16 Easy Dinner Recipes for Kids to Make By Themselves
If your kids have some basic kitchen skills, why not let them make dinner?
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I love cooking with my son. But I love it even more when he cooks dinner himself. Every Wednesday since just before his 12th birthday, he’s been responsible for planning and preparing the main course. Given his disdain for any kind of veggies, I usually guide him on the sides, but once a week I get to skip my meal planning duties. He loves it, too, since he gets to be in charge.
His repertoire includes chicken cutlets, chicken soup (which he makes in the Instant Pot), roast chicken (yes, he likes chicken recipes), omelets, pancakes and waffles, pizza, and his specialty, split-open hot dogs cooked in a skillet until they’re deliciously crispy. I may not love eating hot dogs for dinner, but I sure do love that I don’t have to cook them.
It took a little while for me to come around to the idea that he could take on family dinner unsupervised, but once we started I never looked back.
Before we committed to once a week, we eased into it with one-off, simple weeknight meals, which I talked him through without stepping in. And we relied on some safer-than-the-stove equipment, like the microwave and the waffle iron, as well as kid-friendly concepts like breakfast for dinner and semi-homemade meals. The sooner you start letting your child take on more of the work, the sooner they’ll be ready to cook for you.
The easy dinner ideas that follow all make terrific starting points for kids who like cooking, and they're crowd-pleasers that are likely to make the whole family happy.
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How to know when your kid is ready to cook dinner
Here’s how I knew my son was ready to make dinner on his own.
He had solid knife skills. Sure, some cooking projects don’t require a knife, but most do. So before you hand over the kitchen to your child, spend some time demoing safe techniques and watching them practice. You want your kid to feel comfortable and confident, but not fearless (since knives are still, y’know, sharp).
He knew how to work the stovetop and oven. He knows that the “medium” setting on our burners runs a little high. And that the oven needs a good 15 minutes to preheat. And not only did he need to understand the basics, he also had to be conscientious about turning things off when the food was done.
He understood basic safety procedures. Using potholders: check. Setting a timer so you don’t forget something’s cooking: check. Having a place to put a hot pot before picking it up: check. Standing back to avoid steam: check. Knowing when to call for help: double-check.
He wanted to do it. The last thing you need is for your kid to dread cooking dinner as much as we grownups do from time to time. Enthusiasm goes a long way here.
Semi-homemade recipes for kids to make
Not-quite-from-scratch cooking starts with a prepared item or two, transforming them into something else. Dinner recipes like this are a great way to help your kid find his kitchen legs.
These tacos call for little more than chopping and assembling, and even the chopping isn’t much. Canned or frozen corn, canned black beans, avocado, cherry tomatoes, onions, and parsley get seasoned and piled inside tortillas, and before you know it, dinner’s on the table. (You might like this one so much you steal it for nights when you’re cooking.)
Prepared meatballs stand in for mini-burgers. Your child will place slider bun bottoms in a baking dish and sprinkle on some shredded mozz, then top each with a meatball doused with prepared spaghetti sauce. More cheese and the other half of the buns, a bit of melted butter and a light dusting of grated Parm, and into the oven this comfort food goes.
The tiniest bit more work than those frozen ones, these French bread pizzas can adapt to almost anything you have on hand. The recipe includes options for sauces and cheeses as well as toppings — and the instructions couldn’t be simpler. Arrange bread on a baking sheet, cover with toppings, and bake.
Super-safe microwave dinner ideas for kids to make
No hot surfaces, no open flame — the microwave often is about as safe as you can get in the kitchen. Just make sure your child understands that though the oven itself won’t get hot, the food container definitely will. Potholders required.
It’s always smart to start with a kid-friendly favorite. This recipe’s perfect for when you have some leftover ground beef taco meat, since it only calls for one half-cup. And it’s ready so quickly, it’s easy to make a second (or third) batch after everyone gobbles the first one.
You can probably picture just how this easy chicken recipe goes together: a smear of sour cream with Tex-Mex seasonings followed by shredded cheese, shredded chicken, and a second tortilla. Then into the microwave it goes. The only potentially tricky part is cutting the quesadillas into wedges.
OK, so this isn’t a classic risotto like you’d get in a restaurant. But it’s delicious and filling and takes very little knife work, so it’s a great way for your child to get the hang of cooking. Your kid can can opt for pre-shredded Parmesan or shred it from a block if she likes to do that.
This Mexican recipe takes the semi-homemade approach to the microwave, for a doubly easy dinner recipe. Cooked chicken breast (or whatever you have, whether it's supermarket rotisserie chicken or leftovers), canned enchilada sauce, taco seasoning mix, and shredded cheese get rolled inside corn tortillas, then topped with more sauce and cheese and nuked until everything’s hot and melty. If you skip the cilantro garnish, there’s no knife involved.
Safe air fryer recipes for kids to make
The air fryer is one of those gadgets that seems like it’ll just take up space, until you realize the cooker can do so many different things. And while an air fryer can get hot enough to require potholders, it uses very little oil — so there’s no chance of spilling or popping. Add a salad or some frozen vegetables as a side.
In my world, salmon isn’t on the menu when my kid’s cooking. But plenty of his friends adore it. If you’ve got fish-friendly kids, just think how lovely it’ll be to sit down to an elegant salmon dinner, prepared without your help. (For bonus points, how about Air Fryer Salmon with Ginger and Miso?)
Did you know you (or rather, your child) can make deliciously juicy burgers in this countertop appliance? Even the buns get crisped inside. A batch of Air Fryer Frozen French Fries makes this an easier-than-takeout fast food dinner.
This has to be the kid-friendliest way to make golden, crunchy chicken tenders, and it's a healthier version of some chicken nugget recipes since so little oil is used. The coating is nothing more than a dunk in beaten egg followed by a roll in a bowl of seasoned breadcrumbs (regular and panko, mixed together for extra crunch). Even easier: Teach your child to put the crumbs and tenders in a bag and shake it up.
Sandwiches: Quick and easy dinners for kids to make
Toasting sandwiches in a panini press or waffle iron lets your kid experiment with flavors with almost no chance of making something genuinely awful. Add a simple side salad or some crunchy raw vegetables and a handful of chips to fill out the meal.
Sliced sourdough, ciabatta, and fluffy focaccia are all perfect for panini, and this recipe proves that point. Your child will spread prepared pesto on each side of the bread, then layer in sliced tomato and mozzarella cheese before toasting until it’s golden brown and melty. Feel free to swap in shredded cheese for the sliced and to add turkey and/or roasted red peppers.
This is probably the easiest way in the world to make pizza, short of heating up a frozen one. The recipe calls for pepperoni, but your kid can easily leave it out to create a vegetarian grilled cheese, or swap in whatever pizza toppings you like.
Bread + cheese + deli meat + baby spinach = gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside sandwiches for dinner. If you’ve never tried making sandwiches in your waffle iron before, this’ll rock your world. I guarantee, your kid’s going to want to make these for lunch, too.
Breakfast: Easy recipes for kids to make for dinner
I’m pretty sure every parent understands the power of breakfast for dinner. It’s easy, made with basic ingredients, and kids generally love it. So why not let them try their hand at it, too? Add some fruit to any of these and dig in.
Let’s start with the all-time breakfast favorite, shall we? If you’ve only used a boxed mix until now, you’ll be surprised at how simple it is to make pancakes from standard ingredients. Even simpler: Sheet Pan Pancakes (this version includes strawberries, blueberries, or even chocolate chips), which get cooked all at once and don’t require flipping. Set out some peanut butter or almond butter to spread on top, if you like, to make these more filling.
French toast in casserole form is much less work than dipping each piece, then cooking in a skillet. Your child won’t even need to slice the bread, since it’s tastier when torn into chunks. The oat streusel topping makes this family favorite even more appealing.
Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole
Jarred roasted red peppers and baby spinach provide the no-knife-needed vegetable portion of the meal, while eggs and cheddar cheese make it filling. Tater tots just make it fun (and crunchy-crusty).