You never know when Dad and the kids will surprise Mom with a meal. Could be this Mother’s Day.
But, we should not expect a gourmet meal. It’s not that Dad can’t cook. It’s that working with kids in the kitchen is a joy and a trial, where there can be as much laughter as there is mess.
Moms should expect a menu that arrives on the table with a lot of love, even if it doesn’t look perfect. For this meal, it really is the thought that counts. Certainly no judging on appearance, taste or texture.
Plus, kids are going to want to make stuff they like to eat, too.
So, being realistic, if Dad determines he can make dinner for Mother’s Day with some mini sous chefs at his side, we should throw some easy, tasty recipes at him and his crew and see what sticks.
Make a menu now. Sit down with your young helpers and figure out what mom likes and what they will eat, too. No matter what you decide, make a list of what you’ll need, then check the kitchen cabinets/pantry and the refrigerator for ingredients already on hand. Then make your grocery list.
Shopping together for the meal is up to Dad because kids in supermarkets are always an adventure. But, if they can read, they can be another set of eyes and help locate ingredients.
Some food suggestions:
Making breakfast for mom? A french toast casserole is a favorite go-to dish. The one I included here is made with cinnamon-raisin bread and has cream cheese in the middle (optional). It’s a winner that’s easy to pull together in the morning. Serve with fresh fruit.
A one-pot recipe, such as a simple pasta dish with a protein in it, is an easy fix. If mac and cheese is a household staple, for example, maybe Dad can switch it up a bit and add a different kind of cheese or pasta that Mom will like, too. Let the kids pick some cool new pasta shape at the store. Then, add some already cooked chicken or turkey — or even shrimp if the kids like it. Most children like spaghetti sauce and pasta, so the Chicken Parmesan Pasta Skillet recipe here fulfills all the requirements.
Store-bought stuff is OK. Rotisserie chicken, for example, can be served as is, or added to a dish (like the pasta above). Of course, if Dad is a grill master, he can prepare his own chicken/burgers/etc., but remember how much supervising will be needed in the kitchen when you step out the door to check the grill. If Mom is eating especially healthy, build a Cobb Salad made of the family’s favorite ingredients, creating a meal that can include the homemade vinaigrette recipe provided.
Keep dessert sweet and simple. It takee three ingredients to make Nutella Strawberry Pizza. It’s pretty-much a fool-proof recipe that kids can get their hands on.
Finally, don’t forget to take lots of photos so mom can see the hard work put into the meal.
Baked Cinnamon French Toast
12 slices cinnamon bread or cinnamon raisin bread
2 cups half and half (fat free works fine)
4 tablespoons butter, melted (light butter works fine)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cream cheese, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch pan with cooking spray.
2. Have your young worker bees place six slices of bread in the pan. Anyone old enough to handle a spatula or butter knife can spread cream cheese on one side of each of the remaining 6 slices of bread. Then, the slices should be placed cheese-side down on top of other slices in pan.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together half and half, eggs, butter, vanilla and cinnamon. A steady hand should pour it over the bread, pressing the bread down so some liquid is absorbed. Let the pan sit a few minutes to absorb more liquid throughout the bread slices.
4. Bake 45 minutes until bread is golden brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Serves 6.
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. This is a good opportunity to show children how to use a measuring spoon and cups. Using a whisk, mix until well blended.
Serve immediately, or pour into a mason jar, screw on lid and chill until ready to use.
Let the kids shake the dressing before adding to salad; just make sure the lid is on tight!
Makes 1 1/4 cups dressing.
Variations: To make dressing more Italian, use balsamic vinegar and season with oregano. For a French flair, use red wine vinegar and season with tarragon. For a citrusy version, use lemon or lime juice in place of the vinegar.
Serving tip: If the olive oil in the dressing turns cloudy after chilling, let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes then shake or whisk again before serving.
Nutella Strawberry Pizza
Store-bought pizza dough
1/4 cup Nutella
Handful of strawberries, cored, cleaned and sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Take out pizza dough and roll on a lightly floured surface into the shape of a circle, about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Place on baking sheet and bake about 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. (Dad, you’ll need to either do this on the kitchen table or push a footstool/chair up to the counter so a youngster can reach. Make sure to rub a little flour over the surface of the rolling pin before using it.)
This is the part the little kids can do: They can spread as much Nutella as desired in the center of the pizza, then arrange sliced strawberries on top.
It’s probably best to slice the pizza in the kitchen.
Note: You can use or add other fruit to his dessert, such as pineapple chunks, blueberries and bananas. If you use bananas, wait until just before serving to add so they don’t turn brown.
Rotisserie Chicken Cobb Salad
2 heads lettuce, such as butter, Bibb, red leaf or Romaine
2-3 tomatoes, halved and cut into thin wedges or halved grape/cherry tomatoes
1 small can corn, drained, microwaved and cooled
4 eggs, hard-boiled for 10 minutes and quartered
1 rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed, meat pulled into bite-sized pieces
1 cup blue cheese crumbles or favorite shredded cheese
1-2 avocados, sliced or chopped, optional
1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional
Handful of sprouts, optional
Making the hard-boiled eggs will take the most time at the stove, so do them first, or the day before, storing the unpeeled eggs covered in the refrigerator.
While an adult will need to slice the tomatoes and avocado, as well as debone the chicken, the kids can peel the eggs and wash/separate/pat dry the lettuce leaves, then help to arrange the salad on the platter. (Show them the photo so they can see how the salad should look.) Serve with whatever dressings your family likes and let each member dress his own salad. Use the vinaigrette recipe here, too. Serves 4.
Note: Feel free to add family favorites and subtract ones not liked. The goal is to get everybody to eat what they’ve made — and enjoy it. This type of salad also works well for kids who may like some ingredients and not others.
Chicken Parmesan Pasta Skillet
2 tablespoons Italian dressing (not the creamy kind; or use the vinaigrette recipe here)
About 2 cups cubed cooked chicken (rotisserie works well)
16 ounces small/medium sized rigatoni pasta
1 (24-ounce) jar of your favorite red pasta sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh basil for garnish (optional)
Heat chicken and Italian dressing in a large 12-inch skillet over medium high heat. (If you don't own a large skillet, you can use a stock pot.) Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook chicken until browned and just cooked through, about 5 minutes depending on thickness of chicken.
An older child can add the box of pasta and the entire jar of marinara to the pan.
Another youngster can fill the empty marinara jar with water and add to the skillet. If using a stockpot, use 2 cups water. Lightly stir the mixture to combine.
Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until pasta is tender to your liking.
Let one of your little sous chefs cover the pasta mix with grated parmesan and then shredded mozzarella. No need to stir.
Continue to cook for 2-3 more minutes, or until cheese is fully melted. You can also broil the entire skillet for about 4 minutes to make the cheese extra melty.
Top with chopped basil (optional) and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: The pasta in the middle of the skillet and underneath will be more tender than the outside pasta. It's OK if those pieces are a bit toastier and less soft. The inside will be plenty soft.