19 Creative Alternatives to Kids’ Favorite Dinners

19 Creative Alternatives to Kids’ Favorite Dinners

One mom-chef shares fun ideas for healthy, delicious, and kid-friendly family dinners.

By: Lorraine Allen

Making dinner every night for a busy family is not an easy task. I know this. My life has come to revolve around it since I became a mom six years ago, probably more than for most parents due to my kid’s multiple (12+) life-threatening food allergies. We are limited in what we can eat, somewhat, but we are extremely limited in what sorts of pre-made, packaged, or restaurant food we can buy, serve, or order. So I’ve learned to make countless healthy, homemade alternatives to kids’ favorite dinners.

Here are 19 of our favorites that your family is sure to love trying instead of the usual chicken nuggets, instant mac and cheese, pizza, burgers, fries, Chinese takeout, or hot dogs. These all take very little effort, skill, money, or time to prepare:

Instead of chicken nuggets, whip up one of these:

  1. Chicken or beef strips (or small chunks) skewered and pan grilled, served with a yogurt dip, a marinara sauce, or a peanut or sunflower butter dipping sauce.
  2. Roasted chicken legs with root vegetables (roast them all together in one pan!)

Instead of boxed macaroni and cheese, try making:

  1. Pumpkin or squash ravioli with sage brown butter sauce. Amazingly simple and tasty.
  2. 10-ingredient rice. (It’s extra hearty and satisfying if you use brown rice). Include a mixture of colorful vegetables like broccoli, peas, shelled fava beans, cranberry beans, soybeans, carrots, and corn. Add any protein you like to create a fast, full meal.

Instead of canned soup, get a little more creative:

  1. Pork or veal ravioli (or mini meatballs) in broth with spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, or other leafy greens.
  2. Rice noodle bowls in broth with mixed vegetable matchsticks, and sliced chicken, pork, beef, or shrimp. Garnish with cilantro for a fresh pop.
  3. Braised chicken or lentil stew with vegetables and brown rice. Add in some exotic spices like a curry spice mix, a Moroccan or Berber spice mix, or a Mexican mix for a unique and flavorful twist each time. We love eggplant and zucchini and pumpkin in this.

Instead of plain pasta with tomato sauce, try:

  1. Pasta with fresh tomatoes sautéed in garlic and olive oil, topped with fresh basil and fresh mozzarella.
  2. Spaghetti with clams steamed in chicken broth with garlic and parsley.
  3. Elbow noodles (cooked) and baked with shredded cheese (use your two favorite), broccoli, and cubed ham. Colorful, satisfying, and seriously delicious.

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Instead of frozen fish sticks, make these:

  1. Tuna, salmon, or white fish patties on a bun. Tastes amazing with a quick dressing of mashed avocado, lime, and olive oil.
  2. Roasted asparagus or green beans wrapped with sliced meat or topped with melted cheese (as protein).

Instead of getting takeout burgers, try making:


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  1. Chicken, turkey, or buffalo burgers or meatballs (mini burgers are a favorite here).
  2. Pulled pork or beef shoulder (slow cooked) with basic vinegar BBQ sauce. (Perfect served with that fresh slaw!)

Instead of fries on the side, how about:

  1. Sweet potato and purple potato mash -- beautiful, healthy, and delicious.
  2. Fresh slaws made with shredded raw cabbages and raw crunchy veggies like carrots, turnips, and fennel. Add in apples and/or dried fruit like raisins, cherries, or cranberries for extra pop, and use a simple mix of olive oil and apple cider vinegar instead of mayo.
  3. Sweet root veggie mash (turnips, parsnips, carrots, red and golden beets are all fantastic, and sweet).

Instead of bean burritos, try these:

  1. Vegetarian chili with cheese.
  2. Grilled eggplant sliced and layered with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella slices, and baked.

What are your family’s favorite healthy dinners?

Lorraine Allen is a writer, and mom and personal chef to one spunky 5-year-old girl with severe food allergies. You can enjoy their delicious recipes and follow their amusing family cooking adventures at Feeding Lina.

Image ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004

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