Getting everyone involved in menu planning and meal prep is a surefire way to clean plates and big smiles. Plus, kids will be more likely to try new foods when they get to choose their own, both at the grocery store and at home. With different ages and abilities in the kitchen, stick with simple meals that can be individually assembled and endlessly customized. Combining a familiar favorite – like pizza, baked potato, or nachos – with nutritious, pick-your-own ingredients is always a winning recipe.
Whether you’re feeding adventurous eaters, picky palates, or both, these DIY dinner ideas put a healthy spin on family dinner night with an extra side of fun.
Personal Pizza Party
Forget frozen or delivery, personal pies served on whole wheat pitas will satisfy everyone’s pizza cravings. Top the crust with your favorite sauce – classic tomato, pesto, alfredo, barbecue, or Buffalo –and any cheeses you like. Set up a DIY toppings station, and encourage everyone to play with their food! Making funny faces, animals, or other designs will get kids more excited about preparing their own meal, and eating it, too. Experiment with a variety of flavors, textures, and colors – like peppers, zucchini, red onion, or even Swiss chard – that will invite kids’ curiosity and creativity while sneaking in extra nutrients.
Upgrade baked potatoes from side dish to star by loading them with your family’s favorite flavors. Potatoes are a filling and budget-friendly staple with fiber, protein, and vitamin C (more than an orange), and they can be dressed up countless ways. Opt for smaller spuds (about 8-10 oz each) for the best ratio of potato to toppings. Mix and match any veggies, proteins, and cheeses your family likes – rotisserie chicken, broccoli, bell peppers, plant-based meat crumbles, and white beans are all delicious options – or let them take inspiration from some of their other favorite meals. The ingredients for tacos, BLTs, chili, and even roasted vegetable ratatouille take on new life served over spuds. To get a jump on dinner, bake potatoes ahead of time and reheat at 350 F for 20 minutes while you prep the toppings bar.
A few smart swaps and choose-your-own fixins’ turn pub-style nachos into an easy, nutrient-packed meal. Assemble nachos on a sheet pan lined with foil and bake in the oven for fast, family-style prep with minimal cleanup. Lighten things up with reduced fat cheese blends and lean ground turkey or tofu in place of traditional beef (to stretch your protein dollar further, add beans or corn). Keep nachos salt-smart by using reduced sodium beans and tortilla chips, and replacing high-sodium seasoning blends with bold spices, like cumin, chili powder, and paprika. Finish with a rainbow of fresh flavors everyone can add after the nachos come out of the oven, like diced tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, avocados, and cilantro.