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ATK Kids

3 Creative Ways to Make Family Meals Fun

In a cooking rut? Let kids’ creativity run wild and turn dinner into a fun, themed event using what you have on hand.

Published Apr. 20, 2020.

Being cooped up with family 24/7 can be stressful and tiring during the best of times, but especially during this era of quarantine and social distancing. Everyday tasks, such as cooking, can start to feel like repetitive chores. To help break up the monotony, may I suggest injecting a little fun into your family’s meal times (and getting the kids to help you in the kitchen, too)? 

I recently saw an interview with Tina Fey, in which she told Jimmy Fallon about the airplane-themed dinner that her daughters, ages 14 and 9, had recently hosted for the family. They lined the chairs up single file, each with a selection of magazines tucked into the back, dressed up like flight attendants, and gave their parents the standard airline safety speech before serving a dinner of macaroni and cheese and Spam on individual trays. The final thematic touch? A photograph of an airplane window displayed on a nearby television screen. 

With this creative spirit in mind, I came up with three dinner themes, complete with kid-tested and kid-approved recipes from America’s Test Kitchen Kids. Use one of our ideas, or let your young chefs’ imaginations run wild and come up with their own themes, complete with menus, decorations, and costumes. Share your dinners with us using #atkkids on Instagram or by sending photos to—we would love to see them.


From left: Turkey Burgers, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Magic Vanilla Ice Cream

Drive-In Movie Night

Kids can create the magic of a drive-in movie theater right in their living room. Set up pairs of chairs—like the seats in a car—in front of the television. Pick a movie that everyone in the family agrees on (this might be the most challenging part of this entire endeavor) and cook up a menu inspired by classic burger restaurants, complete with ice cream sundaes. 

The Menu

Turkey Burgers or Crispy Skillet Veggie Burgers
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Magic Vanilla Ice Cream
Amazing Chocolate Sauce


From left: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Chimichurri Sauce, Fluffy Dinner Rolls, Individual Flourless Chocolate Cakes

Fancy Restaurant Night

If you can’t go out to eat at a restaurant, why not bring the restaurant to you? Encourage kids to create their idea of what a “fancy” restaurant might be, using items in your home. Pull out a tablecloth, put some flowers in a vase, and dust off the special occasion plates. How about playing some classical music while you dine? Kids might enjoy playing the role of waiters and serving dinner to their parents, or maybe everyone dresses up for dinner in their “fanciest” clothes.  

The Menu

Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Chimichurri Sauce
Green Beans with Lemon Dressing
Fluffy Dinner Rolls
Individual Flourless Chocolate Cakes


From left: Veggie Wrap with Hummus, Real Lemonade, Blondie Bites

Backyard (or Indoor) Picnic

For many of us, social distancing means staying home instead of visiting our favorite parks and public spaces. Instead, set up a picnic in your backyard or even inside your home. Spread out a blanket and pack up your food in a basket or cooler. If you’re indoors, how about arranging houseplants and playing nature sounds to create some outdoor ambiance. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace or outdoor fire pit, you could even make s’mores for dessert! Serve portable sandwiches, tortilla chips and guacamole (homemade or store-bought), some fresh lemonade to drink, and individual blondies for dessert. 

The Menu

Spicy BLT Wraps or Veggie Wraps with Hummus
Tortilla Chips


The Young Chefs' Club

On sale until April 30, 2020, the May edition of the Young Chefs' Club subscription box is all about VEGETABLES! From recipes that highlight the savory (and sweet) sides of veggies to activities where kids can grow (and regrow) their own veggies to a fun "Veggie Match" card game for the whole family, this box will help kids look at—and eat!—their vegetables in new ways.   
Learn More

For more tips on cooking and baking with kids, check out these articles:

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