Published on July 2, 2020

Under normal circumstances, cooking for kids can be tricky—months of at-home lunches and trying to balance Zoom calls with snack prep have done nothing to alleviate the challenge. So we decided to check in on the experts: chefs who have spent quarantine juggling grown-up recipe testing with demands from the smallest members of their kitchen crew. 

While there’s no magic solution for picky eaters, there is a consensus among the pros we spoke with. To switch up the mealtime routine, try involving your little ones in some way, whether that’s using their favorite foods or recruiting them for mixing duty. If you want to bring a new dish into the weekly rotation, begin with these foodie-approved ideas.

Soy and Citrus-Cured Avocado

avocado and egg bowlPin It
Courtesy of Peter Cho

The chef: Peter Cho, owner of Han Oak restaurant 

The sous-chefs: Elliott, age 5, and Frankie, age 3

The story: Of course, as a chef, my first son would be a picky eater—but even as a baby he always loved avocados. They’re super-easy to mash up, they’re healthy…they’re basically nature’s baby food. But as my kids have grown, they’ve gotten more used to eating what we’re eating, so we’ve stepped up to this soy and citrus-cured avocado and egg dish. It’s a surefire way to get them to eat something nutritious as toddlers, and it has become our family’s breakfast staple.

Maple Tahini Swirl Banana Bread 

maple swirl tahini breadPin It
Courtesy of Eden Grinshpan

The chef: Eden Grinshpan, author of Eating Out Loud

The sous-chef: Ayv, age 3

The story: Ayv has become the official egg cracker in our family, since she has cooked and baked with me throughout the stay-at-home period. This was the first cake I developed during quarantine, and she was by my side the entire time. I’m Canadian and Israeli, so I tapped into two of my favorite ingredients from each culture to bring this baby together: maple and tahini. Banana bread has been so popular recently, and this recipe is a makeover of that classic. It’s super-addictive.

Baby Dosa 

baby in blue dress holding dosa pancakePin It
Courtesy of Julia Sherman

The chef: Julia Sherman, author of Salad for President

The sous-chef: Red, age 1

The story: I’m all about recipes that can be prepared in batches and held in the fridge ready to cook fresh rather than simply reheat. And while I love every form of pancake, the dosa (a South Indian crispy fermented rice and lentil pancake) might be my ideal food. It’s something Red can eat with her hands: The 10 minutes when she feeds herself are precious to a working parent.

Ice Cream Sandwiches 

brownie ice cream sandwichesPin It
Photography by Andrew Purcell for The New York Times; Food styling by Barrett Washburn

The chef: Samantha Seneviratne, author of The Joys of Baking 

The sous-chef: Artie, age 3

The story: Artie’s dad is in charge of dinner every night; I’m in charge of sweets. I don’t think we’ve ever needed dessert as much as we have these past few months! This is my simple recipe for homemade brownie ice cream sandwiches: The brownie layer comes together in minutes, and Artie loves to help me spread the batter out into the pan (which I know is just a ploy to lick batter off of anything he can). We fill them with store-bought ice cream. Mint chocolate chip is the household favorite.

Superfood Muffins

muffin on a pink plate with baby hand reaching for itPin It
Courtesy of Claudia Ficca

The chef: Claudia Ficca, food stylist and recipe developer

The sous-chef: Leone, age 17 months

The story: I’ve been making these since my son was about 10 months old, so I always have a ready-to-go healthy snack for him. There are so many variations of these muffins; I make them with whatever fruit I have on hand—I also cook savory versions that he can have for lunch or dinner with a side of steamed veggies or avocado. He loves to bake with me, too. He mashes the bananas and helps with putting measured-out ingredients in the bowl. It’s a fun (and messy) activity.

Kati Kati and Cameroonian-Style Turnip Greens

Kati Kati and Cameroonian-style Turnip Greens in a blue bowlPin It
Courtesy of Elsie Kriz

The chef: Elsie Kriz, cooking class instructor and blogger behind Afrovitalityeats

The sous-chefs: Baylee, age 3, and Willa, age 8 months

The story: Back home we have contri njama njama, the African huckleberry. In the absence of this childhood favorite, the discovery of turnip greens has become a well-beloved substitute: It brings me great joy to watch my 3-year-old wash her hands and enjoy this with fufu corn just like we did as kids. We may not have access to those uniquely African ingredients here in Tennessee, but we sure are using what we have to develop the flavors.

Red Rice Stir-Fry With Spicy Tofu

stir fry in a blue bowl with brass spoonPin It
Courtesy of Donna Lennard

The chef: Donna Lennard, author of Il Buco: Stories & Recipes

The sous-chef: Joaquin, age 15

The story: Cooking for my 15-year-old is not easy. The rules are: no fish, no cooked veggies (except green beans and sugar snaps), and lots of meat! One of my go-tos that always gets a smile is stir-fry. I make mine with andouille sausage and gorgeous Italian red rice, but Lazy Cat Kitchen’s spicy tofu take is pretty close to my recipe. It gets him all the wonderful nutrients, and I can put it together in 15 to 20 minutes.

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