Kid-Approved Recipes

I don’t have any children, but sometimes I eat like one: cheesy beans, generously buttered noodles, waffles for dinner.

But what actually makes a recipe “kid friendly?” When I asked that question of my colleagues with children, a few common descriptors emerged: hearty, familiar, comforting and, well, changeable on a dime.

Age is a big factor. Young children seem to have less trouble with foods of myriad textures and colors, or even the occasionally spicy dish, they said. But the parents of older kids had some bad news: When food preference “becomes a power play and a way for them to exert their independence, you’re screwed,” joked my colleague Margaux Laskey.

With that in mind, I want to answer a handful of requests I’ve received from parents over the past few weeks, with the toddler-size caveat that every little one is different. If any of the following suggestions leads to a tantrum, consider this newsletter a liability waiver. But if your child raves about dinner, I’ll happily take the credit.

“I’d love to request a vegetarian, no-cow/sheep-dairy (except butter) meal that can be served in components, so the kids can choose their own dinner adventure.” — Nori

A noodle or bibimbap assembly line may fit the bill here. A cold noodle salad, set out with the kiddos’ favorite crunchy vegetables and a mild sesame vinaigrette, will allow them to customize to their hearts’ content — and to avoid whatever ingredients they’re boycotting this month.

The same goes for this sheet-pan bibimbap. I’ll let this reader comment speak for itself: “The magic is that everything kind of cooks together; then every family member is allowed to assemble their own bowls. This is beautiful when kids are involved. I notice mine being braver every time this is made and helping themselves to a different variety of vegetables besides their known favorites. Just a solid, hearty, veggie-centric meal.”

“Chickpea recipes where my kids don’t notice they eat chickpeas.” — Stephanie

I’m going to assume the issue is with whole chickpeas, so our best route is most likely this vegetarian meatball recipe, which blends them with cremini mushrooms for a meaty, hearty texture. Everything is coated in a bit of bread crumbs and Parmesan (just be sure to use Parm made with vegetarian rennet if that’s of concern), so any chickpea haters will be too distracted by that crunchy exterior to worry about what’s inside.

“Wondering if you have any ideas for salads that kids might enjoy, too.” — Ruchika

OK, I’m just riffing here, but perhaps the best way to sell a salad to a child is to put a pizza underneath. Inspired by a pie at California Pizza Kitchen (a place I loved to eat at as a kid!), this recipe piles a pickle-y bean and arugula salad atop a crust crackling with Parmesan. Feel free to modify as needed: The pepperoncini in the salad might pack a bit too much bite for little ones, so reach for lemon juice or capers instead.

OK, let’s do one more request for the road. I’ve phoned a friend, my colleague Eleanore Park, whose 18-month-old son, Hugh, is himself a curious eater.

“Help a new mom out with recipes for a budding food explorer? I have a 9-month-old daughter, Paloma, who’s just starting solid foods and ready for easy-chew foods like pancakes, puddings or puréed soups. The catch: She’s allergic to eggs and dairy. The request, then: Any ideas for flavorful first eats for a kid who can’t have egg or dairy? All the better if the rest of the family will want to eat them too!” — Emma

If you can find eggless pasta (a lot of parents who need to avoid allergens opt for chickpea dried pasta), Tejal Rao’s kale-sauce pasta is a good way to sneak in two bunches of kale. (Hugh is obsessed with it!) It does call for cheese, so either opt for a vegan Parm or try Ali Slagle’s vegan kale-pesto pasta, which calls for cashews.

I love Hetty McKinnon’s butternut squash congee — just skip the chile oil. That usually makes plenty for all three of us, and leftovers for future me. Time is scarce.

And try something soft and easy to eat, like rice and beans. In Kay Chun’s bean and cheese burritos, you can swap in rice for cheese and make a mild pico de gallo at home with tomatoes, onion, cilantro and lime, hold the jalapeño. — Eleanore Park

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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