Weeknight Dinner Inspiration

Stuck in a meal planning rut? The PSP Cooking Group is here to help with quick and healthy recipes that will appeal to kids of all ages.

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One PSP member asks…

“I’m in a cooking rut-or fatigue-can’t tell which. I have a 4 and 8 year old-both eat meat, grains, standard kid fare, but any kind of vegetable is a challenge. I’ve tried all the hidden fried it's not really a vegetable thing and nothing seems to work. To make it harder, I’m terrible at meal planning. I can usually prep something on weekend that lasts a day or so, but past that-its a protein, a grain, a vegetable for me/spouse and the kids eat the meat and grain. I am not motivated to do much during the week as I usually put dinner together in about 15 minutes or so -easier the better.”


Ideas include…

Sweet potatoes. “Do they like sweet potatoes? Maybe some thick diagonally cut carrots could sneak into a pan of maple-drizzled roasted sweet potatoes?”

Finger foods with or without dips. “My kid always liked anything that he could dip in ranch dressing. Maybe you could offer a mix of carrot sticks, celery, and something you know they won't object to, e.g. breadsticks?”


“Ditto to the dips -- we recently discovered my four year old will eat a giant pile of celery and carrots accompanied by a bit of bleu cheese dressing (though she'd rather eat hummus by the spoonful so it can be hit or miss).

My kids love eating edamame and eat snap peas (at least the pea part) the same way too.”


“When I'm making dinner, the kids are usually hungry and want a snack, annoyingly.  The one thing I can usually get them to eat is a plate of sliced cucumbers (the thin-skinned Persian kind) and sweet red bell peppers. Whenever I think of it, I like to pass them a plate of that while I'm prepping dinner so they will eat those veggies, at least, since I know they are less likely to eat whatever veg I'm making for dinner.  (My kids are older now, but it's a trick I still use now and again!)”


“I second the cut up fresh veggies, we pretty much serve cucumbers, baby tomatoes, peppers, carrots whenever we can. They snack on them sometimes and sometimes have at meals. But it’s a low pressure way to give it because it’s just around. My husband and I also love it so the kids often want what we are eating.”


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When it comes to vegetables, offer choices. “Finally, for power-struggling kids (is that redundant?!), maybe you could take them to a really nice, colorful veg aisle in the supermarket and say ‘each of you gets to select one thing from this aisle that we'll eat for dinner this week, and then each of you will get to select one thing from the cookie aisle.’

My son is 13 and currently likes/eats broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts (shocking), green salad, occasionally tomato-mozzarella salad, and that's about it. The beloved corn, carrots, and avocado of yesteryear have been taken out of rotation. It's a process...!”


“And pre-pandemic, I used to drag one of them to the co-op with me pretty frequently, and one of the things they would always have to do is pick out two vegetables. I'd just say, pick any two vegetables you what, I don't care what they are. Just fill a bag and put it in the cart. I don't know how much that increased their eating of vegetables, but my hope was that they felt they at least had some choice and would have to think about themselves eating, and hopefully enjoying, some vegetable or another!”


“I also try and serve a vegetable at every meal. My kids don't ever really eat it, but I do it because you are supposed to. Things that I can prepare quickly are: 

    Green beans (2-3 minutes in salty water),

    Smitten Kitchen Crispy Broccoli (that takes just a couple of minutes to pull it together, but about 25 minutes to cook),

    Frozen edamame from Trader Joe's (microwave in hot water for 2-3 minutes)

    Shredded carrots

    Sliced cucumbers 

    Sautéed spinach (2-3 minutes in a pan)

    Cherry tomatoes sliced (really the only thing they consistently eat)

Every 10th time the kids will eat something that is not tomatoes, but mostly I am feel like I am doing the job by exposing them to food.”


Crispy oven-baked veggies. “The other way my kids like veggies is crispy in the oven. So I make zucchini fries (just thinly cut zucchini with olive oil), and carrots and butternut squash this way.”


Healthy pasta. “Pre-made ravioli/stuffed tortellini!  So many delicious varieties, including w veggies.”


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Broccoli and orzo. “My 4 year old is super picky but both my 4 and 7 year old love this.

I cook the broccoli super soft with garlic, olive oil so i think it all mushes together and the 4 year old barely notices.”


Ramen with add-ins. Frozen ramen (Sun Ramen brand is very yummy)--throw in some frozen peas, boiled egg, and spinach.”


Puff pastry tarts. “Puff pastry tart with just about any combo of veg! With or without cheese.”


Zucchini pancakes. “Zucchini pancakes!! You can google a few recipes or just remove the milk and sugar from your standard pancake recipe and add shredded zucchini, scallions and cheese.

You can freeze them or keep them in the fridge for a week.”


Curry. “The one thing with vegetables that my kids love is curry. Just use the sauce that comes in a jar, keeping it mild depending on your kids' preferences (you could get the butter chicken sauce if you need it super mild), but you can easily add carrots, peas, or broccoli into it. I usually make a big batch and it works for 2-3 meals, between one meal for us and probably 2 school lunches or dinner for the kids.”


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Pureed veggie add-ins (also see our Hiding Vegetables article). “I also started adding roasted/pureed eggplant and zucchini to marinara and it's delicious -- basically a vegetable bolognese.  I roast and puree a large batch, then freeze so its easy to add to marinara (whether store-bought or home-made) on weeknights.  Serving this makes me feel slightly better that they are eating pasta with tomato sauce...again.

I do the same when I make meatballs or meatloaf - add spinach, carrots, and/or squash puree - whatever I have on-hand (I usually prep the vegetables in batches/so they are easy to thaw and add quickly).  I haven't made any savory potato cakes or pancakes in awhile but this idea would probably work well for that too.  My two year old is hitting a picky phase with textures, so I've been doing a lot of veggie hiding again!”


The classic, trusty, salad. “I also almost always serve a salad--after 4 years the kids are finally eating it. Lol.”


“Or chopped salad every day. Vinaigrette or other dressing makes it interesting, and as others have said, pretty much all kids like cukes and peppers. You can wash and chop for several days at a time, keep it wrapped in a dish towel in the fridge, and just take out as much as you need for one meal. If there’s always a salad on the plate, they get used to eating it. As they get older you can go crazy and add … leafy greens.

When ours were little we told them they had to try something 21 times before they could say for sure they didn’t like it. I overheard one of them telling a friend, ‘You can’t say you don’t like something until you’re 21.’”


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Frozen mixed veggies. “My kids also really love the frozen mixed veggies of peas carrots corn, so that takes like a minute to cook and they eat it up!”


Guacamole and chips. “Guacamole and chips is another way of adding veggies in easily. I will often buy prepared guacamole but would love to prep myself if I can ever get it together.”


Spinach in everything. “This may not help for weeknight dinner, but I've always put an insane amount of baby spinach (like half the blender) in smoothies, and no one was the wiser -- you can't taste it, and it's a nice shot of iron.”


“A couple of tricks I use are blending and freezing spinach then adding it last minute to pasta sauce (hoping it's retained the nutritional value) and finely chopping mushrooms to add to ground meat during cooking.”


Meal kits can help. “Also, meal kits can be a lifesaver. I started using Blue Apron 6 years ago and my son started to help prepping and cooking, he was 6. Now, I've become a bit reliant, not so much to the meal kits themselves but to the recipes on their websites which help me meal plan and shop. When I do order, lately they have been one pot meals. I'm so happy my son likes soup so I can prepare meals in advance and heat them up if I happen to have a zoom meeting, PTA or otherwise.

All of that to say that the recipes on the websites are very helpful. I've used Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon.”


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