Tuesday, November 3, 2020

"Build Your Own" Dinners that Kids Love!

 Over the past few months, we have eaten at home as a family more than we have in years. In the past, we've juggled Adam's travel schedule, the girls' activity schedule, and we've enjoyed treating ourselves. Now Adam isn't traveling, we aren't getting take out or eating out as often in an attempt to save money, and we've found that the evening activities that we always thought were big obstacles actually aren't as big as we thought. 

This is great news, but it's actually added a lot of pressure to my meal planning. Seven dinners a week that we all like, that I have time to make, and that don't fall into a rut is a challenge. A great solution has been what we call "build your own" dinners.

To us, a "build your own" dinner is one where I prepare the basics and everyone gets to customize the meal to their own liking. We started with taco night, and then we just went from there to find whatever we could! Some of our favorites are:

  • Salad Bar - probably the most basic idea. I make one main protein, usually grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp. I start each plate with a bed of lettuce, and then let everyone build from there. Besides the lettuce and protein, I put out bowls of:
    • Veggies - cucumbers, tomato, carrot, celery, corn, and whatever else we have or I found on sale. I've been lucky to introduce the girls to a few new things. Roasted beets ended up being a surprise favorite!
    • Cheeses - shredded cheese is what my girls always default to, but I try to mix it up. I'm a huge fan of goat cheese, and although the girls won't always choose it, I like to set it out as an option.
    • Toppers - croutons, wonton strips, cranberries, fruit, seeds, and anything else that strikes us. Neither one of my kids like dressing, but we do keep offering.
  • Burrito Bowls - Start with a bowl of rice and a protein, and go from there! Beans, veggies, cheeses, and sauces are all options to build your perfect burrito bowl. We've also done traditional burritos, but we actually like the bowls better, and it's easier on me than taking custom orders before baking.
  • Grilled Cheese - pick your cheeses (we usually have at least a few to choose from), pick your extras (tomato, bacon, turkey, avocado, or whatever else sounds good). I usually make a big pot of tomato soup and we have a night of comfort food.
  • Nacho Plates - Very similar to the burrito bowls. Everyone starts with a plate of chips (on aluminum foil) and they build from there. We slide the foil onto a baking sheet, broil until the cheese melts, and slide the nacho creation back onto the plate. This is probably everyone's favorite.
  • Hot Dog Bar - We figured this one out when I actually forgot to defrost the meat for our planned dinner! Rather than stick with basic condiments, we made it fun with chili, bacon, cheese, grilled veggies, and more. 
  • Baked Potato - Start with a potato and add whatever you think of! We used a lot of the toppings we used on our hot dogs. Reagan asked if we could do this with french fries, so we may try that next!
"Build Your Own" dinners give the girls control. They know they are building a plate that they like and they can choose exactly what they want without worrying that Daddy doesn't like olives or Mommy doesn't like sour cream. They always clean their plates when we have these dinners, and we try to do one at least every other week!

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