our everyday life

Easy, Creative Dinner Meals

by Jennifer Blair

Between shuttling the kids around, working and taking care of the house, it's difficult to come up with dinner menus, let alone find time to cook the meals. Finding healthy foods that your kids will actually eat only adds to the challenge. Fortunately, you can whip up some fun, easy meals in a hurry that are sure to earn your kids' seal of approval. The key is to think creatively and use prepared or leftover foods whenever you can.

Re-create Take-Out Favorites

Instead of heading out to your local chain restaurant or ordering take-out, re-create your kids' take-out favorite at home, giving the recipes a healthier twist. Make nachos using baked tortilla chips, and sneak in veggies under some low-fat cheese and salsa. Leave out the greasy ground beef and add grilled chicken and black beans instead. If your kids like potato skins, add turkey bacon and low-fat cheese for some healthy protein. You can also add chopped broccoli or spinach to boost the nutritional value. Instead of their favorite value meal from the drive-thru, whip up turkey burgers and let the kids add their favorite toppings and condiments. A dash of dry dressing and dip mix puts pizazz into ordinary burgers. Bake chicken fingers and French fries instead of frying them, and add a bit of salad with creamy dressing to their plates for a more balanced meal.

Create a Taco/Burrito Bar

When you're in a hurry, throw together a taco or burrito bar for a fun, easy dinner. Prepare the filling by grilling some chicken, fish or steak -- or use leftovers from the night before. Set out warmed tortillas, cheese, salsa and veggies and let your kids assemble their own tacos or burritos. Add a sprinkle of dry spicy ranch dressing mix during assembly to meet individual tastes. If your kids aren't fans of Mexican food, they can omit the salsa and spice and make tasty wrap sandwiches instead.

Serve Breakfast for Dinner

Your kids are sure to get a kick out of having breakfast for dinner. Prepare their morning favorites, like pancakes, waffles and French toast, which you probably don't have time to make on weekday mornings as you rush to get them ready for school. Make some turkey bacon or sausage to add protein or whip up some scrambled eggs or omelets. You can even sneak a few veggies into the eggs if you add some cheese along with them, and season with a little dry dressing and dip mix for a flavor boost. Instead of dinner rolls or biscuits, toast some whole-grain bread and serve it with jam or jelly.

Keep It Cool

While you may be accustomed to serving a hot meal, cold dinners are fun and easy to put together -- particularly in the summer when it's often too warm to slave over a stove. Pasta salads are a great option. You can boil the pasta and dress it ahead of time, so you only have to add in some veggies, sliced meat and grated cheese at dinnertime. You can put chicken salad, egg salad and tuna salad wraps together in a hurry as well -- especially if you buy prepared salads from the deli. Create a fresh taste by using creamy salad dressing instead of mayo in your salad fillings. Cold, pureed soups like gazpacho are not only easy to throw together, but a great way to sneak vegetables into your kids. Even something as simple as hummus and pita triangles served with a green salad with creamy dressing can provide a nutritious dinner that your kids aren't used to seeing.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on BobVila.com, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images