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Kid’s Corner: Combining Creative, Healthy and Fun into Family Dinner

by Michelle Vicari

Summer 2021

Many of us have been eating home cooking for months and we’re running out of ideas for meals, let alone meals that are healthy, creative and fun. It can be especially challenging to make a meal everyone in the family will eat. Something that appeals to the adults is not always a winner with the kids in the house.

The answer is the DIY (Design-It-Yourself) Meal. The best part of the DIY meal: it doesn’t require recipes or any elaborate preparation. All you need is a small spread of ingredients and each family member can customize their own meal!

Here are five DIY (Design-It-Yourself) themes that are sure to become your family’s most-requested meals.

DIY Fiesta
  • What you will need:
    • Tortillas and/or tortilla chips.
  • Toppings to choose from:
    • Protein – Chopped chicken, steak, shrimp, beans (black, pinto or refried) or plant-based meat alternatives.
    • Vegetables – roasted vegetables or fresh ones like lettuce, shredded cabbage, green onions or tomatoes.
    • Finishing touches – Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, cilantro, salsa, or hot sauce.
Breakfast for Dinner Night
  • What you will need:
    • Waffles or pancakes (use whole grain if you can).
  • Toppings to choose from:
    • Fruit – Fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or sliced bananas.
    • Protein – almond or peanut butter.
    • Other toppings – Chocolate chips, applesauce, low-sugar jams or maple syrup.
Super Salad Bar Night
  • What you will need:
    • Lettuce, spinach or any type of greens.
  • Toppings to choose from:
    • Protein – cooked chicken, steak, shrimp, tuna, crab, hard-boiled eggs or chickpeas (tip: If you are grilling on the weekend, toss an extra piece or two of chicken on the grill for your salad bar night).
    • Fresh vegetables – tomatoes, cucumber or shredded carrots.
    • Additional toppings – pickled vegetables, shredded cheese, nuts and seeds, dressings of your choice or Greek yogurt.
Potato with the Works Night
  • What you will need:
    • Baked potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes).
  • Toppings to choose from:
    • Protein – cooked chicken, steak, crumbled sausage or bacon, beans or chili.
    • Plant-based toppings – sliced green onions, sliced black olives, diced tomatoes or roasted vegetables.
    • Condiments – barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, salsa or plain Greek yogurt.
Groovy Grain Bowl Night
  • What you will need:
    • Cooked quinoa, brown rice, farro, bulgur wheat, millet or freekeh.
  • Toppings to choose from:
    • Protein – (Meat) Shrimp, tuna, crab, chicken or steak. (Plant-based) Chickpeas.
    • Fresh vegetables – tomatoes, cucumber, shredded carrots, chopped peppers or sprouts.
    • Finishing touches – pickled vegetables, nuts and seeds, tahini sauce, hummus or Greek yogurt.
DIY Meals Are Perfect for Everyone!

DIY meals are a great opportunity for adults to model making healthy food choices. Creating meals with your children is not only fun, but also a great way to incorporate family time and stay healthy!

Extend the creativity and fun of making choices with an after-dinner game of “Would You Rather?”


About the Author:
Michelle “Shelly” Vicari is the Immediate-Past Chair of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), majored in Child Development & Family Studies and Political Science at San Diego State University, and is the former Curriculum Director of the largest National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited Child Care Centers in Southern California. She has authored many curriculum guides for teachers working with young children and was lucky enough to have once met Mr. Fred Rogers.

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