Kids Can Cook!

To say these are trying times is more than just an understatement. It's nearly laughable. Between wondering where all the toilet paper went and attempting to work from home (if you're lucky) while getting your kids to do something beyond look at screens (again, if you're lucky), there's that ever-nagging question that somehow doesn't manage to take a break even during the throes of a global pandemic. What's for dinner?

So now, in this time of confusion, fear, and sometimes utter exhaustion, we're reaching out to help you and yours turn a bit more to the comforts of the kitchen to your nourish yourselves, body and soul. Cooking can be relaxing, educational, fun, and ... if you are exceptionally lucky, all three! And with many of you trying to get dinner on the table with kids at home, why not make foods they'll love and can actually help make? Set all the phones and tablets aside (maybe disinfect them again, eh?), and let's get cooking!

Below are 10 fantastic dinner recipes that are fun to make, often downright pretty, and will give everyone a chance to do some measuring, stirring, sautéing, and more. And when you're all done, split up the cleanup and you'll be done in no time. Besides, this happens to be one of those times when taking on a challenge that might eat up a bit of time is actually a really good idea. Enjoy digging through these gems and when everything's clean again (keep washing those hands!), why not get outside and enjoy a nice walk. After all, it's a bit of a treat to come back home and have the aroma of the meal you just enjoyed remind you that you all did a great job making dinner.

Baked Chili Dogs

  • 7 hot dog buns
  • 2-3 T. mayonnaise
  • 7 bun-length hot dogs
  • 2 c. prepared chili - use leftovers from your favorite recipe
  • 1 c. grated cheese
  • 1/4 c. sliced green onions

Preheat the oven to 400° F and spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread the mayonnaise evenly on the inside of each of the hot dog buns. Place a hot dog in each bun and arrange them in the baking pan, with 5 set in a row and an additional two along the side where the gap sits. Spoon some chili over each hot dog and sprinkle liberally with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the green onions before serving.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Pizza Roses

  • Refrigerated pizza dough (sold in a canister)
  • Pizza sauce
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Pepperoni slices (about 8 per rose)

Open the dough, roll it out until it is thin, and cut it into strips about 8 inches long and 1.5 inches wide.

Cover one side of each strip lightly with pizza sauce.

Lay a piece of pepperoni on a strip such that the top third of the pepperoni hangs off the strip. Continue with another 7 pieces of pepperoni, allowing the pieces of pepperoni to slightly overlap. There will be a small bit of the strip not covered by pepperoni.

Sprinkle the bottom half of each strip with mozzarella cheese.

Beginning at the end of the strip where the pepperoni covers the dough all the way to the end, roll the dough into a coil, and carefully place it in a muffin tin, with the pepperoni facing up. Repeat this procedure with all of the strips.

Bake the roses at 400°F for 20-25 minutes, or until the pepperoni edges are crispy and the dough is fully cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow the roses to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. I like to serve them with additional pizza sauce for dipping.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Pita Pizzas

For each pizza, take 1 pita bread and add:
  • Sauce: options include:
    • tomato sauce
    • pesto
    • bbq sauce
    • ranch dressing mixed with a little mayo
    • hummus
    • oil & herbs
  • Toppings: options include:
    • fresh spinach, kale, or other hearty greens
    • sliced olives
    • pepperoni and/or salami
    • chopped tomatoes
    • sliced peppers
    • crumbled sausage
    • chopped onions
    • fresh herbs
    • diced artichokes
    • anchovies
    • sundried tomatoes
    • roasted peppers
    • shredded chicken and/or pork
    • roasted beets
    • crumbled bacon
    • all manner of cheese
    • fresh, roasted or fried garlic
    • the list goes on and on and on …

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Once you've assembled your pita pizza to your liking, carefully slide it into the preheated oven (you can use a pizza stone or put it directly on the baking rack). Bake for 8 minutes or until the toppings are cooked and the cheese (if added) is melted and bubbly. Allow the pizzas to cool for 5 minutes before slicing into 4 equal slices and placing on a plate. Enjoy!

  • Yields: 1 serving per pita bread
  • Preparation Time: About 10 minutes per pita pizza (you can bake multiple pizzas at once)

Bubble Pizza

  • 1 pkg. flakey refrigerated biscuits
  • 2 c. tomato sauce
  • 3 oz. sliced pepperoni
  • 1 1/4 c. shredded cheese

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

Using a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife and a cutting board, cut or slice the biscuits into 4 pieces each and place in the bottom of the 9 x 13-inch baking pan.Carefully pour an even layer of the tomato sauce over the biscuit pieces. Cover the biscuits and sauce with a layer of pepperoni and then sprinkle the top with shredded cheese.

Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the biscuits have risen and baked and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving, as it will be quite hot.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Waffle-Pizza Sandwiches

  • 1 can jumbo flaky refrigerated biscuits
  • 8 oz. shredded cheese
  • 1/4 c. pepperoni slices
  • Waffle maker and nonstick cooking spray

Heat your waffle maker in the closed position.

In the meantime, open the can of biscuits and separate them into 8 rounds. Press each round flat until it measures 4-5 inches in diameter. This is an excellent job for little kitchen helpers. Arrange some shredded cheese and 4-5 slices of pepperoni in the center of one biscuit round and carefully cover the fillings with another round and press the edges together to form a pocket. Repeat this process with the remaining 6 flattened rounds.

Lightly spray the preheated waffle maker with the cooking spray and set one of the biscuit pockets into the center of the maker. Carefully close the lid, pressing down lightly on the lid. Set a timer for 4 minutes. When the timer beeps, carefully remove the waffle sandwich to a plate using a fork. Be careful, as the sandwich will be very hot.

Repeat this process with the remaining 3 biscuit pockets. Serve warm.

  • Yields: 4 sandwiches
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Chicken Bacon Ranch Totchos

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 8 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 medium onion, cleaned and sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 1/2 cup ranch dressing
  • 1 lb. frozen tater tots
  • 1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
  • Diced avocado, for garnish

In a nonstick skillet, fry the bacon until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Using the same pan (drain some of the bacon fat off if there's too much left in the pan), sauté the chicken over medium heat. When it is mostly done, add the onion and pepper and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender and the chicken is cooked through. Add the ranch dressing and toss to thoroughly coat. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bake the tater tots in a 450° F oven for 20 minutes, turning once about half way through. When the tots are done baking and the chicken mixture is finished. Carefully spread the chicken mixture evenly over the single layer of tater tots on the baking pan. Then add a layer of chopped tomato and sprinkle the top of the totchos with the grated cheese. Add the cooked, drained bacon to the very top and return to the hot oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Sprinkle the totchos with fresh avocado immediately before serving.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Lasagna Rolls

  • 12-16 cooked lasagna noodles (avoid the ready-to-bake variety)
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground Italian sausage
  • 1 package frozen spinach (thawed)
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese (the processed variety will serve just as well as fresh, and cut down on your cost)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce (you can make this yourself or purchase your favorite store brand for a quick alternative)

Like other lasagna recipes, the work needs to be divided into several steps.

  • Step One: Boil the noodles according to the instructions on the package. Once complete, shock them with cold water and lay on a paper towel to dry.
  • Step Two: Brown the ground beef and Italian sausage. Drain. Add in spaghetti sauce. Place ½ of the mixture in the bottom of your lasagna pan.
  • Step Three: Once the noodles are cooled down, tap them with a paper towel to remove any excess water (this will make the spreading process easier). Lay them on a piece of parchment paper. Mix together the ricotta cheese and egg. Spread on the noodle. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta, then a layer of parmesan cheese. Lay the spinach on top of the cheeses. (This is also where you can add in any other favorite ingredients.)
  • Step Four: Roll it up! Place the rolls in the lasagna pan. Make sure to place the end of the roll on the bottom of the pan to avoid it un-rolling during the cooking process. (Some recipes will have you add the sauce in before you roll the noodles up, but that makes things a bit messier.)
  • Step Five: Pour last ½ of the sauce/meat mixture on top of the rolls. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses for extra flavor. Cover with tinfoil and place in a preheated 350° oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheeses have melted.
  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Tex-Mex Crescent Casserole

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion - peeled and sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 c. frozen corn
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans - drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese
  • 2 cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
  • 1 large chopped tomato - for garnish
  • 2 c. thinly sliced lettuce - for garnish
  • Sour cream - for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the onion. When the meat is fully cooked, add the corn and black beans and cook until bubbling. Add the taco seasoning and water, according to the taco seasoning packet instructions. Place the meat mixture evenly in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the top of the meat.

Unwrap the crescent roll dough and roll up each triangle from the large end to the small end. Carefully arrange them in the pan over the meat and cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until sauce and cheese are bubbly and the crescent rolls are browned. Serve with the tomato, lettuce, and sour cream as garnishes.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Mexican Stuffed Shells

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 T. southwestern seasoning (I used Penzeys' version)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1-2 c. cooked rice (use more for drier filling, less for filling that's more moist)
  • 1/2 c. diced tomatoes
  • 14-16 jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 1/2 c. salsa
  • 1 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. grated pepper jack cheese
  • 3 green onions

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a frying pan cook the ground beef; add the southwestern seasoning and cream cheese, cover and simmer until the cheese is melted. Blend well. Add the rice and diced tomatoes and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Set aside and cool completely. While ground beef is cooking, cook the pasta shells according to directions; drain. Set the shells out individually on a cutting board/baking sheet so that they don’t stick together.

Pour the salsa on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Stuff each shell with the meat mixture. Place the shells in the 9×13 pan open side up. Cover the shells with cheese and sliced green onions. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with sour cream and/or more salsa.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 50 minutes

Chicken Walking Taco Salad

  • 1 T. cooking fat of your choice (I used bacon fat)
  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tsp. taco seasoning or your favorite southwestern seasoning (I used Penzeys southwest seasoning)
  • 10 oz. torn romaine lettuce
  • 8 oz. mixed sweet mini-peppers, sliced into thin rings
  • 1/3 c. corn kernels
  • 2 green onions, sliced into thin rings
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • 3/4 c. corn chips, lightly crushed
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 1-3 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (use more for a spicier salad)
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 2 T. mayonnaise

Heat the cooking fat in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken breast to the pan and immediately sprinkle with half of the southwestern seasoning of your choice. Allow the chicken to cook, untouched, for 4 minutes. Carefully flip the chicken and sprinkle the other side with the remaining southwestern seasoning. Cook an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove the chicken breast to a cutting board and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Return the chicken to the skillet and continue cooking until the meat is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Toss the next 6 ingredients (lettuce through crushed corn chips) together in a large bowl. Combine the next 6 ingredients (olive oil through mayonnaise) in a small resealable jar and shake vigorously to combine. Add the chicken and the dressing to the large bowl and toss well to evenly coat the salad in the dressing. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes