Everything’s a game when you’re a kid, and dinner is no exception. Try these creative ways to make mealtime fun.
Include kids in meal planning and preparation
Let them help decide what’s for dinner based on what you have in the fridge and pantry. Then find age-appropriate tasks like washing, peeling and stirring to help turn those raw ingredients into a meal. One fun way to do this is on pizza night when you can prep the toppings and everyone can personalize their own mini pizzas.
Incorporate sensory play
Think about the colors, flavors and textures of a meal and how you can exaggerate them to heighten the sensory experience for education or fun — or both! Serve a dish typically accompanied by silverware and encourage those at the table to eat with hands instead. This is especially enjoyable with DIY very colorful spaghetti (tutorial below) — with or without sauce.
Put it on a stick
When all else fails, food on a stick is always a hit! Whether you use skewers, toothpicks or wooden craft sticks, there’s just something amusing about food with a handle. Bonus if it includes something to dip it in. Try my meatball lollipops with easy marinara dipping sauce (recipe below).
Very colorful spaghetti
Serves 6 to 8
- Food dye
- 1 pound dry spaghetti
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- Fill sandwich-size zip-top bags with 2 teaspoons food dye (about 35 drops) and 2 tablespoons water. (I used four colors: red, yellow, green and blue.)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to arrest cooking and make the pasta cool enough to handle.
- Divide the cooked pasta evenly between the food dye bags, seal the bags and move the pasta around to evenly disperse the dye. Set aside for 10 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse one color of pasta at a time under cold water to remove excess dye — the water doesn’t need to run completely clear.
- Toss all the pasta together with the olive oil and serve.
Meatball lollipops with easy marinara dipping sauce
- 1 grated onion, divided use
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- Handful of fresh basil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Wooden craft sticks, lollipop sticks or small skewers
- Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer vigorously until reduced by half, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the basil before serving.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Add the ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, Worcestershire sauce and remaining half of the shredded onion to a large bowl. Mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until just combined.
- Form the meat mixture into 1-1/2 tablespoon-size balls and insert stick of choice 3/4 of the way into each meatball. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet an inch apart and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes.