With so much more time spent at home, there’s no doubt most people have changed the way they feed their families, are cooking more, and looking for easy, healthy dinner ideas for kids.
While serving up real food is a welcome change and one of the best ways to set up our kids for a lifetime of healthy eating, let’s face it: we’re all exhausted.
According to a recent survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Sun Basket, among 2,000 respondents, 55 percent said that cooking during COVID-19 has left them feeling fatigued.
What’s more, the average respondent said they have cooked the same meal 28 times since the start of the pandemic.
In our home, cooking fatigue has definitely set in.
After a whirlwind of a day working trying to work and helping my kids with distance learning on top of everything else that has to get done, I’ve resorted to easy meals like pasta and egg dishes and ordered take-out more often.
The good news, however, is that when you do make dinner, it can be healthy, delicious and easy.
In this post, I’ll cover:
- What to look for in easy, healthy dinner ideas for kids.
- How to find healthy, delicious, and kid-friendly recipes
- A list of easy dinner ideas for kids
WHY YOU NEED HEALTHY DINNER IDEAS FOR KIDS
Whether you work full-time, part-time, are back in the office, working from home—or have quit altogether to take care of your kids, we all have way too much on our plates.
Despite all the images that clog up your social media feeds of moms whipping up the most amazing, healthy dinners for their kids and looking beautiful to boot, it’s simply not realistic.
Pre-pandemic, moms were already spending 97 hours a week doing laundry, cooking meals, and drawing and creating art projects with their kids, among other parenting to-do’s.
Now, however, they’re spending an additional 27 hours each week on household chores, childcare, and education—nearly the same amount of time as working another job.
It should come as no surprise that with kids on a hybrid or distance learning model, childcare falls disproportionately on moms.
In fact, 1.3 million women have left the labor force since February.
Let’s also not forget about the day-to-day challenges of life irrespective of the pandemic: sick kids, kids with special needs, caring for an aging parent, marital problems, and financial concerns.
Although you might want to cook Instagram-worthy meals every night, easy healthy dinner ideas for kids are what you need.
HOW TO MAKE EASY, HEALTHY DINNER IDEAS FOR KIDS
When you’re looking for new dinner ideas, there are some things to keep in mind because not all recipes are created equal.
While I don’t recommend you count calories for your kids, you should make sure that the recipes you choose strike a balance between the calories they need in their diets and the amount you want to target, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Of course, you’ll also want to be mindful of the amount of saturated fat and added sugars as well.
Vegetables are the star—or at least make an appearance
One of the first ingredients you should look for is vegetables.
According to the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations, a healthy plate consists of 50 percent fruits and vegetables.
If the recipe doesn’t include vegetables—or enough—be sure to serve up your own.
Vegetables are filled with fiber which will help your kids stay satiated and may prevent weight gain. Add fruit for dessert and you’re all set.
Protein helps to build muscle, carry nutrients through the body, regulate hormones, and strengthen skin and bones.
Making sure you include protein with dinner also satisfies your kid’s hunger, balances blood sugar, and prevents weight gain.
Include protein sources like eggs, chicken, turkey, beef (grass-fed is ideal), beans and legumes, tofu, and tempeh.
Related: 10 High-Protein Foods for Kids
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommend 50 percent of the grains we eat to be made up of whole grains, which are a great source of B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.
Unlike white, refined grains, whole grains do a better job of satisfying hunger and balancing blood sugar.
Good choices include whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, brown or black rice, quinoa, farro, and freekeh.
Healthy fats are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger.
They’re essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Fat is also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and help regulate inflammation and metabolism.
Healthy fats are found in foods like fish, nuts and seeds, and avocado.
Related: How To Prepare Avocado
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN HEALTHY DINNER RECIPES
In addition to the nutritional value, here are some guidelines to help you choose healthy recipes.
A short list of simple ingredients
If a recipe calls for something obscure or an herb I don’t have on hand, I pass on it.
The key is to make your life easy and look for recipes that not only use the ingredients you usually have in your kitchen, but also use a short list of ingredients so that you can pull dinner together quickly and easily.
30-45 minutes or less
It takes time to wash, cut, and chop vegetables so I do a lot of my prep work ahead of time on the weekends, at night, or in the morning before my kids wake up.
Whether you do prep work ahead of time or not, the key is to look for recipes that have a total prep and cook time of about 30 to 45 minutes or less.
Sheet pan meals and one-pot meals
One of the quickest ways to get a healthy dinner on the table is to look for sheet pan recipes or one-pot recipes. These methods are super-efficient and cut down on clean-up time
Use an InstantPot or slow cooker
I typically use my stove and oven but if you have an InstantPot or Crock-Pot, you can set it and forget it.
One of the best appliances I use is my Vitamix.
You can use it to make soups, bread, doughs, dips, nut butters, sauces, dressings and marinades, appetizers, dinners, and side dishes—it’s pretty amazing.
HOW TO FIND EASY HEALTHY DINNER IDEAS FOR KIDS
Finding new recipes doesn’t have to be time-consuming or disorganized with these easy tips.
Have a cookbook on hand
Call me old-fashioned, but if you want to have easy healthy dinner ideas at the ready, keep a few of your favorite cookbooks on your bookshelf or in your kitchen pantry.
Relying on a handful of recipes makes getting dinner on the table easy.
Related: 7 Best Cookbooks for Moms
Pin recipes on Pinterest
Head on over to Pinterest and pin meal ideas to your boards for easy access.
Follow Hashtags on Instagram
If you love Instagram as much as I do for discovering healthy meal ideas, follow hashtags like #healthydinnerideas, #healthykidsfood, and #healthykidsmeals for some serious inspo.
You might find what looks like a great recipe, but when a friend confirms that it’s easy and healthy (and maybe their kids even like it), you know you’re golden.
Stick with your favorite food bloggers
Once you find a favorite food blogger who has great recipes, chances are, they’ll continue to publish more of the same.
Sign up for their newsletters, subscribe to their YouTube channels, and follow them on social.
HEALTHY DINNER IDEAS FOR KIDS
These 37 easy healthy dinner ideas will get you out of your dinner rut and help you serve up healthy meals in no time.
Sheet pan dinners
1. Bursting with bright veggies, packed with protein, and made with healthy fats and whole grains to boot, these Sheet Pan Steak Fajitas from Life Made Sweeter are the perfect meal to make on busy weeknights.
2. I’m a huge fan of Gina Homolka’s SkinnyTaste.com and her recipe for Sheet Pan Parmesan “Fried” Chicken with Broccoli and Sweet Potato Wedges is a balanced, healthy meal for your family.
Other sheet pan dinners you might like:
3. Baked Miso Salmon With Spring Peas – from Feasting at Home
4. Easy Healthy Cashew Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner – from Food Faith Fitness
5. Sheet Pan Steak and Veggies — from Damn Delicious
6. Easy Sheet Pan Dinner — from A Couple Cooks
Instant Pot recipes
7. This Healthy Turkey Chili Recipe is filled with protein and fiber and the best part is that you can make it in your Instant Pot, slow cooker, or stovetop.
8. Brimming with the brain and heart-healthy fats kids need, this Salmon, Sweet Potato and Broccoli recipe looks delicious and is quick and easy.
Other Instant Pot recipes you might like:
9. Instant Pot Mac and Cheese — from Dessert for Two
10. Best BBQ Pulled Pork —from My Kitchen Love
11. Instant Pot Spaghetti with Meat Sauce —from Skinnytaste
12. Instant Pot Gooey Cheesy Spaghetti Squash — from Super Healthy Kids
Slow cooker recipes
13. If you’re busy with after-school sports and activities, setting up dinner in the slow cooker is the way to go. This recipe for Slow Cooker Chili from Cooking Classy is the perfect antidote to cool autumn nights. Packed with protein and full of flavor, this chili recipe has a secret ingredient: cocoa powder which adds depth.
14. Swap out your usual Chinese take-out and easily throw together this Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken from Life Made Sweeter in just 15 minutes. Packed with protein and a great source of vitamin C, serve it over rice or quinoa and you’ve got one of the best healthy dinner ideas for kids.
Other slow cooker recipes you might like:
15. Slow-Cooker Lentil and Root Veggie Soup — from Food 52
16. Slow Cooker Meatloaf — from Tornadough Alli
17. Slow Cooker Chana Masala — from Forks Over Knives
18. Crockpot Sausage and Peppers — from Slow Cooker Foodie
19. Easy Slow Cooker Cauliflower Soup — from Live Eat Learn
20. It doesn’t get much easier than baked chicken breasts and this recipe for Oven-Baked Chicken Breasts will help you get a tender and juicy chicken on the table in no time.
21. Who says you can’t get dinner on the table in 20 minutes? This recipe for Chicken, Rice and Vegetable Skillet is packed with protein and plenty of flavor.
Other chicken recipes you might like:
22. Meal Prep-Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potato — from EatWell100
23. Easy Chicken Nuggets — from Weelicious
24. “No Work” Baked Chicken — from The Seasoned Mom
25. Chicken & Hummus Greek Wrap — from A Sweet Pea Chef
26. Eggs are superfoods for kids and this recipe for Scrambled Egg Tacos looks amazing.
27. Beans and Greens are the ultimate easy and healthy gluten-free meal. Make a large batch and have enough for school lunches all week long.
Other gluten-free meals you might like:
28. Egg Rolls In a Bowl — from Momables
29. Apple Cinnamon Pork Chops — from Gimme Some Oven
Plant-based, vegetarian & vegan meals
30. I’m always a fan of Cookie and Kate’s recipes and this one for Roasted Cauliflower and Farro Salad with Feta and Avocado is the ultimate healthy vegetarian meal. Roasted cauliflower is savory and the farro, avocado, and feta make for a delicious flavor combination.
31. Lentils are a staple in my house and this recipe for Everyday Vegan Lentil Soup from Nora Cooks is a super-easy way to get more plant-based foods in your kid’s diet.
Other vegetarian and vegan meals you might like:
32. Healthy Vegan Chili Mac — from Veggies Don’t Bite
33. Mexican Vegan Falafel Balls — from Cotter Crunch
34. Black Bean Tofu Burger — from Plant Based and Broke
35. Easy Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Enchiladas — from She Likes Food
36. Vegetable Lasagna with Butternut Squash & Shiitake Mushrooms — from Foodie Crush
37. One Pot Broccoli and Rice from My Plant Based Family