Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Favorite Kid-Friendly Meals

Some families may be blessed with children who are adventurous eaters, but mine is not. I did all the things you're supposed to when they're little: offering lots of choices, encouraging them to try new foods more than once, not making them separate meals. But I was a picky child myself, so what goes around has indeed come around, and I've just learned to live with it. 

Over time, I have managed to expand their palates enough that I have a pretty good list of meals that they really enjoy. Here are a few of my family's favorites.

Costan Rican Dinner
I've blogged about this recipe before, but I think it's worth posting again because it's a delicious - and easy - meal that the kids like but it's definitely worthy of an adult palate. You can use any kind of flaky white fish, and adjust the herbs to your own taste preferences. It also has the added bonus of being a "one pot" meal, with protein, starch, and vegetables all built in. 
1-1/2 cups water
1 Tblsp butter or margarine
¾ cup long grain rice (uncooked)
Juice of 2 fresh limes (~3 Tblsp)
3 Tblsp olive oil, divided
4 Tblsp chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
4 tsp minced garlic, divided
kosher salt
¼ tsp sugar
2 to 6 haddock (or cod or tilapia) fillets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Add ½ tsp salt and the butter to the water and bring to a boil. Add rice; reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until water is fully absorbed. Keep warm until ready to use.
In a shallow dish large enough for all the fillets, combine lime juice, 1 Tblsp olive oil, 2 Tblsp parsely or cilantro, and 1 tsp minced garlic. Marinade fillets for 15-30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Saute onion, pepper, and remaining garlic for 5 minutes, until tender. Add black beans, oregano, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for an additional 5 minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally.
Place rice in baking dish large enough for fillets. Add bean mixture and blend together. Lay fillets on top and pour over excess marinade. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 16-20 minutes, until fish is fully cooked (thicker fillets may take a few extra minutes). 

Note: I used two half-pound fillets, which made two adult servings and two small children's servings, and there was enough rice left over for two additional servings. 

No Peek Beef Tips
My kids love steak but that's a bit pricy for everyday meals. This recipe takes a cheaper cut of beef and makes it as delicious and fork-tender as filet mignon (well, almost). You can leave out the mushrooms if the kids aren't fans (or make them pick them out themselves). Serve over a bed of mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles, and add a side of green salad, carrots, or whatever vegetable isn't on the "hate" list this week. 
2 lbs stew meat, cubed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 10.5 oz can cream of golden mushroom soup (you can use regular mushroom soup, but it's really not nearly as good)
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup sherry or other red wine
4 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pint cremini mushrooms, halved (optional)
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped

Add cubed meat to a dutch oven. In a large bowl mix the remaining ingredients together and pour over the meat. Add mushrooms, shallot, garlic and thyme and stir to coat. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Do not open the lid until done.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

Mexican Lasagna
I was somewhat dubious the first time I made this - it just sounds like such a bizarre combination! But it was actually quite delicious, and a surprising hit with the whole family. And it's not only another one-pot meal, but it's in the crock pot so easy to make ahead and forget until dinner time. Leftovers heat up surprisingly well - and it's a pretty big recipe, so there will be leftovers, or you may want to halve the recipe, at least the first time you make it. Feel free to play around with the amounts and types of vegetables included. 
  • 2 16 oz jars salsa
  • 2 envelopes taco seasoning (8 tablespoons), divided
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened (I found this to be a little too rich, so you may want to use less)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 14 oz can refried beans
  • 16 oz uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 2 lb ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 cup water
  • 14 oz can mexicorn (or regular corn - can also use a generous cup of frozen corn)
  • 2 small cans olive slices, drained
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar

  • Mix 1 tablespoon of taco seasoning mix with cream cheese, sour cream and beans. Set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet and prepare with remaining taco seasoning and water. Set aside. Spoon just enough salsa on the bottom of the crock pot to keep the noodles from sticking. Cover the bottom of the crock with lasagna noodles. Break to fit if needed. Spread ⅓ of the bean mixture over the noodles and top with ⅓ of beef, ⅓ of corn and ¼ of olives. Mix cheeses together in a bowl and top lasagna layer with 1 cup of cheese. Top with ¼ of salsa and place noodles on top. Repeat layers two more times (beans, beef, corn, olive, cheese, salsa, noodles x 2), ending with noodles and then pour remaining salsa on top of noodles. Reserve remaining cheese, olives and green onions until the end. Place the lid on the crock and cook for 3½ to 4 hours on high. 15 minutes before serving, cover with remaining cheese, olives and green onions.

Orange Chicken
This is probably the easiest recipe in my whole collection, and it's also one that my kids request the most often. It's on the sweet side, so I like to pair it with sticky rice and stir-fried vegetables (bell peppers, onions, carrots, corn, water chestnuts, etc.). You can even use frozen chicken breasts without thawing first. 
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can be frozen)
3/4 cup orange marmalade
3/4 cup Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Cook chicken in crockpot on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours. Drain juices from crockpot and cut chicken into chunks. Return to crock. Mix together remaining ingredients, pour over chicken, and stir until coated. Cook for an additional 30 minutes on high. Serve over rice. 

Salmon with Lemon-Dill Butter
It took some convincing to get my kids to try fish for the first time, but for some reason salmon appealed to them more than white fish. And once they tried it, they were hooked. This recipe cooks the salmon with only olive oil and salt, so kids can add the lemon-dill butter or not. The butter is also great on corn on the cob or any other vegetables you choose to serve with it. Rice is always a good side with salmon, whether sticky rice, wild rice, rice pilaf, or herb and butter rice. The salmon can be either grilled or baked. 
1/2 cup butter, softened slightly
1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 pounds salmon, skin on
kosher salt
olive oil

Zest the lemon and in a small bowl, combine zest with softened butter, dill, and pepper. Slice lemon in half and set aside. Mix the butter well and scoop into the center of a piece of plastic wrap. Use the wrap to form butter into a log shape, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 

Bring the salmon to room temperature for 20-30 minutes and divide into portions. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt. If grilling, rub grates with olive oil and preheat to medium-high. Reduce heat to medium and grill salmon, skin side down, for 6 minutes, then flip and cook for 5-6 additional minutes. If baking, bake on a nonstick-foil-lined pan at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes, skin side down. 

Top each serving with a slice of herbed butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. 

Fiesta Chicken
Another easy crockpot recipe with ingredients you can adjust to your own personal preferences. It's great served as a taco salad over romaine lettuce and topped with crumbled tortilla chips, wrapped in a soft tortilla like a burrito, or even stuffed in a baked potato. (It also makes fabulous nachos.)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (10 oz) cans corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 package taco seasoning mix

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork and stir to combine. Top with sour cream, guacamole, extra cheese, black olives, or whatever other toppings you like. 

Shepherd's Pie
Yeah, I know, it's really cottage pie, but it's been called "shepherd's pie" in my family for enough decades that the name has stuck. If you like ground lamb, make it with lamb and use garlic salt instead of regular salt. We always use corn, but feel free to substitute peas or mixed vegetables. All amounts are very forgiving so feel free to adjust based on what you have on hand and how many people you're feeding. I never measure, I just eyeball it. 
1 pound ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
6 servings instant mashed potatoes, prepared according to package directions
2 cups frozen corn
Shredded cheddar

Brown the ground beef, seasoning with salt and pepper. Drain fat and place beef in the bottom of a deep casserole dish. Top with corn (no need to thaw). Cover with mashed potatoes and then a generous layer of cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is browned and crispy at the edges. 

Chicken Pot Pie
There are literally hundreds of chicken pot pie recipes out there, but this is one that my family really loves. It's easily adjustable to whatever you have on hand and whatever you prefer. 
2-3 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper
2-3 small potatoes
1 cup chicken broth
¾ light cream, half and half, or milk
1 medium onion, chopped (or ~1/4 cup frozen onion)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
dash poultry seasoning
1 package single-sheet crescent roll (or puff pastry) dough

Place chicken breasts in a pot with just enough water to cover and add salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and cover. Let cool in the pot. Cut potatoes into bite size pieces and boil in salted water until almost fork tender. Drain and set aside. 

In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, saute onion with butter for 5 to 8 minutes. Add the frozen vegetables and cook another 5 minutes. Add flour and cook about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and cream/milk and bring to a boil. Add potatoes when thickened. Remove chicken from pot and cut into bite-size pieces and add to vegetable mixture. Add salt and pepper and poultry seasoning to taste. 

Pour mixture into a 9 inch deep dish pie plate (or individual ramekins) and cover with crescent roll dough, crimping to seal the dough to the edge of the plate. bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. 

Lamb Sliders
For some reason, my son determined early that he did NOT like hamburgers, yet he was willing to give sliders a shot. Regular hamburger sliders are good, but these lamb sliders are AMAZING. Be sure to use the Hawaiian rolls - the sweetness is just perfect with the spicy lamb. It's fun to make a dinner of appetizers by serving these alongside a caprese salad, spinach and artichoke dip, and/or Granny Smith apples slices topped with chicken salad and candied walnuts. 
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 ounces Swiss or gruyere cheese, cut into eight 1/2-inch cubes (I used Havarti)
8 small hamburger or slider buns, such as King's Hawaiian, halved
Place a grill pan over medium-low heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft, 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.

Combine the shallot mixture, lamb, cumin, ketchup, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form the mixture into 8 patties each 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Press a cube of cheese into the middle of each patty and form the meat around the cheese to cover. Brush the patties with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and grill until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Let the patties rest for 2 minutes. Place the patties in the buns and serve. 

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