Food

Help! What Do You Make for Family Dinner?

Joanna Goddard and family

Over the past eight years, since Toby blew into the scene, we have gone through fits and starts of family dinner. (The boys would usually eat at 5:30 p.m, and Alex and I would eat at 8:30 p.m., after they were in bed.) But now that both boys are in elementary school, we figured we’d give family dinners a real shot! We’re still learning, but here are the meals we made for the last three weeks…

Since we’re not great cooks, and are usually racing home from work, we’ve tried to make a few things easier: We’re focusing on Monday to Thursday for now. Then on Friday, we order delivery and watch a movie! Also, I’m totally into eggs for dinner.

Our kids have gone through picky phases (like when Toby suddenly refused all pasta and cheese, and Anton insisted he was allergic to tomatoes), but generally are open to different foods. I’m sure dinners would be MUCH harder if they had food allergies or sensitivities, and just getting them to eat anything would be a major score. If your little ones struggle in this way, I’d be thrilled to hear your approaches.

Week #1:
Butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and parmesan; broccoli on the side (we got pre-made ravioli at the grocery store)
Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and halloumi
Chicken parm meatballs with with rice and broccoli
Jacket potatoes with tuna, mayo and corn (my English aunts do this combo, and it’s so good)
Order sushi.

Week #2:
Pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella (we got pre-made pesto at the grocery store)
Salmon burgers with lettuce and tomato (we got salmon patties from the grocery seafood counter)
Chicken curry with rice
Kitchen sink burrito bowls
Order pizza.

Week #3:
Scrambled eggs with zucchini and halloumi (Toby and Anton forgot to eat the zucchini)
Avgolemeno soup (we used half of a rotisserie chicken)
Chicken and spinach quesadillas (we used the other half of the rotisserie chicken)
Pasta with butter, parmesan, sausage and broccoli
Order Indian food.

It’s so cozy to sit and eat together, at the same table, most evenings. The other day, Toby started to tell Alex a story about school, only to stop and say: “Oh wait, I’ll save it for family dinner.” (My heart!)

What about you? What recipes do you love? Do you read cookbooks or find ideas online? I’d love to hear…. And as a side note: If you don’t do family dinner, that’s fine, too, of course! We didn’t do it for seven years, and who knows if we’ll keep this up now? Before, we did family bike rides instead, and read books at night, and I felt so close to my children and family, even though we ate together only once or maybe twice a week. All good, either way! xoxo

P.S. Trader Joe’s meal hacks, and how to get your kids to talk at dinner. Plus, two-ingredient pancakes.

(Curry by John Kernick for Real Simple. Meatballs, burrito bowls and avgolemono by Jenny Rosenstrach. Quesadilla by Alex Farnum for Real Simple. Pasta by Three Olives Branch. Jacket potatoes by Yossy Arefi for Cup of Jo. Salmon burgers by Alex Lau for Bon Appetit. Eggs by Todd Wagner for The New York Times.)

  1. Everything changed for me when I started planning the week’s dinners ahead. I could make fewer trips to the grocery store and plan to use up ingredients (like ricotta, which always seems to get stuck in my fridge) over the week to be less wasteful. The other major element that contributed to family dinner success was Pinterest(!) which I use primarily to collect and organize recipes. I started a board for go-to family dinner recipes. When I find new successful recipes, I add them there, and when I’m planning for the week ahead, I move all the recipes just for that week into a private board called “This Week For Dinner”. It makes putting together the grocery list and finding the recipe I chose on Monday when I need it on Thursday super easy. :)

  2. Kayleigh says...

    I am doing my best to base our meals on a plant based diet. It has made me a better cook in general because I don’t rely on meat and cheese for all the flavoring but I use more seasoning and I’m exploring a lot of combinations that would have been scary in the past but now is so normal and easy! I love doing anything Mexican style because we can get so many flavors into a wrap that I don’t miss the meat and cheese. I’ve realized wraps are my best friend! I’ll do black beans, salsa, avocado, lentils, onion, enchilada sauce, lettuce. Delish! Or we love doing baked breaded cauliflower tossed in a buffalo or sesame sauce. Serve with rice and some green veggies or top your salad.

  3. Nessa Bixler says...

    We do family dinners but overall half the nights I make 2 meals. The kids and then our meals. There is over lap, like when I make curry and rice for us then I make plain chicken and a veg with rice for the kids. But sometime it is pb&j for them and steaks for us… We do make them tast our food – one bite. It has slowly helped woden their pallet from eating nothing to eating a few things. Here’s hoping for continuing improvement!

  4. Lilia says...

    Hi Jo, a little late to add to this post, but I am SO curious about your suggestion of jacket potatoes with tuna, mayo, and corn. Sounds yummy! I am wondering, do you just use canned tuna and canned corn? Do you put anything else on the potatoes, or just those three ingredients? I want to make this soon. :)

  5. Alice says...

    We did family dinner almost every night of the week growing up…even if it was sitting in the car eating McDonald’s between band and baseball practices. Tuesday was typically wing night and Friday was pizza.we also always had people (friends and relatives) over so we lived by the rule of FHB (Family hold back). These are my favorite memories of growing up. Food was never fancy and my dad wasn’t a great cook, but we were together.

  6. JH says...

    Once Upon Chef cookbook by Jen Segel is the best cookbook I own. Recipes are well written (read: they turn out exactly how they should), aren’t super complicated, and all members of my family have enjoyed everything I’ve made of hers. Perfection.

  7. Rosie says...

    Just chiming in to say: OMG! This post is SO helpful!! We’re still in the phase of our boys separately eating (which is ok), but I’m regularly wondering how we can “do” dinner together – this post is so perfectly detailed and achievable, it’s perfect! Thanks you – as always, knowing exactly what we all want to talk about.

  8. Maria says...

    Since my husband and I have lunch at work (canteen) and our girls (1, 3) do lunch in kindergarden we dont do special dinners during the week. We just eat bread, cheese, sausage and different kinds of veggies. We always eat together by 6p. In the morning we also have breakfast together. I think it is very important for a family to sit together, eat and talk. I do love cooking and I like cooking new recipies but honestly, it is stressful and I am very happy to do it only on the weekends. We have no special food for our girls. They are picky sometimes yes but I try to convince them to have a little. Our favorites are:
    – all kinds of risotto (w/ veggies, fish, chicken …)
    – grilled fish/chicken with veggies
    – all kinds of pasta (bolognese, spinach-ricotta, tomato…)
    – soup (seasonal)

  9. janine says...

    We are pretty fortunate that our son (7 1/2 years old) will eat almost anything. With rare exceptions, we serve him what we’re eating and he will try it… and 90% of the time he’ll eat it. This weekend he ate cassoulet one day, and another day he ate a frittata with kale, potatoes, and tomatoes. He even said, “This is delicious.” I’ve told him in the past, “I wouldn’t give you bad food!” so if I cook a new dish and he’s skeptical, I say to him, “Would I ever give you bad food? Because then I would be eating bad food. I don’t want to eat bad food!” and then he tries it. I don’t force him. I just remind him that I try to make good food for us. :)

  10. Ann says...

    I also cook dinner almost every day (with the exception of take out on some Fridays). I plan the whole month and shop once a week. Favorite meals in this season are baked potatoes with toppings, stir fry lettuce wraps, pasta with pesto and fresh mozz, roast chicken and instant pot carnitas. (We are two parents and two daughters, 10 and 14 years old)

    I’m a teacher so it’s easier for me than others because I am usually home by 3:30.

  11. Emily Fahey says...

    We just made a cross country move and I’m between jobs at the moment. For the first time in more than six years of marriage, I am cooking dinner from scratch every night! I’m rotating through enchiladas, protein bowls, soft tacos, fresh spring rolls, and pizza night every Friday. Sometimes we go simple and I just make omelets over rice, or boxed pasta, and there’s the week of meals! Nobody has complained yet. True, my husband is just happy that I’ve taken over the cooking and am making relatively healthy dinners, the toddler isn’t picky, and the baby is still nursing exclusively. But I’m calling this a win.

  12. Mary says...

    Kendra from the Lazy Genius did a whole podcast series on meal planning and it’s awesome! Basically she has you come up with the meals that make your family generally happy (that are also super simple) and then you rotate through those. It could even just be hot dogs and frozen pizza some days. She calls them “brainless crowd pleasers”. Our go-tos are: veggie and cheese frittatas (always on Friday as we eat meatless that day), roasted whole chicken and veggies, simple meatballs and veggies, chili, Instant Pot pot roast, and stir fry. I don’t use recipes, just adapt based on what we have. We eat together most nights—but we eat super early because my kids turn crazy after 6pm!

  13. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, so we had family dinner every single night when I was growing up. In fact, I didn’t even realize there was any other type of dinner. I don’t have kids yet, but with my husband and I both working full – time, I often wonder how we’ll handle dinners in our household when we start a family. I don’t get home until 6 and he doesn’t get home until 7 or after, and even now I’m usually too tired to cook a full meal. Plus, coming up with dinner ideas is just hard! I think all dinners should be family dinners, but having more women in the workforce (which I’m all for) has definitely changed family dynamics. Just makes ya think.

  14. Katherine says...

    I work, so does my husband, and we have kids 2 and 4. I cook AFTER they go to sleep, for the NEXT night, so I don’t have to cook when I get home. When I get home at 6:30, we eat. I try to cook 3 times a week (again for the next day(s) and try to make stuff that will last for 2 nights. Some things I make:

    Big meat, cheese, and spinach lasagna. I cut carrots and Zucchini into small pieces and add to meat. This last for 2-3 days. I’d freEze it too!
    Roast sweet potatoes, broccoli, and organic. Chicken sausage. My husband adds rice or quinoa.
    Cauliflower “fried rice.” easy and quick.
    Lentil pasta w veggies. My kids love tolerant brand—red lentil. And I feel good giving it to them!

    Fruit for desert.

    Nothing fancy, it works!

    • Shannon says...

      Love this idea!

    • Liz says...

      This is the only way I can get dinner on the table too. I prep on Sunday then cook most of the dinner the night before or early morning of. My daughter wants to eat IMMEDIATELY when we get home so I started doing this. And sometimes when I can’t cook in advance, we do toast, frozen waffles or cereal for dinner and that is just fine with me! She probably prefers it!

  15. Lindsey Osborne says...

    I remember hearing once that kids whose families eat together are 70% more likely to…I can’t remember what, but as my children are growing up, I can fill in the blank: Tell me about the girl who called her weird today (“it made me feel like, ‘why would you say that?!’”); entertain me with his robot voice; remember this later. The table is such a good place for so many things to happen. We really try to make it a priority, and it’s a lot easier since my kids are pretty little (6 and 2). I can imagine it will be harder when they’re older.

    To make it easier and more mindless, I meal plan (how do you people who don’t know what to buy???), but I have a “meal matrix”: Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, Pasta Monday. It’s not exciting, but then I only have plan two nights’ worth of dinners and that makes it more manageable (I got this idea from The Lazy Genius podcast.) On the other nights, we’ll have chicken, gnocchi, and roasted broccoli or peanut butter noodles or sweet potato hash.

    We also do something wonderful called “high/low/high.” We’ve been doing it since my oldest was 3, which means I’ve heard hundreds of the high points of her little life (and half as many lows.) I love these peeks into their lives—even our 2-year-old participates, although his “highs” are almost always eating his goldfish snack. The kids always make any guests we have over for dinner participate as well :)

  16. Carmen says...

    Until I had my own children, I never realised some families don’t eat dinner (& breakfast) together every day. I guess longer commutes plus work hours have made it more difficult.

    We have always eaten family meals at the weekend, at my husband’s insistence, and then during the week once a 7pm dinner worked for the kids. We’ve always eaten the same meals generally speaking, so I’ve only ever cooked one hot meal a day.

    I know some families who have a fixed meal rotation (roast dinner on Sunday so cold meat with salads on Monday, pasta night, fish night etc) Whilst I don’t create gourmet meals everyday (scrambled eggs on toast or beans and jacket potato are A-ok here!) and our tastes have changed dramatically over the years (we never eat pasta now!), favourites have been chicken risotto, enchiladas, homemade breaded chicken with wedges and corn cobs, stir fry, curries, chicken casserole,. soup and toast occasionally. I’ve toyed with slow cooker meals but have never had one I’ve liked!

    • Sarah says...

      Thanks for this, I’ve bookmarked it to make it this week. It’s perfect for family dinner!

  17. alexandra says...

    Wow , so interesting that you only started family dinners now. It never occurred to me to NOT eat together with the kids and I wonder if this is a cultural thing or a individual thing. I must ask others friends how they handle their dinner situations at hone… (I’m German).

    I also have two boys, four and seven. Both boys have been eating with us parents since they were about 2 years old and bedtime is at 8 for the small one and 8.30 for the older son.
    Dinner is around 7,.15 at our house, as my husband gets home by 7 and I only work till 3 – so it’s my “job” to organize and cook from Mondays to Thursday. On Fridays my husband usually works from home and he is in charge for supper. He often makes a curry. The same goes for
    Saturdays when he likes to take his time to try new recipes. He went vegan a while ago and is really keen on experimenting with new flavors! On Sunday we always have an early supper at my inlaws house around 5, When we get home and the kids are in bed my husband and I usually have a second supper: we order food and watch a movie!

    In Germany there is a typical/traditonal way of having your eating meal, it is called “Abendbrot” and means evening bread. You set out some bread (we usually have 2 types, one very dark and one light brown sourdough) and people make open faced sandwiches with cold cuts and cheeses. As I am vegetarian and my husband is vegan we only have cheeses and different plant based spreads – I always try to have at least 3 spreads on offer (hummus, aubergine, tomato is a typical thing!). Plus there always is a variety of freshly cut veggies (cucumber, carrot, celery, tomatoes).
    We do this cold supper on three out of five weekday nights, as the boys both have substantial warm lunches at daycare and my husband and I also both eat a warm lunch at work in our break. In winter we often have a bowl of soup with the cold supper, in summer I always put a tossed salad on the table. When I make soup, I prepare enough for 4 meals and freeze half.
    The nights we cook it is mostly oven baked veggies. In our house every veggie that is not a bean, a pea, a lentil or spinach is prepared in the oven. We drizzle olive oil + salt and maybe some cumin on it and without any work we have a delicous, easy dinner that both boys usually love. The other meal that everyone loves and is easy is a pasta dish with red sauce or with pesto. No matter if we are eating veggies, pasta or a salad: I always add cheese for myself and my younger son but not for my husband as he is vegan and not for our older son, who isn’t keen on cheese.

    We also always have dessert. This may be a platter with nicely cut fruit, nuts and raisins (its al about pretty presentation – the kids love a beautiful array!) or a store bought ice-cream with fruit or rice-pudding with cinnamon and berries, or homemade applesauce or just a cookie with a slice of apple. Never no dessert! Dessert is when I try to get extra vitamins into the kids. Anything I serve comes with fruit.

    Both boys have certain fruits or veggies they don’t like but I always go for a choice of 2-3 types, so nobody goes hungry!

    • Nathalie says...

      I am from Switzerland and now live in Norway, and what Alexandra describes is the norm for us as well. In Swizterland it is a warm meal for lunch, and a cold one for dinner but in Norway it is the opposite, so we have adapted to that ;-)
      I remember being very confused when hearing that people cook actually two dinners, one for the kids (with special kids food?!) and then one for the adults. But I guess with work and commute it is not always possible to eat together.
      We eat every breakfast and dinner together during the week, and since my daughter started eating solids over 2 years ago, she has always eaten the same as us (we are vegans too). This is a very important moment in the day for us to all sit together, and share the same food, and I think this is the same in most European countries.

  18. Jessica Edmonds says...

    I’m a big fan of one pot meals like chilli, curry and spaghetti bolognaise. I always make more than we need so one night becomes leftovers.
    Fajitas are fun, and it’s nice for everyone to assemble their own.
    Gussy up mac and cheese with grated courgette, and sautéed pepper and onions. Make it healthier with cottage cheese and stock instead of bechamel.
    Do you have a slow cooker? There are lots of options for stews etc if so.

    • Hannah says...

      Yup, love the slow cooker! I’ve found bolognaise, curry and chilli will also work beautifully in it!

  19. Dalia says...

    We are in the same situation! Now the kids are older, eat later and go to bed later we are trying to make family dinners! My oldest is a nightmare picky eater and whines about everything! Thank you for this post.

  20. Rachel says...

    Growing up we always had this routine…both parents worked, dad would be home early and cook every week day except Wednesdays (mom’s day off!)
    Monday — homemade chicken fingers
    Tuesday — soup (whatever was in season was the soup of the week!)
    Wednesday — meatloaf (mom’s speciality)
    Thursday — pasta (any kind)
    Friday — fish…usually baked salmon/sole/or fish sticks/or tuna sandwiches
    Saturday — take out night!!! usually pizza or Chinese!
    Sunday — pasta.
    There is something to be said for routines!

  21. I love family dinners as well, I remember doing it when I was a kid as well and it’s definitely a tradition I wanna keep. Loved the recipes too. Thanks!

  22. Tay says...

    We do frozen fish sticks (we like the rice flour ones from WF), tortillas (gotta have the good quality kind!), creamy spicy cashew “cheese” spread, and top with avocado and salsa. SOOO easy, basically uses no dishes and so good.

  23. Jessica says...

    I’ve always eaten supper with my son, but when he was 3 I gave in and let him watch cartoons while we ate, and I scrolled through Facebook on my phone. I felt like we were missing out, but our family is just the two of us, and it seemed both intimidating and boring to think of eating in silence and trying to converse. Then a few weeks ago I took away shows as a punishment, and I noticed our dynamic improved immensely. He was interested in helping me cook again. Now that he’s 4, he could carry his end of the conversation better, and if learn more about his day. Rather than a fight about turning off the TV, he’s eager to color or play with me after we eat. I work full time, and I feel like we’re having much more quality time than we were. So now, we save TV for weekends. Live and learn!

    I’m not great about meal prep, and the time between work and bedtime goes fast, so weeknight meals have to be simple:

    Salmon patties and green beans
    Fried eggs and toast
    Spinach omelette with a side of berries
    Beans on toast and brown sugared carrots
    Steak and salad
    Sheet pan chicken and veggies
    Soft shell tacos
    Open face tuna melts
    Chili and a tube of cinnamon rolls

    I have a few cookbooks I trust: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, a classic Betty Crocker cookbook from my 4-H days, Cheap Fast Good, and Real Simple Everyday Dinners. My favorites are old copies of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine. Oh, and Pinterest, because it’s easy to search for recipes using what I have. Crockpot soups are great, too, and while I prefer homemade, I’ve learned that canned soup and veggies are sometimes necessary to save my sanity.

    • BBB says...

      I fell into the cartoon habit with my 3 year old son, too! Sometimes mama just wants to sit and scroll and eat :) But I can really relate to your comment. As he approaches 4, I’ve been making more of an effort to sit at the table, no TV, even if dinner is nothing fancy. We probably make it a reality 4 out of 5 nights and we both love it!

    • tango says...

      I’m sorry.. people actually want to “sit and scroll” while their children are vying for their attention??

      Great that you have made a more conscious effort to eat meals together. It’s extremely important.

    • Lauren says...

      Hi Jessica! My husband use to travel for work and it was often just me and my 3 year old son so I can totally relate to the exhausted/wanting to eat and just scroll on your phone feeling (and hey, kids are tired from daycare and preschool and sometimes TV is a break for them too). Thanks for the meal ideas – ive personally never had the love of cooking I wish I did, so for me, I’m in need of easy dinners! It sounds like things are changing conversation wise now that your son is 4. My son is now 9 and I’m here to tell you it only gets better :) especially when they start to share about school crushes and big dreams over those cozy dinners for two!

    • Liz says...

      Tango, your remark comes across as being very judgemental. Yes, sometimes parents feel like sitting and scrolling. Especially single parents who work full-time. That doesn’t mean that they don’t love or spend time with their children. It means they get tired.

  24. Sarah says...

    I’m setting a meatless Monday trend in your planning. As a vegetarian, thank you!

  25. Shena says...

    My family has an issue with sugar and I do keto for medical reasons, so we don’t have carbs at our family dinners. Here is a sample week:

    Monday – ramen made with kelp noodles, slow cooker chicken breasts shredded, organic chicken broth & frozen spinach thrown in there too. We also add a 7-minute egg to each bowl, that has been soaked in coconut aminos.
    Tuesday – Salmon sautéed with lemon juice and garlic, broccoli, cauliflower mash. Sometimes I make rice for the kids (Trader Joes frozen organic that microwaves in 3 minutes!)
    Wednesday – slow cooker grass fed beef, carrots, onions, green beans and gravy.
    Thursday – Salmon burgers from Trader Joes sautéed in coconut aminos (to replace soy sauce) and a little bit of honey, steamed broccoli (then it is sautéed in the pan withe the remnants after the salmon is removed), boiled carrots with butter and salt.
    Friday – Frozen 🍕 ( I made my own with a cauliflower crust)
    For desert we have ice cream (the kind with no sugar added by, Bryers).

  26. Robyn says...

    Family dinners have changed quite a bit since I was a child. My mom and dad would alternate cooking dinner. We all sat down and ate together. The rule in our family was you had to try a tablespoon of everything, then when you ate that you could have seconds of anything you wanted. Thankfully, I was raised this way because I am not a picky eater. I used the same basic ideas for our kids and they have developed into adults with very sophisticated pallets.

    Family dinners do not have to be complicated. The idea is to be together as a family. It’s a time to model and teach your children table manners, the art of polite conversation and a rehearsal for having children who are well behaved when you go out to eat or go to other people’s homes.

    • Glenda says...

      Yes to all of this! Same for me as I was growing up. We ate at 6pm every night. I modeled with my children up until they were teenagers and they started working afterschool. Then hubby and I would eat and they would eat when they got home. I cooked Sunday – Thursday, Friday was pizza and movie night. Saturday was out and about and we ate out.

  27. Ana Costa says...

    Hello! I live in Lisboa, Portugal. I have a 6 year old daughter.
    I have always dined with her since she was 3 years old. What I cook for myself, she eats too. Her favorites: meatballs with spaghetti; grilled fish with couscous and vegetables; baked fish with vegetable puree; steak with mashed potatoes; fried quail with salad. We always ate fruit before the big meal and soup at the end. It’s a great time to talk about trivial or other things that come up. I do not think it is useful to infantilize meals because of children. It is not productive and only adds stress and work to the end of a day when we are already tired. They have to eat what the adults decide. And then there’s still time to play a little.

  28. SallyK says...

    I’m a single, senior empty-nester, so much of this doesn’t apply to me. I try to do my main meal at midday and have something simple, like soup, for dinner.

    In the introduction to the first edition of How to Cook Without a Book Pam Anderson wrote that her mother and grandmother had access to a limited number of ingredients and had a few tried and true ways to cook them. Thirty years later she had access to a much wider variety of ingredients and many more ways to prepare those ingredients.

    I don’t think the increased variety has made getting a meal on the table easier. In fact, I think it’s made it more difficult. As much as I appreciate food and cooking blogs and websites,I think they’ve raised the bar and made weeknight meals more aspirational than achievable.

    My daughter gave me this recipe for baked salmon and said it came from Pioneer Woman. When I finally found the recipe on her website, I found it actually came from Pam Anderson. Place a thawed salmon filet, any size, on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper then place in a COLD oven. Turn on the heat to 400˚F and bake for 25 minutes. The salmon will be perfectly done. https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/pams-day-of-deliciousness/

    I am admittedly a huge fan of How to Cook Without a Book — now both editions. I highly recommend both of them if you’re trying to get meals on the table in a timely manner. While the recipes are designed to serve 4, they can easily be scaled up or down. I have some of the master formulas memorized, others I refer to as needed.

    I am also a huge fan of DALS breaded chicken cutlets. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/breaded-chicken-cutlets-aka-grandma-jodys-chicken-51114400 They can be served so many ways: with just about any starch, including as a sandwich, with or without a sauce, as Chicken Milanese or Chicken Parmesan. For even more ideas: https://food52.com/blog/18117-pssst-8-very-adult-ways-to-eat-chicken-fingers-for-dinner

  29. Gabby says...

    It’s probably because I’m French but I had family dinner every night, even when I was really young, and I think most of my friends as well (but we do eat and go to bed later than most European countries). In France we’re used to consider children like small adults, so they basically eat whatever grown-ups are having for dinner but in a smaller version (and usually cut into really really little pieces). When a kid doesn’t like what it’s in the plate, well, we figure out a way to change it quickly (i.e we take away some of the vegetables) or we’ll make deals like “you can only eat half of this and then go straight to desert”. I’m not saying it’s better than the American way, but I just had NEVER realized that it could be otherwise !

    • Liz says...

      I’m American and I didn’t realize that some kids got separate kid dinners until I was, like, 10! (I was at a friend’s house and the mom made mac n cheese for the kids at 5:30.. then fish and salad for herself and the dad when he got home much later. I was shocked.) My family always ate together and we all ate the same thing — no choices/pickiness allowed. We were taught to pretty much clear our plates. We probably went to bed too late because of the insistence on family dinners, but… both my sister and I eat pretty much everything now. With my own kids (11 months old and almost 4) I’m trying to do family dinners every night but it is so tricky with the time crunch between work/commute/daycare pickup/dinner prep/bathtime/bedtime. 5pm to 8:30pm is madness! Hoping it gets less crazy as my babies get bigger.

  30. Jessica says...

    I keep a list on my phone of favorite dinners. There’s about 30 to choose from. It makes meal planning and a grocery shopping list easy. I’ve also discovered shopping on the weekend is key for me as it’s just so hard to find time for during the week.

  31. Avigail says...

    Can I suggest something revolutionary? I imagine it would work for very few people with flexible schedules but it works for us and if it can work for anyone else, it’s worth knowing about! We have family dinners most the year but when my husband is very busy at work and gets him after the kids are asleep for many weeks at a time, we have a… super quick family BREAKFAST!! My husband has a flexible start time, my kids are still little so it’s ok for them to be late to nursery and playgroups, and I have a flexible work schedule as well. And it actually doesn’t cause us to be late most the time because it takes less than 7 minutes. We all sit down and grab a yogurt or coffee or bowl of cereal and my husband hears about their day. If we are running late, I can continue packing them up or getting them dressed in the kitchen while staying engaged in the convo. We play music and have a great time. Again, it’s just for a few minutes but it’s pretty special! Hope this idea helps someone!

    • Paige says...

      We do family breakfast, too! My husband makes eggs, jammy toast and tea for everyone and once or twice a week I make pancakes with mashed bananas in them. It’s great because our daughter is such a picky eater – it allows us to eat one meal together that’s the same. It also allows us to talk about what our plans are for the day so everybody knows what’s on the schedule.

    • Lori says...

      Thank you, Ariane! I appreciate the link to these recipes. They sound amazing!

  32. Kelsey says...

    America’s Test Kitchen just launched a website and cookbook for kids! I love their recipes and there is a wide selection of kid-friendly dishes your boys would most likely enjoy too! https://www.americastestkitchen.com/kids/home

  33. patricia blaettler says...

    I just made something new this week that was quick and delicious. Saute halved cherry tomatoes, asparagus cut into 2 inch pieces, garlic, onion slivers, kalamata olives, and capers.
    Add white wine for liquid (or chicken broth, if preferred). Cook spaghetti and then use tongs to get that spaghetti into the pan and toss the ingredients together. Sprinkle grated romano/ parmesan/ cheese on top. It was so flavorful! And super quick.

  34. Michele says...

    I once read, many years ago, that when stuck in a cooking rut, to buy a few wooden circles from Michaels and a mason jar. Write down your family favorites, and any new recipe that makes it to your “favorites”. On Sundays, pick out 4 of those. You’ve already filtered everything out, and should love everything! Voila.

  35. Jennifer says...

    I just recently ended my maternity leave and now getting dinner on the table by 6:00 for us and our 6 year old (with our new 4-month old) has been quite the challenge, since usually the baby is ready for bed RIGHT NOW. I got spoiled with only one child for so long, lol. But our dinners are usually some of the following:
    – baked salmon with veggies and sourdough rolls
    – roasted shrimp and brown rice
    – quiche using up things in veggie drawer
    – turkey burgers from grocery freezer section, with roasted veggies
    – taco Thursdays (Daddy is in charge of these!)
    – then eat out/order in on Friday, and maybe one other time through the weekend

    A few other things I do:
    – rely on our takout meals to expand into our dinners. Usually if we order a pizza, we get a large, so that for next night’s dinner we can pair it with a salad and call it a meal. Or, say, saving the white rice that comes with our vietnamese takeout and using that as a jumping off point for tomorrow’s dinner.
    – for me, the biggest hurdle is just deciding what to make, so if it’s not one of the options up above, I’ve trained myself to just look in my pantry and let that dictate what to make. I was killing myself looking up recipes, etc., but if I do it the other way around (finding recipes that use what I already have on hand), then that’s half the battle. I’m sure most people do that already but when I switched up how I thought about it, it was life changing.
    – grocery shopping at lunch! I know I’m lucky to even have this option but, if I know we need something then I’ll just go grab it at lunch (we are surrounded by a ton of grocery stores where I work), throw it in the break room fridge, then I’m ahead of the game for that night’s dinner. Of course, I cannot get carried away and purchase too many cold things or else risk getting banned for taking up all of the fridge space at work, so I try to keep it conservative. I’m sure I get the side eye from some people for doing that but oh well. (I’ve even toyed with the idea of keeping a cooler in my car for larger shopping trips…does that make me weird? I just hate going to the grocery store after work sooooo much.)

    • Kelly says...

      Me too! I frequently do some light grocery shopping during lunch and then I’ll keep the non-perishables with me at my desk and the rest in the lunchroom fridge. It’s much easier that trying to find time later and usually much less crowded.

  36. Jennifer says...

    My kids are three and five and both picky in different ways. Pasta is the only thing that is a crowd pleaser. One kid eats it plain with olive oil and nutritional yeast (i’m vegan so I always have this on hand instead of parm) the other kid will have it with tomato lentil sauce or pesto. Tofu cubes and rice noodles are another big favourite. I add veggies for the kid who likes them and for my husband and I. Spicy peanut sauce for the grown ups. And the latest exciting dinner option is… make your own peanut butter sandwiches. For some reason the fact that they get to spread their own peanut butter and jam or honey makes them so excited about this dinner option. Add some raw vegetables (which they both actually like) and some water or milk and that’s a perfectly servicable meal. Grownups get vegetarian BLTs, everyone is happy.

  37. Celyn says...

    love reading about these traditions and memory-making. le sigh.

    i have one of those uber-picky eaters and when my daughter turned one, she turned her nose up at all of the homemade meals i’d spent hours making. she doesn’t even eat pasta or pizza!

    now some nights we eat what she eats, and i’m thinking of opening a restaurant for uber-sensitive tasters. the menu would look like this:

    appetizers:
    *peanut butter (licked, off a spoon)
    *yogurt raisins
    *strawberry yogurt sipped from a bowl with a straw, to reveal a spiderman drawing at the bottom

    entrees:
    *pancakes (with hidden seasonal fruit or vegetable), on a fork that says “my pancake hair looks very tasty, noooo, don’t eat it!”

    dessert:
    *the colored sprinkles on top of a donut (please don’t eat the donut)

    beverage pairing:
    *milk, milk and more milk!

    • Kimberley Wenzel says...

      I would sign up for reservations now! My kids are very picky and don’t like the same things. I’m so jealous of these folks and their salmon burger eating kids!

  38. Callie says...

    My baby girl will arrive in four weeks and I just went on a massive freezer binge and made: From Jenny Rosenstrach – chicken soup with orzo (best chicken soup ever!), butternut squash soup with apples, pulled BBQ chicken, and turkey chili; Ina Garten’s 16-bean soup; Deb Perelman’s breakfast burritos; and Julia Turshen’s turkey ricotta meatballs. All of these recipes are so great frozen!!

    We make homemade pizza every Friday night (using the recipe on Jenny’s blog/Jim Lahey’s crust). I’ll make the full recipe, use half the dough for Friday night and freeze the other half (making sure to let it come to room temp before using it). In the summer, we do a lot of Acai bowls and tomato/mozzarella salads.

    Smitten Kitchen’s one-pan farro with tomatoes has been a lifesaver many, many times over. So has Jenny Rosenstrach’s coconut rice with brussels sprouts and her easiest tortilla soup ever (SO delicious with rotisserie chicken and store-bought tortilla chips!) and Luisa Weiss’ rice with broth and peas and cheese – also Luisa’s best tomato sauce ever with ricotta which was here on Cup of Jo.

    Someone else recommended making a list, so that’s what I’m doing now before the baby comes. Will save the more complicated recipes for weekends!

    • Jackie says...

      Ponchbof Yum also recently came out with 12 freezer meals in a printable. The best part is you prep/freeze, no need to cook first. Every one’s been a winner so far; we’ve made 5 of them.

  39. Deborah says...

    Commenting from Saudi Arabia, where we do family lunch AND dinner every day. Yes, my husband and boys are home for lunch every day, which is great, but takes some prep. Especially since they don’t love leftovers. I try to do lots of dinners that leave leftovers that can be transformed into other meals. Instead of roasting one chicken, I’ll do two and then use the extra shredded chicken in soup or fried rice or burritos the next day for lunch. Or I’ll make a double batch of meatballs, freeze half, and pull them out a few weeks later so we aren’t doing three days straight of meatballs. The other layer is that my husband is my ride to the grocery store, so we do one big shop on Saturday mornings. I have to have a plan, which actually eliminates a lot of 11 a.m./5 p.m. stress. As does having some meals in the deep freeze!

  40. Holly says...

    We eat a lot of halloumi and a lot of scrambled eggs, but I’ve never thought of combining the two. Any tips? Do you keep the halloumi in slices, or dice it? I’m guessing you fry the cheese and saute the veg and then pour eggs over it all? Thank you for such a good idea!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! we do it just like you describe, and we cut the halloumi into cubes, like the size of tofu. xoxo

  41. Chelsea says...

    I grew up in a family of six with a mother who cooked homemade family meals each night for dinner. I am now a stay at home mother to three kids ages 20 months-7 years. I assumed I would also cook homemade dinners each night for my family, but with a husband whose work schedule is full and brings him home at varying times each night, kids with a 7:00 bedtime, a very busy toddler, and being constantly asked for snacks after 3:00 each afternoon, I have accepted the fact that family dinners are not going to be a regular thing in this season of life. So I typically feed my kids around 5:00, then my husband and I eat later. Sometimes our meals are homemade (a favorite is Julia Turshen’s Turkey & Ricotta Meatballs which you featured here), and other times it’s take out or something easy like quesadillas. When you have kids each day is unique and I love staying home with them and all the fun things we do together. But I try to give myself grace and remind myself that sometimes I don’t have time to make that homemade meal I had planned because I took my kids to the park or explored the zoo with them a little too long, and that’s okay.

    • Liz says...

      Yes!!!

  42. I grew up eating dinner every night together as a family (just me and my parents – only child) cooked by my mother, who worked most of my life. When I was in high school she would have me start dinner after school, often coaching me through it on the phone. So when I started my own family it was natural to me to have a family dinner from the time my first kid was born. Sometimes my husband doesn’t make it home in time (we eat at 6:00pm) but most days he tries really hard to honor that time, if just for 30 minutes. I HATE planning meals and making a grocery list on Sunday nights, but it works best if I do. If I’m lazy on Sunday I will wake up early on Monday and do it. I have a chart that I made with 4 weeks worth of meals (Monday – Friday, we eat out on Saturday and Sunday). Monday – seafood (fish, shrimp – because I shop on Mondays so it’s fresh). Tuesday – Taco Tuesday! – beef, chicken, Korean, steak, or fish. Wednesday – “Winged Wednesday” – something with chicken. Thursday – “Tiki Tiki Tembo” – something with an Indian or Asian bent. Friday – burgers or homemade pasta. The chart helps in that I know they are meals that my family likes, I don’t have to think too much and we don’t repeat meals often.

    • Pui says...

      I really love your suggestions of “themed” weekday dinners. Thanks for sharing!

  43. Kelly Hartman says...

    we (2 working parents, 8 yo and 2 yo girls) eat dinner together most nights! My tips:
    1. I sit down every weekend with a calendar and make a meal plan and a grocery list.
    2. Make planned leftovers – if we can’t incorporate it into another meal, my kids will often eat leftovers for snacks or sometimes even breakfast!
    3. Plan to serve an old favorite when introducing new foods – I started serving a different fish every Thursday night thx to an awesome fish subscription service I found – to take the edge of the unknown, i always serve sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries which i know my kids love and can fill up on if they don’t like the fish. But – they have been really enjoying the fish too!
    4. My older daughter was never very good at the table until around age 4. My 2yo is a big after nap snacker and isn’t too hungry when we’re eating, so we usually let her sit down for a few bites and then get down. Have age appropriate expectations and let them grow into their manners!
    5. My best nights are when i have done any little step beforehand. Even if it’s just putting canned beans and a can opener out in the morning, it feels like such a gift to my evening self!
    6. Keep a list somewhere of family favorites, dishes for a crowd, super fast dinners…some weeks when i sit down to do meal planning I’m running on empty and those lists always jog my memory.

    this is so long…i have so many more tips but most of all remember cooking dinner and sitting down together are HABITS – keep at it, even when it’s hard, and it becomes automatic!

  44. Alyssa says...

    I LOVE all of Jenny Rosenstrach’s cookbooks. Any legit recipes I make are from her usually! Especially chicken parm meatballs!

  45. Liz says...

    One of our new favorite is poutine with sweet potato fries, mushroom (brown) gravy, cheese curds and peas. Bake the fries, make the gravy, add the curds to the gravy to melt a bit, microwave peas. And drink a gallon of water because it’s all so salty!
    We always do family dinners.

  46. Analog House says...

    I love to cook, so I usually use my Fridays to make something a little nice, knowing that the slow down of the weekend is about to occur. I save pizza dinner for the night my kids have activities and I don’t have time or energy to cook.

  47. ele says...

    Wow, reading the comments I see that family dinner is a thing. I grew up assuming that’s how everyone ate every night! I guess I was fortunate to have a mostly stay-at-home mother (my father prepared grilled dinners a couple times a week throughout summer). That’s just how we ate – everyone sat down at the same time, for any meal that was happening. Thinking back though, snacks or weekday lunches were usually free-form, but breakfast and dinner were sit down’s.

  48. jan says...

    Loaded jacket sweet potatoes – with spinach or broccoli stirred in (orange and green veggies eaten together contain compatible nutrients for optimal absobtion, fyi!). Also, seared sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt are sooo delicious lately!

    Bowls of twice-cooked canned garbonzo’s (they come cooked, but cooking them again in water to cover plus the seasonings softens them and makes them twice as fun to eat), seasoned with s&p, onion powder, cumin, coriander powder, chili flakes, a splash of rice vinegar, lots of olive oil and a healthy splash of my new favorite: coconut aminos – tamari sauce would work too though. And a vinegrette dressed salad.

    Bowls of small brown lentils (we have a surprising selection of lentils at our WF’s!), that stay firm when soft, topped with sauteed onions, celery mushrooms and broccoli cooked til soft in a sauce made from the pan juices plus olive oil/dash of vinegar, s/p, etc.

    Both of those legume bowls can top the sweet potatoes, btw.

    Crepes rolled with savory things like scrambled eggs, spinach, mushrooms sauteed onions and peppers – the best breakfast for dinner combo out there, imo!

  49. Sara says...

    I love looking for new recipes but some go to weekly recipes that are EASY quick and delicious are…

    *Roasted lemon garlic bone in-chicken thighs (slice off top of garlic bulb and roast in oven alongside chicken thighs with salt/pepper/lemon juice and some olive oil). It makes the most delicious sauce ever without doing a thing!!

    *Pan fried simple salmon with lemon juice/salt/pepper (or soy sauce/sesame oil) with a variety of side dishes: mini potatoes, sweet potato fries, quick spinach salad with homemade dressing: olive oil, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper or sauteed spinach.

    The only lettuce I buy each week is spinach, because you can use it in a salad, sautee it, throw it in a smoothie or if it’s not going to be used, throw it in the freezer!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yum!!!

  50. Annie says...

    My go to weeknight meal is Thai curry with whatever protein and veggies we have around. It’s so easy to scale for more or fewer diners, and you can put just about anything int it. It’s fast, cheap, healthy and delicious and I never get tired of the endless variations. I always keep a stock of coconut milk, and always try to buy new and different curry pastes when I see them, so it’s a great last minute “scrounge meal”.

    • I do the same. I also make something similar with jars of Indian sauces–there are a couple of good ones available at the grocery store. I often make it in the Instant Pot so that the chicken gets that slow-cooked texture. So easy and fast, and there’s always enough for leftovers for lunch at work the next day.

  51. My family dinner, there is always a chicken menu on the table.

  52. Mary says...

    It’s funny, I’ve always thought eating after the kids sounds so sophisticated and European but then by 4:45 p.m. I am starving! The one thing I try to do most night is to light a candle at the dinner table even thought it’s just me, my husband, a toddler and a baby. The madness of the witching hour and trying to get dinner on the table often leaves me feeling frenetic and absolutely not wanting to spend time with my family! But lighting a candle centers me, captures my kid’s attention, makes me look up and take stock of all the people I love most in the world gathered around this tiny hand-me-down table for a handful of years until they are off and gathered around new tables. I know that’s a lot to expect from a candle but I promise it often works!

    • Nicole K. says...

      This is such a sweet idea, Mary. I want to try it!

    • C. says...

      I Love that! I will try it for our Diners!

    • Maria says...

      This is actually more European than you would think. I’m Danish and “hygge” is all about lighting candles, so I really love this. Dinner is a challenge, but small rituals bring us together. Yes, candles centre us and create an intimate space. Try it :-)

  53. Meredith says...

    One of my favorite sites for healthy and fast weeknight dinners is The Defined Dish. -http://www.thedefineddish.com
    Many of her recipes follow the Whole 30 diet but you don’t feel like you are missing out on anything! Tons of flavor and most are pretty quick to assemble. Our favorites are the crock pot tikka masala, kung pao chicken, whole roasted greek chicken with potatoes… the list goes on! Enjoy! Happy cooking :)

  54. Maire says...

    We almost always had family dinner growing up, and I’ve kept that tradition throughout my life. In college and grad school, on most nights, my roommates and I would all gather to prep our dinners and then sit and watch Jeopardy together. Before I moved in with my husband, my best friend/roommate and I made gorgeous dinners together almost every night when we got home from work. Now that I am married, whoever gets home first gets dinner together.

  55. Jessie says...

    I cook from scratch. Every damn day. We stick to a mostly Paleo diet. I use the cookbooks Paleo Kids Cookbook and Nom Nom Paleo. I usually eat with my daughters at 6 and then my husband eats when he gets home around 7 or 7:30. One the weekends we all eat together. We will eat grain free (From scratch) pasta or zoodles with meat sauce or meat balls, soups, homemade bacon hamburgers and baked “fries”, wild caught salmon with Zucchini and cauliflower rice, meat pies with homemade grain free crust and veggies, homemade chicken nuggets (Grain free) with kale chips. Eggs, and bacon or sausages. It is work but I feel good knowing what we put into our bodies. We only buy from the farmers market and nothing packaged or made in a lab.

    • Michele says...

      Jessie, this is so impressive! I’ve strived for this but don’t quite get all the homemade stuff in there, and my kids are too picky for me to choose the diversity of meals that I would like. So great you love cooking so much! I’m going to check out the Paleo Kids Cookbook.

    • Jessie says...

      Thanks Michele! what helped me was getting rid of EVERYTHING. My 8 and 7 year old ate what I made because they had to since there weren’t any crackers and only real food to snack and eat. My 4 year old was a little harder to get on board. She took about a week. It also helped that we talked a lot about how real food helps and lab food doesn’t. However when they go to friends houses I know I can’t control what they eat there. I instill good eating habits and hope that they eat good when not around but know they probably eat goldfish.

    • Anna says...

      I’m curious, Jessie: Do you work out of the house? If so, I’d love some insight/tricks for eating paleo and from scratch (at 6 pm!!!) on work days. I used to eat very much like this, but now that I’m a single mom working full time on a limited budget, it feels like I have a choice between fun time with my kids/financial security and an “ideal” diet.

    • Jessie says...

      Hi Anna, yes I do work out of the house. Here is what I do: Friday night- Make a list of food I need at the farmers market this is salmon, meats, fruits, veggies and eggs. Any fruits and meats my daughters want for lunches. I then make a separate grocery list for the grocery store. Such as coconut flour, cheese, certain chicken sausage with veggies, coconut milk. Saturday morning: My daughters come with me to the farmers market and grocery store. We are lucky the grocery store near us is mostly organic and small. They are aware we don’t get doughnuts or any food. I will let them have some chocolate milk from the milk guy there. Then home, then off the store for the rest of the food either that day or Sunday. I take some time to make the bread, kale chips. Mostly the waffles I make at 6:00 or 6:30 am morning of or late at night after they go to bed and freeze them. I also stick to VERY simple and easy meals. Some would be Salmon with Lemon and zucchini. All cooked together. Tonight I am making hamburgers (minus the bun) baked sweet potato fries and steamed broccoli with olive oil salt and pepper. Sometimes I do the slow cooker. If it’s too many ingredients or too complicated I’m out. Some nights it’s chicken and broccoli or chicken and kale chips. I also have a meat and veggies. Again easy. Sometimes we don’t have dinner until 6:30 or 6:45 because of their dance so I just let them have a snack. That is usually truffles (made with dates and chocolate chips and coconut flakes) or carrots or apples, or cheese and bread. I also do a slow cooker for pork and have pulled pork for dinner with kale chips on the side or some kind of veggie. Friday nights are usually left overs or whatever we can find on the fridge or freezer to put together. Sometimes it’s frozen strawberries and banana soft serve with chocolate chips. Think EASY. The paleo Kids cookbook really helped me a lot since two of my daughters also have food allergies. The night before I will ask if they want anything warm for lunch or breakfast. This way I know if I have to get up early enough to warm it up or cook it for breakfast. (We leave at 7:45 for school) and you are right about the choice. For me it’s we hang out at home and play cards or do things for free like go for a hike or nature walk or library and spend our money on at the farmers market. I hope this helps. Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions.

  56. Hanna says...

    We have breakfast for dinner one day of the week. It could be cereal, scrambled eggs, spinach pies, meat pies. whatever. The kids enjoy it and it takes the stress off. We also do pizza Friday.

  57. Court says...

    I have a standing Thursday night tradition of breakfast for dinner (or in my house-BFD). I make scrambled eggs with cheese, toast, bacon, cut up an avocado and fruit. Thursdays are hard. You’re so close to the weekend but it’s not Friday yet, so this standing weekly dinner has lifted a weight off my shoulders. We, too, order dinner out on Fridays so I just focused on Monday through Wednesday for dinners. Three nights of dinners makes it more manageable!

    • Nicole says...

      Love the idea of a standing BFD! You’re right – only 3 days of dinners seems way more manageable.

  58. Maggie says...

    Dinner: A Love Story, books and blog are both great (though with two small kids, I’ll dig through the archives to see what she was making as a full-time working, commuting parent of toddlers because those recipes are more realistic for me!). As for strategy, I have never been able to give up a whole Sunday to prepping for the week but lately I’ll make one big vat of something on Sunday – a stew/chili/soup, roast, enichladas – that doesn’t take a ton of hands on time and will last us for two nights, and that’s Monday and Tuesday. My husband will make Sunday dinner since he gets home on weeknights just as we’re sitting down to eat, so I’m not trying to make three dinners at once. Wednesday and Thursday are the easiest, fastest things I can imagine – stirfry with pre-chopped veggies, that TJ’s frozen gnocchi with sausage hack from this blog, eggs, etc. And Friday will ALWAYS be take out. Always.

  59. I just wrote the first of a 2 part blog post about this very topic today as I’ve really struggled to get dinner on the table since having a baby 7 months ago. I’ve tried a couple of different solutions like boxes from Plated and PrepDish but neither really worked for us. Our nights are so compressed as I want to enjoy that one hour we get with our son between when we get home and when he goes to bed and then I pump after dinner and go to bed early so I have a shot at 7 hours of sleep (he’s still up multiple times a night). I’m still working out a system but what’s worked for us is having “themes” to the 3 meals I make each week, like tacos, a curry dish and a wok-based dish.

    • Rachel says...

      I had a baby 10 months ago and I know exactly how you feel. Crockpot saved my nights! You can either have it going while you’re at work all day or put it together and have it cook overnight, then refrigerate in the morning and microwave for dinner.

      With a baby, dinner should take no more than 10 min at night. It’s such a hectic time of day!

    • Estee says...

      Lisa, hoping you have deep grace with yourself during this season! So glad you are choosing to savor that hour at night…it will be such a short time that he is in this stage. Themes, batch cooking, takeout or freezer meals can sustain you while you need them to for sure. My family is just a few months ahead of you, but I think it gets easier!

    • Kate says...

      I feel your pain! I’m recently back at work post-maternity leave and am searching for meals my husband and I can make quickly so we can hang with our son and still eat before 10:00 at night. I’m constantly in search of crockpot or 30 minute meals that don’t involve chicken (don’t they all?!).

  60. I love that you reference how you’re still learning. That’s such a great approach! With our kids, we try to embrace and model a “be curious/still learning approach” at meals and I think it helps create a safe place at the table to get more comfortable with food choices and discover foods we truly do enjoy.

  61. Emily says...

    When my son was born, his pediatrician said something to us that has always stayed with me. He told us that the easiest way to raise a well adjusted child was to commit to eating together as a family at home as often as possible. We are lucky to be able to do it. In this busy season of sports, music, etc. for him and full time work for my husband and me, our meals aren’t glamorous. The same five things are on super heavy rotation. But we sit together most weeknights, make eye contact, and enjoy each other’s company. I believe it makes a difference in all of our lives.

    • katie says...

      I grew up eating family dinners and I find it very strange that people don’t eat together as a family. I have a 9 year old on a travel soccer team, a 1 year old, and both parents work full time outside of the home. We eat family dinners almost every night. How and why does it work? It’s a priority and we make it happen. I grew up in a military household and dinner was always 5-530pm. This is what time I still like to eat, plus eating any later than that gets into the kids bedtime routines and I don’t dare F with that!

      We are a plant based household, so not cooking meat or faux meats cuts back on cook/prep time, for sure, and most meals are homemade completely.

      Prep work is key. A couple Sundays a month, or less, I make a bunch of soups, waffles, veggie burgers, chia jam, burritos and freeze them. We do a lot of different types of pastas, where most sauces are easily made in a food processor or blender. Lots of salads with garden produce, super easy. Smoothies, avocado on toast, etc can be a great dinner.

      ALSO, I prep my fruit& veggies ahead of time. Prepping a specific way and storing them in glass is a total game changer. My strawberries and grapes will last up to 2 weeks, greens for 2 weeks, peppers for about 3 weeks. So, they’re ready for me to cook with I have to do it less often since the method of prep saves wasted food. For more info, follow brownkids on Instagram and take their Jar Method course :)

    • Tanya says...

      Katie, we would love to eat family dinner together, but at 5:30 pm I am just leaving the office. My 4 and 5 year olds go to bed at 7pm, so it just doesn’t work for us at the moment. Everyone has different commitments.

  62. Kelly says...

    1. The book Sheet Pan Suppers is great! Roasting everything on some sheet pans is easy and tasty, and I love their trick of baking off rounds of polenta along with meat & veggies. https://food52.com/recipes/77623-sheet-pan-chicken-with-figs-and-bread-salad
    2. Sushi bowls (make sushi rice, add avocado, roasted veggies, smoked salmon from trader joe’s, seaweed snacks from trader joe’s)
    3. Migas (fry tortilla chip crumbs, then soft scramble eggs with pick de Gallo and sharp cheddar)
    4. We eat some combo of roasted veggies with a sauce pretty often. Miso butter is great on everything, and you can add an egg for protein.
    5. Savory yogurt! We smear a container of Siggi’s onto a platter, then sprinkle with flaky salt and cumin or curry powder. Fun for kids to “decorate” with preselected spices, we like it with lamb sausages from the grocery store or spiced roasted carrots

  63. EBeth says...

    I don’t have time right now to read all the comments so sorry if this a repeat but just wanted to jump in and say, “Good Job and Keep at it!!” Dinner time together – regardless of what or if there’s food – is so important! My boys are 22 and 25 and when we reminisce about their childhood (which seems like last week to me), they always say that being together as a family for dinner was the best part!! Makes me so happy ’cause many nights it was such a pain…so glad I pushed through the picky eating, the time crunch and the exhaustion! Of course, now that they’re out of the house and come home to visit, I’m still cooking but I’ll take it!

  64. Marion says...

    I grew up in Switzerland and familly dinners were always super important. My favorite was always Wednesday night dinner, where we would have homemade pizza. We had a lot of different activities so it was the only day where we wouldn’t sit down all together for dinner. Usually half of us would eat with my dad while the others with my mom. I thought it was nice of my parents to split it this way to make sure that we all got ‘family’ time, rather than just eat by ourselves. And pizza is super easy to make during the week. I like making my own dough but you could always buy it premade and then just top it off at home. It used to LOVE helping!

  65. Lois says...

    My husband and 2 teenagers and I eat dinner together every weeknight despite crazy busy schedules. In order to make that happen we’ve had to be flexible about the time we eat, which is alway late. I work late and my kids don’t like having a full belly before sports & ballet, so they have a snack after school and are good to go until 8 or 8:30. We do a daily theme: Meatless Monday, Tuesday is a kids’ favourite (lasagna, chili etc. – to repair the damage done to our relationship by meatless monday,) Wednesday my husband deals with (this can range from homemade pizza or pasta to take-out depending on his schedule), Thursday is fish, Friday is take-out. Most of these dinners depend on me having it partly organized in the morning and my husband, who starts & finishes work earlier than me, finishing the cooking. The daily theme takes a lot of the head-scratching out of the process, and I love having the one day where I don’t have to think about it at all. We are (all 4 of us) really into food and spend a lot more time than we need to on shopping and cooking. But even so, it’s the time spent together at the end of the day that we all cherish. My kids (14 & 16) have mentioned several times that none of their friends’ families eat dinner together as regularly as we do.

    • Marci says...

      lol “to repair the damage done to our relationship by meatless monday”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha

  66. Jennifer says...

    Also in Europe here… We are a family of 4, two full time working parents and two kids. We eat dinner together every night, when one of is not travelling. We enjoy the salmon tacos/tortillas from your page, w feta, cherry tomatoes and lime juice. We also eat pasta dishes, scrambled eggs w bread, quick things like cous cous, shrimp and paprikas grilled in oven w lemon juice, and bread cheese etc w fresh veggies cut up. When kids turn their noses, they generally are not offered replacements… They will eat our healthy food if hungry. Xx

  67. Meg says...

    As a family who only gets to eat as a family on the weekends – if we could eat as a family more I wouldn’t care what we ate as long as we sat down.

    Jealous of all these families eating dinner as a family.

  68. Rose says...

    Every Saturday or Sunday night, I make something that can give us another meal on Monday or Tuesday. Examples are taco salad that turns into taco rice, salmon with potatoes that turn into simple salmon udon with spinach, and chickpea curry with rice that turns into chickpea curry with naan. BLTs are a favorite weeknight dinner too. We get nice ciabatta bread and do sriracha mayo, bacon, and tomatoes, and the “L” is an arugula salad with lemon olive oil dressing and parmesan cheese.

  69. I cook for my family everyday. My daughter is super picky (she’s almost 5) our dinner staples are chicken souvlaki, pasta, tacos with faux refried beans, pizza, homemade chicken nuggets, chicken parm.
    Both my kids help cook using real tools, this has helped with her pickiness.

  70. Bec says...

    We do family dinner at our place- with a 3yo & 7yo there is many a night where they too forget to eat their zucchini too :) I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute and 30-minute meals. Yes they take longer than 15mins or 30mins! But I have picked up some great ideas from his recipes, and tips for making speedier and still healthy and satisfying meals. His 30min meals has a great vege curry, and a feta & spinach pie that we love. His 15 min meals has a good lamb meatball recipe (so good!) that are probably available on his website too. Shoutout too to the Duck salad in the 15min meals!! Good luck :)

  71. Bea says...

    I live in Italy and have always had family dinners, and the biggest challenge was trying to build dinner around my (very) picky children’s taste. This in the end has actually hepled simplify everything, as the children prefer all things plain and without dressing. I find it very helpful to cook large quantities of grains and vegetables so I have a few staples in the fridge. Stir fried rice comes along in five minutes! Also, sheet-pan dinners if I have longer than half an hour. Crostini (bread, cheese and shredded prosciutto on a sheet pan) and salad. Pasta in tons of ways (carbonara!!!!) And when a recipe gets approved from all 5 of us, I write it down into our “family recipes cookbook”. The kids love this!

  72. Helen says...

    I love the concept of family dinner, and we do have them all weekend and whatever weeknights we can- but our guys are 6 and 4 and still need to eat pretty early. They also do not like:
    a) to try new things b) the same things (one will eat chicken, the other only sausage. One will eat potato and the other just doesn’t like them (how are we related?!), one loves broccoli and the other will only eat carrot or cucumber…and on and on…) c) the same things they would eat last month!
    I do have some success with the DALS concept of ‘deconstructed’ dinners (tacos and indian food especially!), but definitely give them pasta with parm or cheddar far too often. As long as I serve it up with a veggie, I don’t let myself feel too bad about it! I also remind myself that family dinner is not so much about the food, but the connection :)

  73. Nina says...

    Being Swedish this is all very strange to me – I do not know of any family who don’t have dinner together, of course when kids get older and there are activities it might not be all that sit down at one time. To have dinner together is normal not that kids eat alone and then parents later. So for me the normal is to have family dinner and that’s not something you even talk about since it’s the normal. On the other hand the concept of stay-at-home mom doesn’t exist. All women I know stayed at home for 9-18 months and then got back to work. Dads stay at home too for some time. And yes I know we are very fortunate when it comes to parental leave and childcare and I find it fascinating how this leads to things that exist as a concept in other countries doesn’t exist here.

    • Maria says...

      I’m Danish and I also wondered about this. But Americans work longer hours than we Scandinavians do, and stay-at-home moms have childcare 24-7, while almost all Danish children are at nursery, kindergarden or school/after school, so we are really privileged.

  74. Rosa says...

    I am Spanish so I think the meals are somewhat different. At night I try not to eat many carbohydrates, we do not usually eat pasta or rice for dinner. We mainly eat protein, vegetables and dessert fruit. It is very simple to make some grilled meat or fish such as salmon and accompany it with broccoli, salad of spinach, lettuce , another days peas with serrano, a potato omelet … For my two children of 3 and 5 years the Mediterranean diet is ideal .

    • Claire says...

      sounds delicious!

  75. Marjolein says...

    Great that you’re giving family dinners a go! I can’t imagine not having dinner with our whole family. I guess as a European that is much more common. Most of the time I am the cook and although I try to make food that I know will be a hit with our kids, I also mix in new things. For instance: I try to spice up curries a little bit more every time.

    If you’re looking for family recipes or other easy, quick, but healthy meals, http://www.bbcgoodfood.com is my favorite!
    Good luck!

  76. Rebecca says...

    We do theme nights and they variations on a theme: soup and sandwich; tacos; pasta; pizza; rice/meat; leftovers. I love meatballs made with chopped veggies; big bowls of veggie soup or chili; tacos of all sorts. Cooking Light is my go to for recipes.

  77. LOVE this post. Toby’s comment just killed me. :-) Not much to add over here (my husband works nights, so we rarely eat together, and our kiddo is barely 2 months, so it’s just breast milk or formula at all hours for him), but I always search for yummy recipes using only one pan. I’m not a great cook as it is, and I totally hate kitchen cleanup. Recent one that was easy and delicious was teriyaki salmon + roasted veggies from Eazy Peazy Mealz. UGH so good. Even hubs liked it reheated.

    Neither my husband nor I grew up having family dinners, so I’m hoping as our son gets older we’ll be able to give him that experience. We DO have Sunday game nights though; can’t wait til he can join in!

  78. Margaret E Fiorio says...

    growing up we had dinner 7 days a week together and now as an adult I am blown away at my parents dedication to cooking and totally understand why we ate so much pasta. Pasta with veggies, pasta with meat balls, plain buttered noodles. We always had a big salad too! Although I mostly cook for myself, when I am cooking for the kiddos I watch I love breakfast for dinner. For some reason eggs, bacon and toast tastes so good at 6pm.

  79. Sara says...

    the other night I asked the question at dinner, “what was a highlight and a lowlight from your day?” for some reason this question really captured the imagination of my 4 year old and now we’ve been talking about this each night! it’s so sweet to hear everyone’s reflections! It might not stick forever, but I do love having a shared question to talk about.

    • Mina says...

      We do this too. But lately we have all been asking eachother a question. So my 7 year old will ask my 4 year old what she had for lunch today, and my 6 yrar old will ask my husband if he saw anything cool on his bike ride in to work. It get everyone so engaged and I love to hear what kinds of things they’re all curious about…

  80. Sasha L says...

    Meal planning:
    I keep a menu in notes on my phone, one for every week. When it’s time to plan for the next week I just look back through to get ideas, or just copy a whole week’s menu. I also keep a running grocery list and Costco list so it’s super easy when it’s time to restock.

  81. SR says...

    Here in India, we cook dinner (almost) everyday. You can try a few of our flavorful one pot wonders like vegetable pulao, or garbanzo beans curry (chhole masala) served with some store bought naan/rotis.. quesadillas with store bought tortillas are easy to make too!

  82. Jane says...

    Last Christmas my 8 year old son received a cookbook designed for kids, and that has made a big improvement in our family dinners. (“Little Dish , proper food for kids, family cookbook”). He’s exited to be involved, learns new techniques beyond just stirring a spoon, and will often try new things. He feels such pride in the achievement. It’s not necessarily stress-free for me, but it becomes a way to connect to food. We regularly gift the book to friends for their birthday now.

    Another big help has been growing some of our own herbs, veggies, and fruit. We play a guessing game of ‘what herb is in this dish’. Some things are super suitable for kids to grow – cherry tomatoes, corn, baby spinach, even sprouts in a jar if you don’t have a garden.

  83. Kathryn says...

    This is my first week feeling like a stay at home mom – we have a 1 year old and my husband took many months off of work with me for the first year. He’s back to work now, and this week I’ve successfully made three meals, when usually he’s the cook! I made chicken wings with roasted squash and a salad one night, a Lebanese salad with couscous another, and fish tacos tonight. Feeling proud of myself! When our four year old likes dinner I am especially happy.

  84. Jen says...

    Stir fries! Tofu (or a non-vego option would be chicken) with sesame oil, grated fresh ginger, some garlic, a chopped fresh chilli, some chopped veg (I usually do one carrot, a couple of baby bok choy, some corn) served over udon noodles or brown rice. Risottos cooked the lazy way (ie just chuck all the liquid in and let it cook for awhile rather than ladle by ladle). Steamed vegies and fish, all done in the same steamer. Lazy persons gado-gado: brown rice, a soft boiled egg, steamed veg with a sauce made from natural yoghurt, tahini, peanut butter and sambal olek. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s macaroni peas recipe or Jamie Oliver’s anchovies and broccoli pasta recipe. Roast veg + brown rice + feta. Thai curries or laksa using paste from a jar. Pasta sauce made using a chopped chorizo, can of crushed tomatoes, frozen peas. Frozen dumplings from the store (probably a little too often!) And I’m so excited that Hetty Mckinnon’s latest cookbook has some super quick recipes as she makes the BEST recipes!

    • Kelli says...

      Yum! I’m going to try this asap!

  85. Paige says...

    I like to roast some salmon in the oven (400) and top it with Island Salsa from Trader Joes. I like to serve it with rice (Trader Joes Frozen rice is usually what I make ). I like to have sauteed kale too (and maybe some sliced avodaco). It is tropical and super yummy and easy!

  86. Elle says...

    As a teen, both of my parents were hugely into making new recipes each week. My mom would make my sister and I sit with cookbooks in our laps every weekend to each pick out one recipe to make. This love of finding new recipes has carried over to me. Buuuuut (big butt here):
    I have a two year old toddler and a husband that doesn’t get home until 9. I find that I am putting WAY TOO MUCH PRESSURE on myself to make new elaborate recipes each week. I need to compile a list of easy, fast, no-recipe recipes. Pasta with pesto? GOOD. Tacos? GREAT. Any others out there??

    • Kelly says...

      I had kids late in life and pre-kids my husband and I spent years cooking gourmet meals to please ourselves. With my first kid i was in the same boat as you, wanting to keep up with making new, elaborate dishes as i always had. It was such a recipe for disaster – ended up with dinner so late, my daughter overtired, tons of dishes, etc and i wish i could go back and give myself better advice.

      give yourself the blessing that convenience foods and easy recipes are the best thing for your family right now! yes to pasta & tacos. My girls love anything with beans so I buy all varieties, canned, no salt added. Black beans and salsa with tortilla chips. Chickpeas and high quality canned tuna with lemon juice. Great northern beans with chicken sausage, garlic from a jar, a can of diced tomatoes.

      Rinse a handful of berries to serve on the side. Or chop and roast broccoli with parmesan and breadcrumbs on top. Throw down some baby carrots and hummus.

      Cook your fancy recipes on weekends, make extra and it will feel like a huge gift on Monday night! Good luck!

    • Anna says...

      Molly from Orangette has some really quick and easy recipes. I love her black beans with fried onions and cumin (we turn it into bowls with steamed rice and diced avo) and soba noodles with a very simple dressing of peanut or almond butter and lemon / lime juice. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion is also an excellent quick staple. It does need 40+ mins to cook but it’s all hands off time and it doesn’t involve frying an onion etc so active time is two mins. You could also do fried rice or whole roasted sweet potatoes (prick with a fork, wrap with foil and stick in a 200’C oven until tender – about 45 mins depending on their size – then split open and top with S&P, olive oil, parm, avo etc).

  87. Katherine says...

    We’re about five weeks away from welcoming our first child, but my husband and I eat together on the regular most nights, unless I’m just too ravenous from being super pregnant and can’t wait for him. Even then I’ll at least sit with him so we can chat about our day!

    My regular rotation of meals always has the same base: I make a big batch of quinoa and shredded chicken for the week (cook chicken in the oven, toss in the Kitchenaid stand mixer while still warm and use the mixer to easily and quickly shred the chicken), then use that as a start for themed dinner bowls, most of which also use repeated ingredients:
    Mediterranean = spinach, diced cucumber, feta, onion, hummus, oregano, oil + vinegar
    Asian = diced cucumber, shredded carrots, frozen snap peas/edemame, cilantro, green onions, peanut sauce or my fave cashew tahini dressing from a local restaurant (they sell it bottled at our co-op)
    Mexican = black beans, corn, cilantro, green onions, avocado, salsa, fried egg, shredded cheese or cojita cheese (goat cheese works too!)
    Breakfast = turkey bacon or chorizo, fried egg, shredded cheese
    Also usually have some roasted sweet potatoes that are a great addition to any of these; I love sweet potatoes + goat cheese + spinach.
    This keeps things simple and allows me to reuse the same ingredients in different ways. If we run out of quinoa or want to switch it up, all of these are easily made into tacos! I live in Austin and I always have tortillas in the fridge – there’s nothing we can’t turn into tacos!

  88. Carrie says...

    I love to read cookbooks so every week I pick a cookbook I have or got from the library when I’m there with my kids. I write a list of recipes I want to make that week and create my grocery list on the other side. Then each night I have a plan that works for my family of 5! I review my list each night so I can thaw any meat I might need for the next day.

  89. I love Mark Bittman’s 101 Recipes for Inspired Picnics: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/dining/02mini.html. Some of them are summer ideas, but many are just quick, easy, anytime dishes. They are barely recipes at all – more like inspiration for throwing things together in nice ways. In our family of four, we have a meat lover, a borderline veggie, a picky pre-teen, and a grade-schooler with multiple food allergies, and picnics (outside or on the carpet – kids love Carpet Picnic! – or at the table) lend themselves to substitutions, options, and ease.

    SN. I plan only for M-Th, too. ;-)

  90. Julie says...

    Hey, that’s so awesome you’re eating family dinner with your kids! You’re teaching them table manners, healthy food relationships, and how to be a great conversationalist- plus! We’ve all read the studies about children whose parents eat dinner with them. Enough said.
    We love our family dinners- the food is the least important part of them.

  91. Maggie says...

    We try to eat together most week nights but have landed on a late dinner just the grown ups for weekends-sometimes I need a slow dinner with a glass of wine and no toddlers yelling as they wave salmon!

  92. Libby says...

    Your sons have such good pallets!

    When groceries are running low and the fridge is filled with random ingredients from the ghosts of recipes past, I’ll make kitchen sink frittata in a cast iron skillet or my fav, “things on toast”. Pesto and smoked salmon on toast, cream cheese with dill and cucumber on toast, avocado with sesame seeds and sirracha on toast, apples and Brie on toast, pickles and cheddar on toast, orange marmalade and chocolate on toast. The possibilities are endless.

    PS Jacket potatoes with cottage cheese is my favorite comfort food.

  93. Alex says...

    My perhaps biggest accomplishment as a human is that I make a family dinner about 6/7 nights a week. We sit down. It may take 20 min but we eat together…

    It helps that I love to cook. I work in medicine but I love to think about food; we have a good farmers market here and that helps. Saturday ams I organize my fridge. Weekends I precook and cut things for the week… but my mantra is you eat what’s going to rot first! I’m a big roaster and feel a 400 degree oven, parchment paper, salt and good olive oil can get you 90 percent of the way there.

  94. Abra Burke says...

    Heidi Swanson’s Mung Bean Stew is my kids second favourite meal to pizza! It’s absolutely delicious and makes enough for leftovers that have never gone uneaten.

  95. joy says...

    Right now I’m home on maternity leave and so family dinner is much easier because I can prep on and off throughout the day whenever I have time, but when my husband and I are both working, MEAL PLANNING is the way to go. I plot out our dinners for the week and do all the grocery shopping on Sunday. I often do prep work the night before (chopping vegetables, making dressing or sauce) so that I can quickly get dinner on the table after we get home from daycare.

  96. Heather Bonner says...

    So I have always cooked every night. We eat out very little (living in our section of suburbia there are few options). I decided a theme for each night made it easier to plan.
    Monday: meatless
    Tuesday: tacos or some version of “Mexican”
    Wednesday: Roast it
    Thursday: pasta
    Friday: pizza/movie night
    Saturday: my 13 year olds cook
    Sunday: soup and sandwiches
    This frames my weekly planning and I shop on Saturdays for the week. My husband takes leftovers to lunch during the week

  97. Brittany says...

    We try and do family dinner every night with our 4 year old twins, but now that they’ve started full day Pre-K, they’re starving by 5 and ready for bed by 6:30- it’s a challenge!

    I’m loving all these posts about Jenny from DALS- I met her at a local event in Westchester this past weekend and full on fan girled over her! She’s as lovely in person as she seems on her blog, which made me even happier to be a long time follower. Loving this new regular intersection of 2 of my favorite blogs!

  98. Rachael says...

    I have six kids so we are all going different ways all day, but I fight like crazy to keep family dinner time sacred! So important for us. My favorite place to find recipes that are ALWAYS a hit is Mel’s Kitchen Cafe! https://www.melskitchencafe.com

  99. Ramona says...

    We’ve been making pizza on the grill. We get pre-made dough and sauce from the grocery store, get some shredded cheese, and then chop up whatever vegetables are around and everyone assembles his/her own pizza. It always feels a bit exhausting to get a whole pizza project going right before dinnertime, but they do cook up very quickly on the grill and it’s one meal everyone will eat.

  100. Anka says...

    I was also born and raised in Europe, as some previous readers. After immigrating to Canada, nothing changed in our family lifestyle, my mom cooked for us everyday. Now, I cook most of the time for my husband and I. What works for us (especially as the cold weather approaches) is a large pot of soup that we consume over a 3-4 day period. I cook them from scratch, it takes me usually 3 to 4 hours to complete (it’s the broth that takes the time) and they are loaded with goodies (depending on a recipe). Sometime I will make things that would go with the soup, like crepes or potato pancakes. We eat other things of course, but there is nothing better I find, than coming home knowing, that there is large pot of soup waiting to be re-heated.

    • diana k. says...

      Hi fellow eastern european! My parents immigrated from Poland and soup with jelly-filled crepes were a favorite. My mom also learned how to cook American stuff off of the recipes they still on tomato sauce labels or cream cheese boxes.

    • Avigail says...

      From Eastern Europe too and immigrated to the US as a kid and same thing at our house. My mom would make a huge pot of soup to have with any meal over the course of a few days. We ALWAYS had soup in the fridge. Now if only I were able to do this my own family… 😬

    • Anka says...

      Ha, ha! Yes, correct! This is such a typical Polish dinner, especially when you’re feeding kids. First, feed them something warm and hearty, then make them finish by promising crepes as a second course!

    • Danielle says...

      My mom used to make this all the time! I remember how delicious all the recipes were to me when I tagged along to Pampered Chef parties.

  101. Sandra says...

    We always did a family dinner when I was little and my mom stayed at home. My dad was a teacher, so he got home at a fairly normal time. Fast-forward to junior high and my mom was back at work and decided we were all too picky and she was too tired so she stopped cooking during the week and we ate cereal for most weeknight meals. :-)

    I look at all of these great dinner ideas and it makes me so jealous. My husband, son (8) and I eat together most nights, but everyone is SO picky. I am a vegetarian, my husband likes mostly meat and has a huge list of things he won’t eat (onions, balsamic, cheese, quinoa, tofu, eggplant, mushrooms, mayo, pretty much any “dressing” type sauce…) and my son is super picky and will only eat a handful of things. Dinners are so stressful! I totally get why my mom went the cereal route. Although that is on the list of things both my husband and son won’t eat…

    • Kelly says...

      Have you thought of doing a “family potluck”? Your husband can do a quick-cooking meat like sausage for himself and your son, or even warm up some precooked meat like rotisserie chicken, you can make a vegetarian main, and your son can pick any fruit or veggie he wants at the grocery store (no limits!) and cut it up or dress it with your supervision. You can all present your “dish” to the table, and people can take what they want, or not. It’s a lot of effort for every night, but it sucks to feel like a short order cook to two restaurant critics, and even just spreading around the responsibility can give you some room to breathe.

      Good luck! I dated a picky eater for two years, and when is met my now husband, I was picky by his standards.

  102. Dawn says...

    America’s Test Kitchen 30 Minute Recipe book. Pure gold.

  103. Carrington says...

    PLATED!

    Boom. We have an almost two year old, too. We just adjust his serving (I.e. maybe not siriacha in his) and that way he’s introduced to new flavors, the meal is still “home made” and for four nights out of the week I know that there will be a dinner.
    Not going to say he doesn’t get a pb&j if he’s not feeling it but for the most part it works.

  104. Rebecca says...

    I think the important thing to remember is that it is okay to repeat recipes, particularly those that you enjoy. Another idea I’ve heard is to have theme nights: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, etc. That simplifies meal planning while still giving you flexibility in the actual menus.

    • Susan Magnolia says...

      We have been following a menu for a while now and it really helps my daughter a lot. When she was five she started to get picky with food and I read that having a routine even with what you serve for dinner helps kids tremendously. So right now Monday is sandwiches, Tuesdays are quesadillas, Wednesday is soup, Thursday is noodles, Friday is fish, Saturday is a free night and Sunday is pizza. I try to make as much as I can myself from scratch (not noodles) and add lots of vegetables. I collect recipes that fit and then alternate them every third week or so. We have talked about having a breakfast for dinner too. It helps with shopping and our food budget has actually gone way down.

  105. Jamey says...

    I’ve been loving the Sprouted Kitchen cooking club. I feel like my biggest problem with family dinner is just coming up with ideas. She sends out four recipes a week and they have all been fantastic.

    • Taryn says...

      Agreed! Love Sporuted Kitchen Cooking Club.

    • Ah! This made my lifffeeeeee. Thank you, Jamey!

    • Anna says...

      Sprouted kitchen is the best. Her recipes are so good!

  106. Laura J says...

    Dinner a Love Story blog/cookbooks. Amazing & funny.

  107. Rose says...

    We love tacos! To make the protein, we use the McCormick Original Taco seasoning. It never took me more than 20 mins to make this dish. It is a great dish for us because I get to eat all my veggies (avocado, pickled onion, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes) and he gets his meat and cheese (and doesnt complain about eating veggies!!). I have my avocados frozen in batches but it tastes so good when they are fresh.

    • Alexis says...

      Omg I got the best suggestion from a previous COJ comment! Ask them what type of crunch the food makes. Or as we’ve modified it – ask if a certain food is quiet or crunchy. It works like magic with my 2.5 year old! She’ll willingly take a bite. Then if she likes it she’ll devour it. And if she doesn’t like it – well she at least tried it!

  108. There are only three of us so far — me, my husband, and our two-year-old — but we do dinner as a family nearly every night, work schedules permitting. We really enjoy cooking, particularly my husband, and like experimenting with new recipes a lot.

    Trouble these days, though, is that the toddler turned picky about eight months ago: it’s not that he doesn’t like things, it’s just that he refuses to try them. He’s still a little young for a “you have to try one bite of everything” rule, and we don’t want meals to turn into a battle or create a lot of stress and anxiety about eating, so we don’t want to force him to eat or harp on it too much. But he used to eat whatever we put in front of him, so it’s really frustrating now! (Kid won’t even try most fruit, and what toddler doesn’t devour berries?!) Right now, we get him involved in cooking when we can, then just put a little bit of everything on his plate and let him eat what he will (though sometimes even that doesn’t work and he just breaks down sobbing if there’s something he doesn’t want in front of him). If he does try something new, we thank him and talk about how fun it is to try new things. But is there a better system? Has someone discovered a great trick for getting kids to try new foods? Or do we just have to wait it out?

    Cup of Jo is the only place on the internet where I read the comments, and the only place where I’d post something like this and not expect to get torn to shreds. But everyone here is so generous and thoughtful, and collectively there is so much experience and wisdom to draw on, that I’m eager to get all the advice you might have!

    • Em says...

      Check out @kids.eat.in.color on IG. She’s a registered dietitian with really great advice for feeding toddlers!!

    • Katherine Harrison says...

      That’s tough! And so typical for a two year old! I have a feeling that he will grow out of it. My son hated avocado for a long time but tried guacamole & now loves it! We call avocado guacamole which helps 😂 I’ve had other moms share that their pediatricians say as long as kids are getting one decent meal a day, they won’t starve themselves! Encouragement that you’re a great mom & doing your best – he will come around even as it’s hard to see that right now!

    • Sandra says...

      That sounds so rough! I have a picky 8-year-old that I just posted about, so I get it. It sounds like you are doing a GREAT job in the way that you are handling it (still introducing new things, not making it a power struggle, involving your child in cooking, etc.).

      When my son was a little older than yours (4). They used to try new things every day for snack at pre-K (usually fruits and veggies) and the kids had to give the new thing a thumbs up or thumbs down. It sort of turned it into a game, and from then on my son would at least try a small bite of something before rejecting it. (Unfortunately now it’s thumbs down for most things, but we did have a few good years where he ate a lot of different things…) Maybe doing something like this and making it a game where you all try a bite of a certain food and “vote” on it?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a cute pre-school game, sandra.

    • joy says...

      Katharine, I have the other kid who won’t eat berries (or any fruit other than bananas, watermelon, and sometimes apples and pears). Sounds like you’re doing a great job, and I would say just wait it out. Our approach is also to just keep giving our child everything but not pushing too hard for him to eat it. Our one rule is that if he’s eaten, for example, all of his pasta and cheese, but his broccoli remains, he can’t have another helping of pasta or cheese until he eats the broccoli.

    • Alexandra says...

      My 2.5 year old has been going through this “no new food” phase too. Here are some tricks that have worked for us to varying degrees of success:

      – Putting the new food on my plate and waiting for him to ask for some (gotta love food FOMO)

      – Doing family style meals and letting him serve himself

      – Having him participate in the cooking process by asking him inconsequential questions throughout like “should we use this salt (in the shaker) or this one (in the box)?

      – Offering up two new foods and asking which one he wants (this makes the default that he will be getting a new food on his plate, but gives him some control over the decision)

      – Fully allowing him to dip anything he wants in ketchup or balsamic, even if we think it’s gross

      Now if anyone has suggestions on how we can get past watching Mater’s Tall Tales every day or listening to the Moana soundtrack on repeat, I’m all ears!

    • Kylee says...

      I love the book, How to get your kids to eat, but not too much, by Ellen Satter. It’s very sensible advice, research based. I have one kid that will eat anything, and one that is very cautious and inspects everything – both are raised the same way and get the same food. I can often get the cautious one to at least taste (or even lick) something new, but I never pressure him to eat it. It’s enough for him to see us eating and enjoying it – one day he’ll give in (now he eats green beans! Not many, but he enjoys the three he does eat). My advice – dont turn it into a fight or a big deal. I got my boy to eat corn by jokingly poking kernels into the ends of penne pasta while I was sitting with them. Eating should be a pleasure for all of you.
      Also, when you only have five minutes to prepare dinner -scrambled eggs marketed as ‘breakfast for dinner, yay’ go a long way in our house. The kids think this is so much fun 😂

    • Tamara says...

      He might be a sensory kid. The breaking down sobbing part is what makes me think you might want to talk to his doctor. My son has SPD (sensory processing disorder) and food is definitely a challenge. SPD isn’t as widely known about or understood and I really wish someone had mentioned it to me earlier. He wasn’t diagnosed until he was 8 and then everything we’d been struggling with, including dinner battles, made so much sense. There is great occupational therapy out there that can make all the difference for sensory kids. Otherwise, it sounds like you are doing a good job with your approach.

    • Madeline says...

      I have a two year old and we deal with many of the same issues. I’m a fan of Ellyn Satter’s method: your job is to decide when and where the child eats and what to offer; the kid decides how much and what to eat from that selection. It’s so so hard not to let it affect you but this is a normal phase and you’re doing a great job!

    • Hannah says...

      Katharine, this is so typical of picky eaters! It usually starts right around 1.5 years of age. Sometimes seemingly overnight, sometimes after an illness. Our little guy had a bad ear infection at 16 months old and then stopped eating the variety of foods and mixed textures that he was doing well at before. That’s also the age where their senses start to grow rapidly, so things he may not have minded touching, putting in his mouth, etc before start to feel like too much.

      We sought the help of early intervention in NJ where we live, and they identified these issues as needing both behavioral and sensory intervention. Our toddler is now a little over 3 years old, and he is just starting to expand the textures he’s willing to try. (At 13 months he used to devour rice and lentils, and while he won’t eat that anymore, we’re working our way back to rice pudding. At 15 months, he was eating all kinds of chicken, and then started refusing everything other than McD’s – we’re now working on food-chaining from mcnuggets to dinosaur nuggets from the supermarket.) We’re also working on the behavioral aspect with different games, etc. Another key was to lower our expectations. As long as he’s happy with what he’s eating and how much, everyone is in a better mood and it is easier to see progress.

      Sorry for the long-winded nature of my response, but I also wouldn’t recommend the “he’ll grow out of it” approach. Every time a kid’s grown out of it, it’s because the parents and/or therapists were actively doing something about it – anywhere from creating a stress-free home/table environment to devising sensory games. A positive attitude and the right help will help your kid come out happy and healthy in the end, without you losing your sanity.

      I’d highly recommend both Satter and Toomey’s approaches, and there is plenty of literature talking about both. They were very helpful to us. Before I read their works, I probably would have been incredibly jealous and frustrated with reading Joanna write that picky eating was refusing tomatoes. Now, I just accept my kid where he is, focus on little steps towards his growth, and just enjoy our time with food.

    • Sasha L says...

      Katharine, it sounds like you are doing a great job! It does get better, and I share your frustration when they eat the thing, then they won’t eat the thing. It’s like you want to shout no fair, no going backwards!!

      I have one very stubborn picky eater at my home preschool and I tried pretty much everything with zero success. She wouldn’t eat ANY vegetables, not even carrots! And wouldn’t eat most fruits either, just apples and bananas, but no berries, peaches, pears, plums etc. Out of desperation, and because her behavior was influencing her two year old friend to stop trying new foods and not eat veggies, I got a little tough. Now at lunch, all of the kids get a plate of a bunch of kinds of veggies, just a very small amount of each one, and they have to finish before they get the main dish. Honestly, it’s not my favorite way to approach food, but it works amazingly well. Now she eats absolutely everything and she’s even decided she likes a lot of veggies. Hey parents report that she’s eating many more foods at home too.

      I really had to have a conversation with myself before we tried this: would I really let her go hungry?? Ugh. I had to dig deep for some resolve and I’m so glad it paid off. It also works because she knows I really would let her go hungry. At least until afternoon snack.

    • Anna says...

      We went through a similar fussy phase with our daughter, and it’s so frustrating especially when they’ve been previously good eaters. Other than what you’re already trying, one suggestion I found helped me was to write down everything she did eat (not in front of her), and over the course of a week it gave me a bit peace of mind that she was actually eating a somewhat balanced diet that wasn’t just yoghurt! It didn’t solve the pickiness but it was reassuring to me and I think helped me relax a bit more .
      Other than that I think everything really just is a phase, and it too shall pass! good luck!

    • Jen says...

      Our son went from eating everything at 18 months into the “reject everything twos.” We lowered our expectations, cooked some simpler food, and just kept offering it. Very few kids will actually starve themselves. From what I read, making it a battle makes it worse. We did get to a point where we said that this is supper, and if you don’t want to eat it that’s fine – but there will be no food other than this until breakfast. I do not want to prepare separate meals, so have held that line pretty firmly. Meals that are easily deconstructed, or his portion can be removed early, sure.
      Re: he won’t even eat fruit – my son eats way more veggies than fruit. So sometimes that happens!

    • Alice says...

      Renaming food worked well for us. Vegetable „cookies“ and aubergine “fries“ are a big hit here.

    • Sims says...

      Hi Katharine,
      I have a similar issue so no real solutions but just wanted to get in touch. My 3.5 year old has always been a picky eater – literally since day 1. The kid won’t touch fruit except bananas, won’t eat any vegetables which are not integrated into her food and won’t even try new things. This is a huge surprise as my husband and I eat lots of different kinds of food – in front of our daughter! Still, she’s not at all curious about the food whereas she’s curious about lots of other things!
      She’s started pre-K and instead of packing her a lunch as she’s been insisting, we’ve let her have food at the cafeteria. She complains about not wanting to go to school because she doesn’t want to eat at the “restaurant” but she’s already tried many more things than she has tried at home.
      Perhaps you can have your child eat somewhere else from time to time to see if that helps?
      I’m looking forward to other ideas too – mealtimes are stressful for me and although I try not to make a big deal, it’s difficult to watch food I’ve painstakingly prepared go to waste.
      Good luck!

    • parikha says...

      Hey Katherine – hang in there! I went through this with both of my kids (now ages 6 & 9). What worked best for us was just backing off; it turned out to be a control issue/power struggle. The more pressure we put on them, the more they freaked out & walled up. We did make sure they saw us eating diverse foods, and we would talk up whatever was on our plates. We let them play with food, even if they didn’t eat it, so the whole experience was on their terms (or so they thought). Also keep in mind that baby taste buds are developing, so something may taste different to them at 6 months than it did at 4. Babies also get weird about textures at times – that can pass, too.

      Overall, it sounds like you’re doing a great job of helping him discover & understand food in a positive way, while not letting it turn into a battleground. If you can wait it out, he may come around before too long. Good luck!!

    • Jenna says...

      If my daughter has any snacks after 12:30/1…and I mean any…then she won’t eat anything but carbs. If she doesn’t then it’s much more likely that she’ll try something new or even devour it!

    • Kelly says...

      Two sites I love:
      1. It’s not about nutrition
      2. Janet Lansbury (she wrote No Bad Kids)

      Maybe for now, focus on the sitting while eating, putting things in front of him, letting him have whatever he wants, and sit close and do your own thing! The berries on mom’s plate that you’re enjoying may look more appealing to him than his own.

  109. Amy Thiessen says...

    We are huge fans of family dinner! Our kids are suckers for Asian if all else fails include dumplings! Anything with naan bread. It’s fun to assemble the little bites on naan bread and charcuterie boards. We give them tooth picks to help make their selections from the board and transfer to their little plates. Pasta and let them grate the Parm over their plates, salmon, and gyros are also hits at our house.

  110. Roast whatever veg you have in the oven (butternut, fennel, mushrooms, yams, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts…) Serve over brown rice or quinoa or my fave – farro. Top with pumpkin seeds or hemp hearts or nutritional yeast or sricha.

  111. Chiara says...

    I’m a stay at home mom, so I can really make this a priority for our family. I’m so grateful for it, because it really is a wonderful time to look around at the people you love and have been irritated by or whatever during the day and stop and appreciate then.

    I’ve really jumped on the repurposed leftovers bandwagon, which has made meal prep so much easier. Stir fry with rice turns into fried rice with fridge bits the next night. Leftover fish turns into fish cakes, and I’ve started doing a roast every Sunday, because it’s nice to have a sort of fancy dinner once a week, it’s the night my husband is almost guaranteed to be home, AND the leftover meat makes for much easier meal prep without having to worry about thawing or even choosing what protein we’re going to have. I can usually stretch it Monday and Tuesday and if I’m lucky even to Wednesday, then I try to do vegetarian on Friday, fish on Saturday and Thursday is a wild card.

    I’ve got the Sunday roast routine down pat now, and it’s so satisfying. Put the roast in about 2pm, prep the batter for the Yorskhire puddings so it has time to rest, prep and roast the veg around 5, pull the roast, make the gravy, cook the Yorkies and dinner’s on the table at 6. It’s actually surprisingly easy now I’ve got the routine.

  112. Carrie says...

    Multi colored cherry tomatoes (maybe 2-3 cups worth??), 2 avocados, basil, and either mozzarella pearls or halloumi works very well too. Cut tomatoes in halves, chiffonade the basil or if leaves are small, just pluck and toss into the bowl. Cube avocados. Add cheese. Whisk together 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 tbsp minced garlic, 1 tbsp honey, salt/pepper to taste, add to tomato mixture. Yummiest, easiest dinner ever. I make it once a week, we never get sick of it. Makes a meal if just two people :)

  113. Juley says...

    Like everyone else, my husband (who is a semi-picky eater in that he didn’t eat a lot of things as a child and now just doesn’t eat them out of habit so I have to slowly introduce them haha) and I are super busy! We don’t have kids yet but we do eat together most nights unless one of us is out with band practice or something.
    We eat the same thing most weeks on different rotations and try to decide a menu on a Sunday before we do our food shop.
    Things we eat a lot of the time:
    Nachos with a salad on the side
    Wraps (tortillas with chicken or leftover nacho mince, small amount of grated cheese and salad stuff)
    Salads esp with roast veggies or my husband likes to add Crispy Noodles to his
    Spaghetti Bolognese (great for leftovers)
    Steak and steamed veges and mashed potato
    A new favourite – Teriyaki chicken. SO easy and delicious – just chop some chicken and marinate in store bought teriyaki sauce for 10 mins, cook some rice, cook the chicken, steam some broc and green beans or maybe add some carrot or whatever you have, throw it all in a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds and – KEY INGREDIENT – Japanese Kewpie Mayo. I think I’m gonna make this tonight.

  114. Louisa says...

    I come home around 5:30, have a tea with my daughter, and then spend an hour in the kitchen watching Jeopardy and cooking. We eat as a family every night. I love it.

    My newest trick is Blue Apron recipes (free!)- it’s a recipe for a whole meal, so it’s not like making one dish and having to figure out the sides and timing. – I pick out three on Sundays (by searching for something with chicken, something vegetarian, and something that uses whatever meat is in our freezer). Sometimes it’s hard to get the spices, but I can come up with substitutes that work fine. Then we have taco Tuesday and pizza Thursday.

    • Court says...

      We watch Jeopardy too! Every night from 5:30-6:30.

  115. katie says...

    we do family dinner. i have found i have to write a meal plan over the weekend and get most of the ingredients that are able to be prepped, prepped (like chopping veggies), in order for family dinner to not become let’s just order.
    thai peanut chicken wraps- pioneer woman’s recipe is pretty good, i add extra peanut butter :) and avocado is a must to include as one of the fillings (plus lots of veggies)
    meatloaf- seriously, it can be good- lots of variations (buffalo chicken, pork, italian). and preppable in advance.
    baked salmon with lemon and pepper is so simple and so delicious
    lately we’ve been doing lots of sandwiches with toasted bread, avocado, mayo, and tomatoes. not ready to let go of tomato season!

    like the suggestion above of a theme each night. limits the breadth of options to consider for each night and easier to focus!

  116. Margen says...

    I’m Greek from Cyprus and this post made me smile; scrambled eggs with tomatoes and halloumi is pretty much the taste of Cypriot summer (add mint if you’d like) and avgolemono is definitely the ultimate comfort food! Do try the longer version of it by boiling a nice free-range chicken and using its broth for the soup. Also, traditionally rice is used and not orzo – but I’m intrigued enough to try this version next time!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that makes me so happy, margen!!!!! i love love love greek food. so happy to hear from you. do you have any other foods/recipes you love?

    • Margen says...

      Oh gosh, there are too many! I can devour a bowl of tzatziki and a plate of kolokythokeftedes (zucchini cheese balls) any time of the day, but I also love a good stew of chickpeas or beans, when cooked right. A simple-yet-delicious recipe from Sifnos is this one: https://www.thehungrybites.com/greek-traditional-baked-chickpeas-revithada/ (tip: instead of adding the sage into the pot, make a cup of sage tea and use that, so that the sage leaves won’t get bitter with all the cooking).

  117. katherine says...

    One of my moms favorite dinners is deviled eggs and cheese toast.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      she sounds like a cool lady :)

  118. Candice Sawyer says...

    Family dinners for us are an anchor in a day, its a constant point where we all gather, sit and debrief. It has become an essential part of our day. I have 3 littles, so we keep it easy. The favorite meals are always the ones where the kids can have creative input. I put a wooden platter in the middle of the table full of bright coloured chopped veggies and condimen;ts (maybe a store bought roast chicken), the kids then heaps piles onto:
    – burritos
    – tacos
    – Ramen (just make an easy stock with some egg noddles and let the kids fill the rest!)
    – Rice Bowl
    – Salad bowl
    We all love these meals.

  119. We try to always make extra of things like chili, pulled pork or chowders and freeze them so once a week we don’t have to cook and still have healthy/home cooked food! If you are constantly making extra and freezing it, pretty soon you have a whole bunch of frozen options to choose from. It helps give you a day off cooking without ordering food in!

    Also, if you are into kitchen sink burrito bowls you would probably be into kitchen sink pizza or frittatas, which are a staple in our house :)

    If you have a “routine” for family dinner it can make it feel like there is more of a rhythm to it… do highs and lows of the day, keep a chat pack of questions at the table, etc… My family loved those kinds of things growing up!

  120. Christy says...

    We are not cooks and generally just scrabble things together and eat as we lounge, each as he or she gets hungry. I’ve always felt this was ok, but I’ve gotten some mild judgment about it so it’s nice to hear someone say it’s ok. You always strike the right tone here. I might try some of these recipes and see if we can get into a routine.

  121. teegan says...

    One non-food family dinner thing we do takes place near the end (as the three-year-old is pushing around his last few chickpeas foreeeeeever). We go around the table and each member shares their favorite thing that happened that day, something kind they did for someone, and something kind someone did for them. We started it when my oldest was in preschool, and we ended up learning way more about what happened at his school than we ever did asking him straight-up! Sometimes it’s a struggle to get it out of uncooperative kids, but mostly it’s a really nice way to talk about our days and to express gratitude to one another!

    • Blythe says...

      I love this idea!

    • KylieO says...

      We do this too! Someone will say, “Favourite part of your day – Go!” and we go around the table & take turns. I’m hoping it teaches them there’s always something positive in every day. My 6 year old son always finishes his turn with “…and this delicious dinner!” even if it’s just baked beans on toast 😂

  122. Kelly says...

    We try to sit down every night as a family but sometimes I still do a late night dinner with my husband. We live in Spai now, we have dinner with kids around 8 pm and if it is just the two of us we can have a light dinner around 10.30 pm and watch a movie. My kids unfortunately like different staff so I often need to cook two different dinners (sometimes even three if we have a late night meal). Our usual rotation is:
    French style pancakes with ham and cheese;
    Calamari and fried potatoes;
    Grilled fish with a salad;
    Shrimp tacos;
    Veal Lasagna;
    Chicken different styles;
    Cous cous with chicken and vegetables.
    And of course lots of meatballs, hamburgers and nuggets for the guys.

  123. Ann M Hanson says...

    When I taught new parents in our local Early Childhood Family Ed program we referred to the Search Institute study on family dinner quite often. It basically documented that family dinner is one of the most important things you can do for a child; it made a bigger difference than economic status, church affilitation or belonging to a scout troop. Magical things happen around the table. As my daughters entered high school and got busier with extra curriculat activities I tried to at least sit with them if they were at our table late in the evening eating dinner. One night I kept dinner warm for my husband who had a late meeting. He was alone in the kitchen eating and my high school junior told me I should go sit with him. Then I was certain they had noticed and appreciated family dinner. It matters.