15 kid-friendly meals for fussy pint-sized eaters

Parental challenge No. 1 comes every night at dinner time. Trying to determine which foods your kids will actually eat and which ones will end up splattered on your dining room floor or the front of your shirt is difficult even for the most seasoned cook. Unless you're extremely fortunate, it's safe to say most children belong in the dreaded category of "picky eaters." If you're blessed enough in life to have multiple tykes in your charge, the task of preparing dinner day in and day out becomes increasingly dangerous — littered with arbitrary, temper tantrum landmines.

Lucky for you, there are plenty of recipes out there that cater to the most finicky of pint-sized eaters. From creamy stovetop mac and cheese and universally beloved pizzas to kid-friendly fish sticks and grabbable chicken tenders, there are plenty of meals guaranteed to delight the little ones. The best part? These dishes are designed to make family dining fun, easy, and delicious for adults, too. You can let out a sigh of relief now.

Panko-crusted fish sticks with herb dipping sauce

Since I secretly like to eat like an 8-year-old, fish sticks are right up my alley. If you have a kid (or fussy adult) in the fam, check out this homemade version from culinary maven Martha Stewart. This easy-to-love dish transforms schoolhouse favorite fish sticks into a nourishing meal the whole family can get on board with by lightly coating tilapia fillets with panko breadcrumbs and Old Bay seasoning, searing them on the stovetop, and serving them with a creamy, herbaceous sauce alongside for dipping.

Mini barbecue meatloaf with smashed blue cheese potatoes

This meatloaf recipe from My Recipes lets you ease your picky eater's palate toward a more refined adult flavor, like to a pungent cheese, while keeping them satisfied with the recognizable ones found in meatloaf and potatoes. Here, mini barbecue meatloaves are cleverly baked in a muffin pan and served alongside lightly smashed potatoes seasoned with buttermilk and blue cheese. This is dinner that promises to please — with ulterior motives.

Cauliflower-carrot cheesy tots

This vegetable-forward twist on traditional tater tots from Epicurious uses nutritious cauliflower and carrots in place of potatoes. Garlic, chives, Parmesan, and cheddar lend the tots a big dose of flavor, while opting to bake them in the oven makes for easy cleanup and much less greasiness. Your kids will love the crisp exteriors and the cheesy interiors so much, they won't even notice they're eating their vegetables eagerly. This dish is a weeknight parental win on all fronts.

Chicken sausage omelet with greens and cheese

This eggy recipe from Bon Appetit makes feeding your kids at breakfast a whole lot easier. Few will object to omelets filled to the brim with flavorful chicken-apple sausage, cheese, and delicious sauteed greens for extra nourishment. This dish lets you load the kiddies up with leafy green vitamins and tons of energy-giving protein without the normal protests about eating real food first thing in the morning. Put away the cereal box and grab a skillet.

Shells and white cheddar

While there are countless recipes out there for mac and cheese, I love how kid-friendly this one from She Makes and Bakes truly is. This stovetop version makes the kind of creamy mac that approximates the box varieties kids go gaga for, but it's actually just as easily prepared by you with real ingredients, including a good dose of love. Cue the "ahhhhs." With only three ingredients — milk, pasta shells, and cheddar — you end up with ridiculously tasty mac and cheese to win over the pickiest of eaters.

Sweet corn quesadillas

You can never go wrong with quesadillas when you're trying to make dinner everyone will love. This recipe from Real Simple turns cheese and tortillas into a hearty, nourishing meal that keeps the whole family feeling happy and full. The filling is made with sweet corn, beloved Monterey Jack, and onion, while the tortillas are lightly brushed with olive oil and baked to keep everything as healthy as possible. Serve with sour cream and salsa and consider yourself the dinner hero for the night.

Ham and cheese pizza

If your kids love ham and cheese sandwiches, wait until you whip up ham and cheese pizzas like it's no big deal. This recipe from Cooking Light gets lots of points for sticking to flavors that work with little ones and turning them into pizza, aka every kid's favorite food group. While you have them enticed by the golden crust, zesty red sauce, cheese, and meat, sneak in a healthy handful of spinach to balance out the toppings. Sandwich-pizza mashup? Always a good idea.

Taco pizza

The taco and pizza mashup from Life in the Lofthouse is guaranteed to please. Vibrantly hued vegetables, bold taco flavors, pizza form — how could you go wrong? Golden pizza crust is topped with browned beef, beans, cheese, olives, tomatoes, and onions in such perfect proportions that every bite is loaded with a balance of flavors. This family-friendly pizza makes it easy to get dinner on the table minus the food-related tantrums.

Pappardelle with leeks and corn

Turn pasta night into an event your kids look forward to immensely when you whip up this recipe from Hello, Wonderful. Wide, playful pappardelle pasta noodles are tossed kernels of corn, fragrant leeks, garlic, Parm, and cream cheese, resulting in a rich, creamy dish that will delight from the first bite to the very last. The balance between corn's natural sweetness plays especially well with starchy pasta and savory leeks.

Lasagna cups

Little personalized lasagnas for little hands — brilliant! This recipe from Catching Fireflies understands the legitimate difficulties of cooking for kids. These mini lasagnas are prepared in a muffin tin, so you get small portions that are easy to grab. Made with layers of wonton wraps, tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, and classic Italian seasonings, these non-traditional lasagnas are customized to charm the children at the dinner table.

Baked spaghetti squash

If you're truly having a hard time delivering kid-friendly meals come dinnertime, try involving the tykes in the cooking process. It's the ideal distraction for them and can be quite fun. This recipe from Cooking With My Kid is all about getting those kids in the mix. Have your mini cook help you scrape the flesh from the spaghetti squash after you roast it. In the meantime, you can prepare the ground chicken or turkey and the remaining ingredients. The end result is a healthier version of spaghetti for dinner. Genius.

French bread pizzas

French bread pizzas are a must if you need to feed children. This dinner was one of my favorites from childhood and the flavors are just about scientifically proven to please kids. So there you go. This recipe from The Pioneer Woman is streamlined for maximum weeknight ease. Halved sub rolls, tomato sauce, cheese, and any variety of toppings your heart desires? Yes, these are fun and customizable, making them perfect for notoriously difficult to please little ones.

Easy, oven-baked spicy chicken tacos

Kids love Taco Tuesday. Fact. This recipe from The Cookie Rookie keeps it minimalistic, warm, and cozy. Hard-shelled tacos are filled with beans, cheese, tomatoes, and onions, then baked in one big dish so they finish all at once. On nights when you're short on time, patience, and energy, you'll appreciate a recipe that gets you — no questions asked.

Pizza slow cooker stuffed peppers

Turn grownup food into kid-friendly fare with this recipe from A Spicy Perspective. Bell peppers are stuffed with orzo and topped with red sauce, cheese, Italian sausage, and pepperoni in this tasty dinner designed for pizza lovers who also need to eat their veggies and grains. The final result tastes like pizza but looks far cuter and boasts way more nutrients.

Baked chicken chimichangas

Make these chimichangas from The Girl Who Ate Everything and be certain the kids will love them as much as the adults. A filling of chicken, salsa, and cheese is rolled into soft tortillas, then baked until golden. Top with universally adored guacamole and dollops of sour cream. Pleasing everyone really can be easy. You might want to add this to your rotation. Just saying.

Are you ready to take on the kids at meal time? May the force be with you.