16 Easy Dinner Recipes for Kids to Make By Themselves
More time at home means more opportunity for your children to try new things. If they’ve got some basic kitchen skills, let them make dinner!
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), 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 dinner unsupervised, but once we started I never looked back. Here’s how I knew he was ready:
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. The 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.
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 recipes 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. Because many of them are extremely basic, they’re also quarantine pantry-friendly.
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.
5-Minute Easy Vegan Tacos
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.)
Mini Meatball Sliders
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 it goes.
French Bread Pizzas
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 cooking
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.
Perfect Microwave Nachos
It’s always smart to start with a kid-friendly favorite. This recipe’s perfect for when you have some leftover 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 one goes together: a smear of canned refried beans (with meat or vegetarian, as you like) on a flour tortilla + pre-shredded Mexican cheese + a second tortilla, and into the microwave. The only potentially tricky part is cutting the quesadillas into wedges.
Microwave Risotto with Ham, Peas, and Cheese
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.
Easy Microwave Chicken Enchiladas
This one 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.
Press for success
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.
Turkey Pesto Panini
Fluffy focaccia is 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 turkey, roasted red peppers, tomato, and cheddar cheese before toasting until it’s golden brown and melty.
Cheesy Pizza Panini
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.
Waffle Iron Panini
Bread + cheese + deli meat + baby spinach = gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside sammiches 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, shmeakfast — this is 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.
Easy Pancakes from Scratch
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 pantry ingredients. Even simpler: Sheet Pan Pancakes (this version includes blueberries, raspberries, or any other favorite berry), 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.
Easy French Toast Bake
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).
Perfectly safe “frying” in the air fryer
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.
Perfect Air Fryer Salmon
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.
Air Fryer Cheeseburger
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.
Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
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.
More favorite recipes for kids to make
We've got loads of yummy recipes that are perfect for beginning cooks to explore, including easy pizza recipes and favorites like muffins and macaroni and cheese. Here are more articles to help you get cooking with your littles: