Family Dinner Ideas: Fun and Easy Interactive Meals to Make with your Child
Read time: 4 minutes
What to know about cooking with your child
Getting kids involved in the kitchen can help them become more adventurous eaters
Understand how to make meals fun so that kids can help
Learn interactive meals the whole family will enjoy
What are the benefits of having kids help cook?
When children participate in the kitchen, they get to experience all the elements of food preparation: touching, feeling, and smelling. This sensory interaction with food can help reduce the likelihood of picky eating, allowing them to be more willing to taste a new or disliked food.14 In fact, children may be more likely to eat more of a food they’ve helped prepare.2
Read on to learn how to transform a simple and healthy meal into something kids are excited to eat!
The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating
Family Meals: Developing Healthy Eating Patterns
What are interactive kid-friendly meal ideas?
“What’s for dinner?” Sound familiar? Many parents struggle with this question from the moment they wake up in the morning. Interactive meals are a fun way to get your child involved with the preparation of the meal as well as perhaps enticing them to try something new.
Breaking down a recipe into a DIY meal allows the whole family can participate in and may help turn a sometimes-stressful event into a fun and relaxed activity.
Interactive meals can have something for everyone, from your pickiest eater to your most adventurous child.
Ideas for interactive kid-friendly meals:
Make your own pizza
Learn about: How Can I Get my Baby to Love Veggies?
How to make a kid-friendly interactive meal
First: Think about the base
Dough for pizza, taco/tortilla for tacos, bowl of greens for salad bar, and bowl of whole grain pasta for pasta bar. Give everyone a plate with their base item.
Tip: If it’s pizza, you can either shape the dough into a mini pizza for them or if your child is ready, give each person a rolling pin and ball of dough, showing them how to get started.
Next: Choose the toppings
While there are so many vegetables, fruits, proteins, beans, nuts, and seeds you could use as toppings, here are some ideas to get you started.
Make Your Own Pizza topping ideas:
Shredded mozzarella or cheddar
Sliced bell peppers (quickly sautéed first if you’d like!)
Sliced mushrooms, chopped broccoli, sliced tomatoes (de-seeded)
Sliced steak or chopped chicken
Baby spinach leaves
Family Charcuterie Board topping ideas:
Chopped tomatoes and sliced bell peppers
Turkey and cheese pinwheels, hard-boiled egg slices
Mini mozzarella balls
Dried fruit such as apricots, figs, and dates
Roasted chickpeas, edamame in the pod
Sliced apples and pears, pineapple slices, watermelon chunks
Whole grain crackers or plain pita chips
Pasta Bar topping ideas:
Tomato or pesto sauce
Parmesan cheese and shredded mozzarella
Chopped tomatoes, roasted cubes of butternut squash, steamed broccoli, sauteed asparagus pieces, steamed green beans
White or black beans
Cooked ground turkey or beef, or chopped grilled chicken
Sliced basil leaves
Salad Bar topping ideas:
Chopped cooked chicken, fish, or steak
Chickpeas, edamame, or baked tofu cubes,
Shredded carrots, cabbage (purple for color!), sliced cucumber and bell pepper
Steamed and cooled beet cubes or sweet potatoes
Chopped, oil-massaged kale
Halved grapes, pitted cherries, or diced apple
Feta cheese or grated parmesan cheese
Quinoa, wheat berries, or farro
Oil- or yogurt-based salad dressing
Taco Bar topping ideas:
Sliced sautéed onions and bell peppers, steamed chopped green beans
Shredded carrots, lettuce, and cabbage
Cooked ground beef, chicken or turkey. Chopped grilled chicken breast or chopped steak
Flaky fish, seasoned ground turkey, black beans, chickpeas
Brown rice, quinoa
Guacamole or avocado slices
Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream, salsa or pico de gallo
Lime for squeezing!
Be sure to provide foods in the texture and size that your little one is able to handle and eat without difficulty.
More interactive meal ideas: Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipe and Snack Ideas
Tips for getting started with kid-friendly interactive meals
How to encourage your child to choose their toppings
Once each child has their base plate, let them explore the items that you have put in bowls for them to add to their base.
To help get them excited and decide which foods to choose, you can ask them different questions:
Which food is your favorite color?
Which food has the sweetest smell?
Which food feels the softest/hardest/slipperiest?
These questions along with the touching, smelling, and playing with the toppings, can help with picky eaters as it allows them to learn and explore in a low expectation environment. They get to choose which foods they’re ready to try and skip those that still make them nervous.
Handling foods and being allowed to choose which they will and will not try helps develop trust and understanding, and ultimately helps build positive pathways in the brain linking these new foods to safety.3 Eventually your little one may surprise you and try a food they’ve never had before!
Learn More: Picky Eating Guide
What age does my child need to be to participate in an interactive meal?
The age range for each activity will depend on a few things:
What stage of textures your little one is managing or ready to tackle
What specific assortment food items you are offering
How much adult interaction and supervision is involved
For the most part, these activities are appropriate for children starting at 18 months (with adult help and supervision of course). You know your child best, so be sure to have them help with things you know would fit their abilities.
3 tips to help make an interactive meal fun and delicious for everyone
Tip #1: Offer one bowl of a freshly chopped herb that the kids can touch and smell and add to their meal creation.
You can also get them to participate in the kitchen more by having them help you grow a small herb plant. They can water the plant and even pick the leaves when it’s time to prepare a meal.
Here are some herb ideas for different meals:
Basil for pasta, pizza, and charcuterie board
Dill or mint for salad
Cilantro for tacos
Tip #2: Season at least one of the items that will be used in the meal (beef, chicken, fish, etc) in a way in which you prefer, and which you may want your child to begin to appreciate. For example, grilled chicken may be seasoned with some lemon juice, oil, pepper, and oregano before cooking to help get kids to try new flavors. Also provide toppings that you know the kids will enjoy so there are plenty of new as well as already-loved options available.
Tip #3: Use leftovers for next day’s meals or for other fun activities to do with your children.
Learn More: Fun Food Activities to Do with My Toddler
Enjoy and let the fun begin!
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For more on this topic, check out the following articles
Learning To Love Healthy Foods
How To Include More Beans/Legumes Into Your Diet
How To Include More Dark Greens Into Your Daily Diet
Include More Whole Grains Into Your Daily Diet