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Make These Fancy Versions of Classic Kid Food So The Whole Family Can Enjoy Dinner

Take your childhood food favorites and give them a gourmet twist.

Erica Silverstein · 2 months ago

  • cooking

Favorite childhood foods – think grilled cheese or spaghetti and meatballs – are always a dinner win. They’re accessible to developing palates and comforting to adults who yearn to savor the cheesy or fried goodness guilt-free. But there’s only so often you can serve kid food for dinner before certain family members will start to crave something a tad more sophisticated.

If that sounds like your family, it’s time for a compromise. Take those childhood food favorites and give them a gourmet twist. Try these fancy versions of classic kids’ foods, and we bet your whole family will give dinner two thumbs up.

1. Mac & Cheese

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If your family has only ever eaten mac & cheese from a box, you’re missing out on the creamy delight of home-baked cheesy pasta casseroles. A little fancy cheese, a crispy Panko topping, and you’ve got gourmet comfort food in your dinner bowl. Try this macaroni & cheese recipe that uses three cheeses and pancetta to make a drool-worthy dish.

2. Chicken Nuggets

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This fast food staple can be fancified in numerous ways. You could go upscale nugget, and sneak in some vegetables with zucchini and parmesan-crusted chicken nuggets. You could try international versions of fried chicken bites, such as this Chinese-inspired bang bang chicken recipe. Or skip the traditional breading for a different topping, such as ground nuts; a pecan-crusted chicken tender can be appreciated by everyone who enjoys dipping nuggets into ranch dressing.

3. Spaghetti And Meatballs

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I have always been weirded out by pasta from a can, but some families go ga-ga for SpaghettiOs and other Campbell’s creations. If you’re captivated by O-shaped pasta, or want a grownup take on spaghetti and meatballs, look for adult SpaghettiO recipes. Prefer to wing it? Swap in a vodka sauce or lamb or turkey meatballs with your next pasta dinner.

4. Grilled Cheese

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My favorite comfort dish is grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup; my kids skip the soup and go straight for the toasted cheese sandwiches. There are numerous ways to make grilled cheese worthy of Top Chef. Take this brie, fig, and apple grilled cheese sandwich that’s fancy enough for guests, but sweet enough for kids. Scroll down the recipe page for more sophisticated grilled cheese options, including sweet potato and kale, blueberry and lemon curd, and pesto and sweet pepper fillings.

5. Fish & Chips

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My kids will turn up their noses at plain baked or pan-fried fish. Yet add some breading and fry white fish up in small chunks, and suddenly they’re fighting over the last nuggets. Take your fish & chips dinner from corner shop to Michelin star with a dinner of herb-crusted tilapia and lemon potatoes.

6. Pizza

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The difference between frozen pizza and gourmet pizza is time. If you want to fancify pizza night, you’ll need time to make your own dough and cook your own sauce. Fresh herbs, unusual toppings, and a variety of cheeses will also take your pies up several notches. We found this basic recipe for pizza topped with prosciutto, goat cheese, and arugula, but you can find plenty of gourmet topping ideas online.

7. Chicken Noodle Soup

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My family is extremely particular about which soups they are willing to eat, but chicken noodle soup is always a hit. And grandmas the world over will kvell over its healing qualities. Any soup is improved by cooking it from scratch, even more so if you make your own stock first. For next-level chicken noodle soup, go for Asian flavors, as found in this Thai chicken rice noodle soup or this chicken soup with ramen noodles.

8. Breakfast For Dinner

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My favorite childhood meal might have been breakfast for dinner; now that I’m a mom, I make pancakes or eggs when I want to hear raves rather than complaints about our evening meal. But pancakes, while fun, aren’t always the most satisfying dinner. For an upscale breakfast supper, try breakfast strata; imagine a veggie omelet with toast and sausage turned into an all-in-one breakfast casserole. Meat lovers will enjoy strata with sausage and ham, while vegetarians can find delicious variations, like this caramelized onion, spinach, and gruyere strata.

9. Burgers

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Ah, the humble burger. There are so many ways to dress up a meat patty on a bun that we could devote an entire article to that alone. The obvious choice is swapping out beef for burgers made from pork, lamb, buffalo, turkey, or portobello mushroom. Go for exotic flavor profiles — think Indian or Moroccan — and wrap it in brioche or another fancy bun.

10. Quesadillas

Next to the classic PB&J, quesadillas are the most popular lunch request in my house. I personally wouldn’t make a meal of tortillas filled with nothing but melted cheddar (though they are delicious!), but there’s a world of creative quesadilla fillings just waiting for your family to explore. Try a hearty pulled pork and goat cheese quesadilla, a summery peach, burrata, and bacon quesadilla, or a tropical crab and avocado quesadilla with mango salsa. Vegetarians can get in on the gourmet action with smoked gouda and mushroom or black bean and butternut squash versions.

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