Stop Making Two Dinners: Versatile Ideas for the Whole Family

Parenting is amazing, sometimes hilarious and often difficult. Adjusting expectations so that the mini members of your dinner table eat what you're eating is a natural way to make life easier.
05/14/2012 04:24pm ET | Updated July 14, 2012
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The other night I made herbed turkey burgers for dinner. Since our two-year-old has always been a die-hard condiments fan, I put neat little dots of ketchup and mustard on her bun, silently congratulating myself on knowing her so well.

That's when the screaming started.

"I want it clean! Clean, like Stellie's!" She was referring to her a-year-old sister Estelle's plain bun and patty arrangement. Our pre-schooler was reduced to a shrieking puddle on the floor.

This is why I don't make two dinners. Mama mia, who has the energy to deal with the trials of 2-year-olds AND double their cooking duties on top of it? Not this one.

Really though, I don't make a separate meal for the little guys (unless they're still eating pureed baby food and even then there are shortcuts to keep it simple) because I want us to be on the same page, figuratively. Eating the same food at the same table, literally, is a good way to do that.

Also, it's a pain to cook twice. Parenting is amazing, sometimes hilarious, often difficult and generally requires the maximum amount of effort on so many fronts. Adjusting expectations so that the mini members of your dinner table eat what you're eating is a natural way to make life easier (provided that you get the whole condiments thing right; if not, see "hilarious" and "difficult" above).

And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame and chef/owner of Craft restaurants and Colicchio & Sons, doesn't make a separate meal for his sons Dante, 18, Luka, 2 or Mateo, 1. As he told Bon Appetit, "My wife Lori and I started feeding our kids everything at a young age. Whatever we're eating, the kids eat, too. Luka loves broccoli and can't get enough of it. Mateo eats basically anything. Both kids are easy to feed."

He's starting early. If you didn't, don't worry. But by all means, if you feel like a short order cook in your own kitchen, it's time to pack up your knives and let go.

Have older kids? Try a trick from Cat Cora, mom to four boys and the only female Iron Chef on The Food Network's legendary series. "They always have had a say in what the dinner menu will be, and we've encouraged them to get involved by helping pick out what produce looks good at the market, as well as lending a hand in the kitchen with the actual meal preparation," says Cora in the same Bon Appetit piece. "They've always been much more inclined to finish their plates when they've played such an important role from start to finish, and there is hardly anything they won't try!"

Okay, okay, we get it. The pros are running circles around our plates of nuggets. But there's also good news. You don't have to be a chef to pull this off. The requirements are much simpler: just a kitchen and kids. With that said, here are 5 kid-tested, easy enough dishes that with a few individual substitutions, work just as well for moms, dads, kids, toddlers and picky eaters, too.

These are the most straightforward ideas for full family meals. Pasta, rice and so on. Each is easy to make and an even easier sell. If this is a new thing for your brood, it's a great place to start.

If you enjoy more complicated flavors and recipes but feel reluctant to spend a lot of time and effort on food that kids might not appreciate, not to mention the massive amount of butter and other decadent ingredients many chef's recipes include, I'm with you. Family-friendly recipe makeovers is coming up next... Until then, may your kitchen be used more for cooking instead of crying. (And if that's the case, can I come over?)