4 “Magic” Words That Bring Kids to the Dinner Table

September 24, 2015 Cooking for the Family

Sometimes, suppertime success is all about how I sell the meal.

Rarely (ok, never) do my kids express how very appreciative they are of the time and effort I’ve put into a dinner spread. And they’re not usually (not ever) interested in the thoughtful way I’ve layered flavors so that every bite bursts on the tongue. However, my kids always (always, really) spring to life with the mere mention of several “magic” words.

In fact, sometimes a single word can be the deciding factor in how smoothly our family dinner plays out. I’ve got some go-to buzzwords for guaranteed success. Here are the terms that get my boys to the table.

Chicken, pizza, cheese, tacos—I mean, what’s not to love?

Chicken As it turns out, not everything really tastes like chicken. Salmon’s a hard sell. So is tofu. Liver? Not a chance. With this in mind, I am more than happy to make chicken the star of our dinner plates. Actually, I keep an arsenal of easy chicken recipes. Smothered in marinara and dotted with cannellini beans, this cacciatore is one of our favorites. It’s a quick and easy dish starring jarred tomato sauce that expertly masks sautéed onions and tastes like it’s been simmering for hours. Plus, with chicken and beans, this clever dish packs a double dose of protein (one of my “magic” words).

Pizza This five-letter gem is the best way to get my boys to try new foods. As long as there is a crust on the bottom and melted cheese on the top, they are IN! On Friday nights, especially, we like to have Mexican pizzas for dinner. The cheese-stuffed, double-tortilla crust is the ultimate canvas for a pile of deceptively better-for-them toppings liked mashed black beans, sautéed onions, pulled pork and salsa. I put the kids to work mashing and stacking, and in no time they’re gobbling up ingredients they thought they didn’t like. (Hello, green chilies!)

Cheese Oh, glorious cheese! For kids and adults, picky to adventurous, there is nothing more comforting than perfectly gooey cheese. A grilled cheese sandwich is a classic crowd pleaser, and it leaves so much room for interpretation. I like to take it to a new level of gourmet and make this hearty sandwich. It’s as melty and crunchy as kids want it to be, and it’s super creamy and filling from fork-smashed white beans. It dips just as deliciously into a bowl of tomato soup, too.

Tacos On Tuesday — and every day before and after — tacos are the easiest answer to the question of what’s for dinner. They come together in minutes, and they satisfy every time. To mix it up from week to week, I like to make a Southwest-inspired skillet dish on taco night. It’s as spicy as I want it to be, and it works just as well in a bowl with a spoon as it does as a filling for more traditional tacos. I offer it up with crunchy taco shells, soft tortillas and corn chips, as well as toppings like lettuce, fresh tomato, sliced avocado and sour cream so everyone can tailor his dinner to his own tastes. There is one problem with the taco skillet, however; just one complaint I always hear from my table full of picky eaters: “Why can’t I have the last bite?”

That’s the “magic” behind stress-free mealtime. Chicken, pizza, cheese, tacos — I mean, what’s not to love? The secret lies in making the magic work for you (always). And now you have the recipes to do it.