. With only 3 ingredients and 30 minutes, you can have this dinner ready in no time.

Start with your favorite fresh or frozen tortellini and cook until the pasta floats to the top of the pan. Drain.

Combine the pasta with your favorite marinara sauce and dump it into a 8×8 casserole dish.

Top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350°F until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with a garden salad.

BBQ Chicken Sliders

These barbecue chicken sliders come together with minimal effort and are sure to please adults and kids alike.

With only five ingredients and a crockpot, you’ll have a tasty hand-held dinner by the time the kids get off the bus. Serve on slider rolls with your favorite coleslaw.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Stuffed bell peppers are a tasty dinner that can be customized to everyone’s liking. 

Wash bell peppers and cut in half. Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes to cut down on cooking time later on.

While the peppers are baking, make the filling. Lean ground beef with onion, beans, cooked rice, and diced tomatoes are classic filling ingredients.

When the peppers are done baking, stuff them with your filling mixture and top them with grated cheese. Bake the stuffed peppers at 350°F for about 15 minutes. Serve with fruit salad.

Turkey and Veggie Meatballs:

Homemade meatballs are a great way to incorporate extra veggies into your main entree. These delicious turkey meatballs are packed with vitamins thanks to the added spinach and carrot, come together quickly and freeze well. Serve with marinara over spaghetti for a more nutritious twist on a classic dish.

Macaroni and Cheese Cups

I’ve never met a kid that didn’t like macaroni and cheese! These macaroni and cheese cups are a perfect portable version of a kid classic. Serve with some lean protein and veggies to balance out the meal.

Vegetable Fried Rice

Homemade vegetable fried rice is a nutrient packed one pot meal even most picky eaters will enjoy.

Start by scrambling 4 eggs in a pan, then set aside. Next, saute some minced garlic in a small amount of olive oil, cooking until fragrant.

Add your fresh or frozen vegetables and saute until tender.

Then, add your cooked rice and saute until heated and slightly toasted, about 2-3 minutes.

Add soy sauce and scrambled eggs to the pan, stirring until thoroughly heated. 

Adjust seasoning as needed.

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Tips For Getting Kids Involved in Preparing Dinner

 Choose Age-Appropriate Tasks:

Even the smallest children can start learning their way around the kitchen. Cooking teaches important life skills like following directions, basic math skills and time management. It also fosters a sense of independence and boosts self-confidence. 

Toddlers aged 2-3 years can:

  • Help gather ingredients for the recipe
  • Dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl
  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Stir room temperature ingredients
  • Help set the table

Children aged 4-6 years can:

  • Measure ingredients with supervision
  • Roll out pizza or cookie dough
  • Chop soft fruits and vegetables with a kid friendly knife and supervision
  • Crack eggs-watch out for shells
  • Fill drinking glasses with ice and water

Children aged 7-9 years can:

  • Measure ingredients
  • Peel fruits and vegetables with a peeler
  • Grate cheese
  • Open cans with a can opener
  • Help load the dishwasher

Children aged 10+ years can:

  • Plan meal for the family
  • Follow simple recipe with autonomy
  • Chop fruits and vegetables
  • Use stovetop, oven and microwave to prepare meal.,  May require supervision
  • Wash and put away dishes

Provide Choices

Kids benefit when they become a part of the meal planning process. Start by asking which foods they would like to eat and which new foods they would like to try. 

Young children do best when presented with choices, such as “Would you rather have peas or broccoli with dinner tonight?” while older children can take a more prominent role in meal planning.

Use Kid-Friendly Tools

When kids are in the kitchen, it’s important to keep safety as a top priority. Start with age-appropriate kitchen utensils like plastic or stainless bowls for mixing, child-safe vegetable peelers, and kid-friendly knives. 

Many kitchen tools for kids have built-in safety features and a more ergonomic design for small hands. Preventing kitchen accidents will lead to more creative and confident little chefs.

Celebrate their Contributions:

Children thrive when they feel loved and appreciated. Remember to offer praise to your child for helping in the kitchen, no matter how big or small their contribution may be.

Serving a dish they have prepared for the family bolsters their sense of pride and self-confidence.  So don’t forget to kiss the cook!

Food Shapes Kids Usually Like

When food is presented in fun shapes, it’s just more fun! Try these shapes to add a little pizzazz to your dinnertime.

Animal Shapes

Having an assortment of cookie cutters on hand can turn any meal into a fun experience for kids. Sandwiches can easily be shaped like your kiddo’s favorite animal, creating a whimsical touch the whole family will smile at.

Letters and Numbers:

Mealtimes are a great learning opportunity. Add letter-shaped noodles to your favorite soup recipe and have your child search for their ABCs or find the letters of their name.

Smiley Faces:

Adding a fun smiley face to foods is another kid favorite. An easy place to start is with pancakes, adding chocolate chip or blueberry eyes, a nose, and a strawberry slice mouth.  

If you’re feeling extra fancy, a little whipped cream hair is the perfect finishing touch, adding a cheerful and inviting element to the meal.

Puzzle Pieces:

To keep the family engaged at the table, try creating puzzle-themed meals. Cut a sandwich into tangram pieces and let your kiddo see if they can put the pieces back together. 

For older kids, create a sudoku snack. Make a trail mix with nine different items like nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruits, marshmallows, pretzel pieces, etc., assigning a number to each item. See how many they can get!  Playing with their food allows them to explore the food without pressure and creates positive food experiences.

Keeping Dinner Fun for Kids Every Night

By preparing a variety of innovative and delicious kid friendly dinner ideas, you will put some fun back into mealtime. Try a new presentation to encourage acceptance when you get stuck in a rut. 

Remember to offer at least 1-2 foods you know your child will accept and try new recipes to keep the family excited about dinnertime. 

Consistency in preparing healthy, tasty, and creative meals will help children stay engaged and help foster lifelong healthy eating habits.

Bottom Line

There are so many ways to help ensure your child is receiving the nutrition they need to grow and thrive both physically and mentally, such as providing creative dinner ideas they will actually want to eat. 

First, getting children involved in meal planning and preparation instantly invests them in the meal being served. Putting simple spins on dinner presentations by using a variety of colors and shapes, having a themed dinner, or turning the meal into a game keeps kids engaged and more likely to try new foods. 

Family meals are vital in creating more adventurous eaters with well-rounded diets, strengthening family bonds, and creating lifelong memories of good food and family around the table.

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Related FAQ’s

Quick and easy dinner ideas are a must for busy families. Things like tacos or burgers come together quickly and can be served with a variety of toppings that even picky eaters will likely accept. A rotisserie chicken is a convenient food item that can be made into just about any meal, from soups, enchiladas, and stir-fries to casseroles, cutting down prep time tremendously.

The first step is to get them involved in meal planning. Offer at least 1-2 safe foods at each mealtime and lead by example. Don’t pressure picky eaters into trying foods. Consistency is key. It can take up to 20 times to be exposed to food before a picky eater is willing to give it a try.

Most kids will enjoy a taco night with lots of topping choices, a make-your-own pizza night, and panini night. These are simple meals that allow a lot of freedom for the eater.

Get kids involved by meal planning and going to the grocery store. At home, start with simple tasks in the kitchen and gradually increase their involvement as they can demonstrate success.

Cutting vegetables into fun shapes appeals to kids. Adding a tasty dip like ranch or hummus may encourage picky eaters to try them. Lastly, giving vegetables fun names like green trees for broccoli or dinosaur spears for asparagus may encourage children to eat more. 

Yes! Healthy dinners can be fun! Get creative with presentation and naming, and the whole family will be excited about eating a well-balanced meal.

It’s important to lead by example.  When your child sees you eating a variety of foods, they will likely want to try them, too. Getting them involved in the planning and preparation often leads to more adventurous eaters. Lastly, frequent exposure is key. Continue offering new foods; eventually, they will likely come around to trying and maybe even enjoying them!

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