Dinner Recipe Ideas for Picky Eaters

LLast week, I received an email from a reader named Rachel that really spoke to me and will probably speak to anyone who has ever had to feed children or another phalanx of picky eaters:

Could you please share a recipe that my three children will eat? We eat most things but not the peanut sauce, we only eat cucumbers and pizza, we only eat dinosaur nuggets and whatever I’m currently eating, especially if I’m very hungry and I don’t want to share.

The rigorous randomness of children’s preferences, the irritating puzzle of how to feed everyone one meal, the cannibalization of your own dinner – it’s all here.

I’ve chosen two recipes below that might work in this scenario, and a few others that I make myself for dinner.

Sesame Salmon Bowls

This all-in-one meal, inspired by chirashi, or Japanese bowls of rice and raw fish, includes savory vinegared rice usually served with sushi. Traditionally the rice is cooked first and then mixed with vinegar, but here the rice is cooked in vinegar water to eliminate a step. The result is tangy, sweet sticky rice, and a perfect bed for fatty salmon. The salmon is added near the end to steam directly over the rice for an easy one pot meal. Packaged coleslaw is a time saver, eliminating extra knife work. Make a double batch of zesty dressing to drizzle over roasted vegetables or leafy green salads the next day.

By: Kay Chun

Serves: 4

Total time: 40 minutes


60 ml unseasoned rice vinegar

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

200g sushi rice (short grain white rice), rinsed until water runs clear

680 g skinless salmon fillet, cut into 2½ cm cubes

½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

60ml low sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons safflower or canola oil

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped spring onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger (from a 5cm piece)

3 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced

225 g green cabbage salad

1 avocado, halved, pitted and thinly sliced

Torn toasted nori sheets, for garnish (optional)


1. In a large saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt; Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the rice and 400 ml of water and mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, mix the salmon with ¼ tsp. sesame oil and season with salt. Once the rice is tender (after about 20 minutes), arrange the salmon in an even layer over the rice. Cover and cook over low heat until fish is done over medium heat, about 12 minutes longer.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, white vinegar, safflower oil, spring onions, ginger and ¼ tsp. remaining sesame oil. Mix well and season with salt.

4. Place salmon and rice in bowls. Top each with a few cucumbers, a mixture of coleslaw and avocado. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Garnish with nori, if using.

Chicken pizza

A tangy, milky, gooey and adorable meal


With a tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella topping, it’s no wonder I still think of this simple dish as “chicken pizza.” It’s a tangy, milky, gooey, adorable meal that’s a bit reminiscent of chicken parmesan, but with succulent pieces of bone-in chicken instead of breaded, fried cutlets. Best of all, it features pancetta and anchovies for flavor complexity, and it all comes together in less than an hour.

By: Melissa Clark

Serves: 4

Total time: 45 minutes


1.6 kg bone-in chicken pieces (or use 1.6 kg chicken cut into 8 pieces)

2 teaspoons of salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

140 g pancetta, diced

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 anchovy fillets

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 can (800g) whole plum tomatoes

1 large sprig of basil, plus chopped basil for serving

225 g bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella), halved (or use a large ball of mozzarella cut into 2 cm pieces)


1. Heat the oven to 200C. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

2. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towel.

3. Add the chicken to the skillet. Sear, turning only occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Pour in all but 1 tablespoon of oil.

4. Add the garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes to the skillet; fry for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and basil. Cook, breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

5. Return the chicken to the skillet. Transfer skillet to oven and bake, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink, about 30 minutes.

6. Spread the pieces of bocconcini or mozzarella over the pan. Set the oven temperature to broil. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes (watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn). Garnish with pancetta and chopped basil before serving.

Tofu with sizzling chive oil

This refreshing weeknight meal comes together in less than 15 minutes and requires barely turning on the stove. Aromatic garlic, ginger, and spring onions are gently heated in oil until they sizzle and infuse it, turning into a fragrant, crisp sauce for soft silken tofu. Peppery arugula and a final drizzle of tangy coriander sauce brighten up the dish. Enjoy it with steamed rice for a heartier meal or top it with fried eggs. Leftover tofu can be stored in spring onion oil and refrigerated; it will have absorbed even more flavor the next day.

By: Kay Chun

Serves: 2 to 4

Total time: 10 minutes


1 package (400-450g) silken tofu

Salt and pepper

60 ml neutral oil, such as safflower or canola

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

25 g chopped spring onions

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon chopped and peeled ginger

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 baby rocket cups


1. Remove the tofu from its packaging; drain the tofu then pat dry. Spoon spoonfuls of tofu into a large dish and arrange in an even layer. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the neutral oil, sesame oil, spring onions, garlic and ginger. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oil sizzles and the garlic, ginger and spring onions are softened but not browned, about 3 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, cilantro and vinegar.

4. Spoon the hot spring onion mixture over the tofu. Top with arugula and drizzle with cilantro sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sausage Traybake with Peppers and Tomatoes

Good, flexible and quick, this recipe is foolproof: just mix sausages, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, shallots and olive oil on a baking sheet, then slide everything under the grill. In just 15 minutes, you’ll have seared sausages, tomatoes, and peppers, all of which have released juices that you should dip bread or spoon over pasta or rice in. Experiment with adding cumin, paprika, oregano or red pepper flakes in step 1, or substitute garlic for spring onions or red onions. You can also scatter crumbled feta, lemon slices, olives, pickled hot peppers or green beans over the top during the last few minutes of cooking.

By: Ali Slagle

Serves: 4

Total time: 20 minutes


450 g fresh sausages, such as mild or hot Italian sausages

450g mild or sweet peppers, such as mini sweet peppers, bell peppers or Cubanelle, seeded and cut into 5cm strips if large

450g cherry or grape tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

2 shallots, peeled and cut into 1½ cm wedges

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper


1. Heat the grill with a rack 15 cm from the heat source. Mark the sausages in a few places on both sides, being careful not to cut them completely. In a shallow baking dish or baking sheet, toss the sausages with the peppers, tomatoes, garlic, shallots and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer.

2. Grill until sausage is cooked through and peppers and tomatoes are charred, 10 to 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and ingredients as needed so everything goes under the broiler. If everything burns too quickly, cover the pan with aluminum foil. Serve immediately.

Orecchiette with sweet corn, jalapeno, feta and basil

Sweetcorn is at the heart of this tasty and easy-to-prepare pasta. The jalapeno provides a nice kick and the feta cheese added at the end melts slightly, giving the sauce a silky texture. It’s worth looking for orecchiettes here, as they catch the corn kernels well, creating perfect bites. If you can’t find it, fusilli or farfalle will work in its place. Serve with a simple and bright salad and fresh fruit for dessert.

By: Colu Henry

Serves: 4

Total time: 30 minutes


450g orecchiette

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

570-650g sweetcorn (or 5 ears of corn, shelled and seeded)


225g crumbled feta cheese

½ cup torn basil leaves, plus more for serving

Flaky salt, for serving (optional)


1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.

2. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce: in a 30 cm skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the jalapeño and cook until softened, about 1-2 minutes. Add corn and cook until beginning to brown in spots, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt. Add ¼ cup (60 mL) pasta water and bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half, about 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add pasta to skillet, tossing to coat with sauce. Add feta cheese and additional ¼ cup pasta water, stirring until pasta is smooth and shiny with sauce. If needed, add another ¼ cup of pasta water. Stir in the basil. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with the remaining basil. Season with flaky salt, if desired.

© The New York Times

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