People with young kids often ask me what I cook for mine since dinner can’t actually always be plain rice or pasta. (Or can it?) This goes doubly for what I put in my daughter’s lunch box: I’m sorry to tell you I don’t have any brilliant, genre-exploding solutions there.
I always have that question for my food colleagues, too. What do they make for their kids? What will their kids actually eat?
So I asked a few of my co-workers what they cook for their kids that actually gets eaten (as opposed to rejected with wails of anger, despair or disgust). Their replies are below. None of this is “kid food” — just delicious stuff that works for an all-ages group.
Huli Huli Chicken: In 1955, Ernest Morgado, a Honolulu businessman, served a group of farmers grilled chicken that had been marinated in his mother’s teriyaki-style sauce. It was such a hit that he decided to market it with the name “huli huli.” Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian and refers to how it’s prepared: grilled between two racks and turned halfway through cooking. This simplified version calls for chicken pieces and a standard grill. The original recipe is a trade secret, but you can find many slightly different variations on the internet, typically including ginger, garlic, soy sauce, something sweet (honey, brown sugar or maple syrup) and something acidic (vinegar, white wine, lime juice or pineapple juice).
Pasta With Pumpkin Seed Pesto: Fragrant with basil and rich with pumpkin seeds and cheese, this is the ideal dish to make ahead of time and pack for lunch. Instead of preparing it to eat as a hot meal or a cold salad, it’s designed to be chilled and then enjoyed cold or at room temperature. Cooking the garlic quickly in the water boiled for the pasta softens its sharp edge. A splash of that same boiling water blends with the basil to keep it green. Rinsing the pasta after cooking it helps the pesto stay flavorful for days in the refrigerator. The tomatoes add a tangy freshness, but they can be skipped altogether or swapped for green beans or peas (just drop them with the pasta during the last few minutes or cooking).
Maple-Baked Salmon: Salmon baked at a low temperature until medium-rare delivers a silky texture that tastes special enough to make it a festive centerpiece. This easy dish works any night of the week, since it comes together in less than half an hour. Maple syrup sweetens the glaze, which gets a savory pop from whole mustard seeds in Dijon. Even though salmon is naturally fatty, a dollop of mayonnaise adds extra richness while thickening the glaze to help it seal onto the fish. The herbaceous aroma of cilantro stems baked into the sauce brightens the dish, as do tender leaves scattered on top. Fill out your feast with any combination of steamed rice, roasted potatoes, green beans or salad.
Chickpea Stew With Orzo and Mustard Greens: A complex and colorful chickpea stew, this is rich with vegetables, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. You can vary the vegetables to use what you’ve got. Here, I keep to the basics, adding carrots for sweetness, fennel or celery for depth, cherry tomatoes for looks. Tender greens, wilted into the bubbling mixture at the end, are optional, but they do add a bright note. I particularly love using baby mustard greens, which are pleasantly peppery. Spinach, arugula and kale work well, too.
Pasta With Pumpkin Seed Pesto
This recipe is by Genevieve Ko. Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 pound fusilli or other short, curly pasta
⅓ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas), plus more for sprinkling
1 large bunch basil (4 ounces), leaves and tender stems picked (3 cups)
⅔ cup (2½ ounces) finely grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to a boil. Drop the garlic cloves into the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds to temper their sharpness. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cloves to a food processor or blender.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente.
While the pasta cooks, add the pumpkin seeds and a pinch each of salt and pepper to the garlic, and process until very finely ground. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the basil. Scoop ¼ cup water from the saucepan with the boiling pasta and pour over the basil. Process the basil until ground to a paste. Add the Parmesan and oil, and pulse just until incorporated. Taste the pesto and season with enough salt and pepper to make it punchy.
Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water until room temperature. Shake dry, then return to the saucepan, and add the pesto and tomatoes, if using. Stir well until everything is evenly coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among dishes to serve right away or airtight containers to pack for lunch. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and Parmesan, and serve, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Huli Huli Chicken
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
This recipe is adapted by Margaux Laskey from “Aloha Kitchen: Recipes from Hawai’i” by Alana Kysar (Ten Speed, March 2019). It also works with boneless chicken thighs, but adjust cooking time accordingly.
½ cup ketchup
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
¼ cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
3½ to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
Grapeseed or canola oil, for brushing the grill grate
In a large bowl or a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, combine ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic, and stir or shake until combined. Reserve and refrigerate ½ cup of the mixture for basting the chicken. Add the chicken to the remaining mixture, and stir or shake until evenly coated. If using a bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, or at least 8 hours, turning the chicken at least once.
When you’re ready to cook, oil your grill grates well. Heat the grill to medium (for charcoal, the grill is ready when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the coals for 5 to 7 seconds). Add the chicken to the grill, cover, and cook 25 to 35 minutes, turning every 5 minutes to keep the chicken from burning, and basting it with the reserved marinade after you turn it, until cooked through. (Cook times will vary depending on sizes and cuts, so check for doneness: Meat should not be pink and the juices should run clear.) Serve immediately.
Chickpea Stew With Orzo and Mustard Greens
Recipe by Melissa Clark. Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small fennel bulb or 2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (optional)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
¾ cup roughly chopped cherry or grape tomatoes
½ cup whole-wheat or regular orzo
1 quart loosely packed baby mustard greens or spinach (about 5 ounces)
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Chopped scallions, for garnish (optional)
¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, more as needed
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, fennel or celery, and onion. Cook until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper and rosemary, if using, and cook another 2 minutes. Pour in the broth, if using, or water, plus an additional 2 cups water and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture is boiling, add the chickpeas, tomatoes and orzo. Reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Simmer 10 minutes, or until the orzo is tender. Uncover and stir in the greens, letting them simmer until soft, about 2 minutes.
Add more water if you want the mixture to be more souplike, and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with chopped scallions (if desired), grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Yield: 4 servings.
Recipe by Genevieve Ko. For 8 servings, buy a whole side of salmon and double the glaze ingredients. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet pan 18 to 22 minutes.
1 (1½ pound) salmon fillet
12 fresh cilantro sprigs
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove salmon from the refrigerator. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Bundle cilantro sprigs by the stems and hold tightly, then slice stems crosswise until you get to the leaves. Reserve leaves for garnish. Transfer sliced stems to a small bowl and stir in maple syrup, mustard and mayonnaise.
Season salmon all over with salt and pepper and place in a baking dish, skin-side down if there is skin. Slather the maple sauce all over the top.
Bake until a paring knife slides into the center with only a little resistance, 15 to 20 minutes. The salmon will continue to cook out of the oven while in the baking dish. Top with the reserved cilantro leaves, and squeeze lemon wedges all over just before serving.