Now don’t get me wrong, I love trying new recipes. But let’s be honest: Using a recipe requires a certain degree of effort that I’m not willing to put forth most evenings of the week.
Finding the recipe.
Saving the recipe.
Making sure I have the proper ingredients for the recipe.
Pulling the recipe up on my tablet before I start cooking, then fearing I’m going to spill sauce on the screen while referencing it.
Measuring, measuring, measuring.
That’s why most nights I rely on my family’s list of “No Recipe Dinner Ideas.” These suggestions don’t really require an ingredient list or a measuring cup. They’re easily customizable depending on what you already have in your fridge or pantry. And best of all, they all come together in relatively little time!
Kid-Approved No Recipe Dinner Ideas
The next time you want to get dinner on the table without looking anything up beforehand, just turn to one of these suggestions. They’re kid-friendly, and many of them stand on their own. Otherwise you can always serve a salad, cooked veggies, and/or dinner rolls on the side.
Tacos are great because they can be made with whatever ingredients you already have on hand—rice, beans, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, jarred salsa, avocados, sour cream, and whatever meat, poultry, or fish you have easy access to.
If you’ve got flour tortillas, make them into burritos or quesadillas. If all you have is a bag of chips, crunch them up and make taco salads!
Top ’em with sauce, cheese, and whatever veggies you like and just stick them under the broiler until everything is hot and melty and delicious.
Crockpot BBQ Chicken or Pork
It’s as simple as throwing some chicken breasts or a pork roast in the crockpot, covering it with your favorite BBQ sauce and some onions, and turning your slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours. Eat the meat as is or shred it up and serve as sandwiches.
Breakfast for Dinner
Who doesn’t love the chance to eat pancakes or waffles at 6pm? Or make egg sandwiches on English muffins served with a side of fruit.
(If you really want to use a recipe, though, you must check out my Blueberry Coconut Baked Oatmeal!)
We love this idea for literally just throwing whatever you have together in a bowl—the results are usually surprisingly delicious!
Here’s how it works:
1. Start with a base—usually some kind of grain. Think rice, pasta, barley, quinoa, couscous, soba noodles, whatever you have.
2. Add a protein. Some ideas are cooked chicken, beef, turkey, salmon, or shrimp. Or go vegetarian with beans, lentils, tofu, or even eggs.
3. Mix in lots of veggies—cooked in whatever way is your favorite (steamed, roasted, sautéed, etc.). Greens, tomatoes, pepper strips, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and on and on.
4. Finally, flavor it up. Top the whole mixture what whatever sounds good: fresh or dried herbs, spices, cheese, nuts or seeds, dried fruit, dressings and sauces, sour cream/plain yogurt, etc.
If you’d like, you can create your bowl with a specific cuisine in mind, like an Asian-themed bowl featuring rice, steamed shrimp, stir fry veggies, and soy sauce. An Italian-themed bowl with pasta, ground turkey, broccoli, mushrooms, and marinara sauce. A Greek bowl made with couscous, chickpeas, black olives, feta cheese, red pepper, and lots of fresh herbs. You get the idea!
Chicken Sausage Hoagies
This is just pre-cooked chicken sausage links served with sautéed peppers and onions in hot dog or hoagie rolls with ketchup, mustard, relish, etc. Very yummy!
Tomato Soup with Rice
An old co-worker taught me to add cooked white rice to bowls of tomato soup. It’s delicious and makes the soup much more filling and hearty!
Open-Faced Tuna or Turkey Melts
Top English muffin or bagel halves with tuna or turkey—mixed with mayo or Thousand Island dressing if you like—then top with cheese (we love using Swiss) and stick them under the broiler. Eat ’em up with a fork and knife!
I love to roast or sauté whatever veggies are in season. Then I crack and beat some eggs with a fork. Put the veggies in a small oven-safe pan, pour the eggs on top, and season the whole thing with salt, pepper, and some herbs/spices. Pop it in the oven!
You can make your own meatballs if you want—they’re great for batch cooking and freezing—or you can use frozen ones. We personally love the turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s. Top with pasta sauce, cheese, and some cooked onions for extra flavor.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Beans
Have you ever topped sweet potatoes with beans? It’s a delicious combination! Both black beans or baked beans work well.
Paninis and Soup
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is the classic, of course. (Yes, it’s standard kid food, but we all know that adults love grilled cheese just as much! If you want yours to feel more grown-up, add tomatoes, bacon, thinly sliced apple, or some kind of specialty cheese.)
You can also do ham or turkey paninis with veggie soup, or simple BLTs with a side of chowder.
Chicken and Waffles
Comfort food at its finest! Turkey also works great.
Put your beef roast in the crockpot on top of chopped onions, potatoes, and carrots, add some broth, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs, and let it cook on low all day.
Kitchen Sink Salads
Similar to the build-a-bowls, this entails simply throwing whatever you have (everything but the kitchen sink!) into a big salad. Make it hearty by adding a decent portion of protein and grains. Then make it more palatable for kids by adding fun toppings like fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts/seeds, plenty of cheese, and something crunchy.
Healthy Homemade Happy Meals
Nuggets and fries, coming right up!
Homemade nuggets can easily be made by cutting chicken breasts or white fish into uneven shapes, dredging them in flour, dipping them in an egg wash, and then coating them with wholewheat bread crumbs or Panko. Then just sauté them in a bit of olive oil—no deep-frying here!—and finish them in a medium-heat oven. Serve with fun dipping sauces, of course.
Complete the “happy meal” with oven-baked fries (or better yet, oven-baked sweet potato fries) that you’ve coated in olive oil and seasonings. So much better than McDonald’s!
9 responses to “Kid-Approved No Recipe Dinner Ideas”
What a great post! I need ideas like this- thanks for sharing! 🙂
When I was a young mom, I used to have an Invent a Casserole night. I loved it, my family, not-so-much. I didn’t even know it!
I love the idea of an Invent a Casserole night!
Great suggestions! I keep a bag of frozen nuggets (whole grain / preservative free) for those nights that DIY nuggets take too much effort. I also keep low-sodium canned veggies on hand.
Having a few items like those on hand is so helpful!
We love breakfast meals and meals with adding stuff to rice and tacos. I loved these other ideas!
These are such great and healthy ideas – could really use them!
We’ve recently had a few hot dog bars that have turned out well. My husband and I make our dogs “greek” with feta cheese, kalamata olives, cuke, etc. The kids like ’em plain of course! And I’ve done my research to try and find the best hot dogs without all the gross stuff in them that most have. Still working on finding a whole grain bun that everyone likes.
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