37 Tasty Dinner Recipes From Your Childhood

Sometimes, we all experience the pangs of nostalgia from our childhoods and yearn to return to those bygone days when the most important decision we had to make was which cartoon we wanted to watch on the television on a Saturday morning. Even though time machines don't exist, food does. Food has the incredible capacity to act like a barrier disrupting time and space. How eating a favorite dish etches itself into our memories via our five senses is powerful and capable of defying the linear nature of the passage of time.

If you have been pining to recapture some of your youth, you may want to try whipping up some of the foods you grew up eating as a wee whipper-snapper. From sloppy Joes to chicken tenders to a classic grilled cheese sandwich, our Daily Meal recipe developers will have you feeling youthful again with just one bite of these delectable dishes. Let's walk down memory lane with some tasty dinner recipes from your childhood.

Meaty Sloppy Joes

In a world where keeping things tidy is encouraged, this is the one time being sloppy is permissible, which we should celebrate. This childhood favorite gets elevated by adding peppers and brown sugar. The peppers provide a hint of textural complexity and nuanced flavor. The sugar helps to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.

When choosing beef for this recipe, you'll want to search for a lean-to-fat ratio of 90/10. Doing so will provide enough fat to keep the meat moist and flavorful. For a change of pace, use Hawaiian rolls. Their inherent sweetness will make these sloppy joes pop.

Recipe: Meaty Sloppy Joes

3-Ingredient Pigs In A Blanket

What could be better than a ballpark hot dog at a game? A mini hot dog that you can eat with your hands. And could there be a cuter name for a food than this? Certainly not, which is why it was a favorite for kids growing up.

This recipe could not be any simpler to make. It uses store-bought crescent rolls and comes together in a flash. The only thing missing is a fancy dipping sauce to give it some sophistication. A spicy BBQ sauce, honey mustard, or homemade blue cheese dressing will do the trick.

Recipe: 3-Ingredient Pigs In A Blanket

Classic Lasagna

Lasagna was one of those dishes reserved for big family occasions where we needed one dish to feed a crowd. For this reason, it always seemed fancy to me as a kid, and it still carries a festive connotation when I make it or order it at a restaurant.

This version may be slightly different than the ones you were used to growing up because it uses shredded carrots to add texture, flavor, color, and bonus nutrients. Though not classic, the Worcestershire sauce acts like a tiny umami bomb of flavor, giving the flavor of homemade ragu that's cooked all day long.

Recipe: Classic Lasagna

Pizza Pasta With Turkey Pepperoni

This recipe combines two of my childhood (and grown-up) favorite comfort foods into a one-dish wonder. It comes together quickly, making it ideal for those looking to feed a hungry family after a long workday. Though the recipe calls for turkey pepperoni, you can use any type or branch out and add other meaty ingredients popular atop a pizza, like sausage or Canadian bacon.

You may consider adding vegetables to this dish for added nutrition. If you plan to use frozen vegetables, thaw them before use, or they won't have time to cook through in the oven.

Recipe: Pizza Pasta With Turkey Pepperoni

Southwestern Taco Bake

Taco night was one of my favorites growing up, allowing me to assemble each to my liking with the precise proportions of ingredients to create the perfect bite. Admittedly, assembling individual tacos is less appealing as I have matured, making this casserole highly enticing.

To ensure your beef is browned and not swimming in a pool of meat juices, sprinkle the raw meat with a slurry of ¼ teaspoon of baking soda mixed with one tablespoon of water and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Doing so increases the PH of the meat, minimizing how much the proteins bind together and reducing the amount of moisture loss.

Recipe: Southwestern Taco Bake

Easy White Chicken Chili

Chili is one of those one-dish meals that would warm your bones on a cold winter day after spending the afternoon playing in the snow. Admittedly, as a child, I was less fond of spicy food than I am now, and many classic chili recipes were too seasoned for my palate. For this reason, white chili always seemed more my speed.

What sets white chili apart is its use of cannellini versus kidney beans, chicken versus ground beef, and the omission of tomatoes. While a store-bought rotisserie chicken works great in this dish, this is a stellar opportunity to repurpose that leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Recipe: Easy White Chicken Chili

Taco Pie Casserole

If you were to ask a kid what they love more, taco or pie, you'd probably get a mixed bag of answers. Luckily, with this recipe, nobody has to choose. It is the best of both worlds. The flour tortilla acts like the proverbial pie crust, while the pie filling has all the fixings you might expect to put onto a hard taco shell.

If you have any leftovers of this dish, you may want to save them for breakfast. Whip them into a meaty spin on a classic huevos ranchero topped with plenty of fresh avocados or spicy homemade guacamole.

Recipe: Taco Pie Casserole

Parm-Style Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

This dish had us at the word "spaghetti." It may seem like a simplistic pasta, but we always looked forward to it as kids. This casserole takes the basics and kicks them up by adding chicken and turning it into a cheesy bake.

This recipe is perfect for repurposing leftover roast chicken, turkey, ham, or pork. You could also make it vegetarian by adding sautéed, meaty, umami-rich portabello mushrooms. Do not substitute the panko breadcrumbs with plain ones. They will not have the same crisp, light texture and can absorb too much grease from the cheese, making them soggy.

Recipe: Parm-Style Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

All The Veggies Vegetable Soup

Growing up, we always had a batch of vegetable soup ready for a quick lunch or to help provide nutrition and comfort when we were nursing a head cold. This simple, hearty recipe is chock full of vegetables and protein, thanks to the addition of beans.

You can substitute leftover chicken or turkey cut into cubes if you prefer to skip the beans. Another welcome addition would be noodles but cook them separately. They will absorb all the broth and leave you with more of a stew if you add them straight to the pot to cook along with the vegetables.

Recipe: All The Veggies Vegetable Soup

1-Pot Tomato Soup

No compilation of childhood recipes would be complete without tomato soup. Canned tomato soup with a grilled cheese sammie was the ultimate powerhouse comfort food duo. This recipe captures the nostalgia of canned tomato soup without all the extra sodium, and with infinitely better flavor.

Since tomatoes are the star, you will want to purchase quality canned tomatoes. If you can find them, authentic Italian San Marzano tomatoes are the way to go. These tomatoes have a distinctive meaty texture, are less watery, have fewer seeds, and are intensely sweet thanks to the volcanic soil of the region of Italy where they're grown, giving this soup a rich, luxurious mouthfeel.

Recipe: 1-Pot Tomato Soup

Silky-Smooth Potato Soup

Affordable, hearty, and delicious potato soup was another staple of our diets growing up. Though you could leave this soup chunky, when puréed, its velvety texture elevates it into something more sophisticated. The key is having the right tools for the job. While a blender will work, you need to cool the soup before you purée it, or steam can cause the lid to pop off and leave you with a nasty burn.

A better alternative is to invest in an immersion blender. They enable you to purée the hot soup right inside the pot, without cooling it first.

Recipe: Silky-Smooth Potato Soup

Sunday Beef Pot Roast

Sundays were the day the family would often gather and enjoy a nice sit-down meal. These gatherings often featured some iteration of a pot roast on the menu. It's a relatively simple, cost-effective meal that feels fancy, even if it comes together without much fuss.

Since beef is central to this recipe, you want to get the appropriate cut to get the job done. Since the meat simmers for hours, a cut with ample connective tissue that can break down and become tender and juicy is ideal. Though a top sirloin will work well, you can also use a chuck roast, brisket, or bottom round roast.

Recipe: Sunday Beef Pot Roast

Simple Classic Pizza Crust

Having a pizza delivered was always a special occasion growing up (and still is). That said, delivery is expensive and often arrives cold, with a crust that tastes more like cardboard than chewy, crunchy bread. The solution is to make your pizza crust. It may seem challenging, but it is not, requiring little time or effort for an infinitely better end product.

The key is to make sure you activate the yeast properly. Start with yeast that has not expired and feed it with the sugar. Then incorporate water heated to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature to activate the yeast without killing it.

Recipe: Simple Classic Pizza Crust

Crispy French Onion Chicken Tenders

When your favorite fast food chicken nuggets from childhood grow up, they morph into these incredibly delicious crispy chicken tenders. These tenders are a play on a classic schnitzel recipe, using pulverized crispy fried onions, à la green bean casserole fame, to coat the chicken before pan-frying it to golden perfection.

To pan-fry the chicken, use a high smoke point cooking oil, like avocado or peanut. Rather than cutting into the chicken to check doneness, which is less accurate and can result in dry meat, I recommend using an instant-read thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Recipe: Crispy French Onion Chicken Tenders

Classic Grilled Cheese

You already have a tomato soup recipe. A great grilled cheese sammie recipe is needed to complete the ultimate childhood comfort food duo. Though white bread was what you were probably used to as a kid, consider switching things up with some sourdough, brioche, or challah. As far as cheese goes, any good melting cheese, like Swiss, Colby, or Gruyère, will work.

What makes this recipe unique is the use of mayonnaise to coat the bread before you cook it in butter. The mayonnaise creates the perfect, golden, crispy crust without burning before the cheese melts.

Recipe: Classic Grilled Cheese

Baked Mac And Cheese

If walking past that blue box of mac and cheese in the grocery store makes you feel warm and fuzzy, this recipe is for you. Few foods are as comforting as a big bowl of piping hot noodles covered in cheese sauce. This bake elevates a good thing into a culinary masterpiece with a homemade sauce combining three kinds of cheese. Feel free to swap out any good melting cheese you like, such as pepper jack and Swiss.

The pièce de résistance is the crunchy topping made from butter and panko breadcrumbs. After baking, this crisp topping perfectly juxtaposes with the luscious cheesy noodles underneath.

Recipe: Baked Mac And Cheese

Gooey Quesadilla Burgers

This recipe is another mash-up of two classic childhood favorites — the quesadilla and the hamburger. The cheesy quesadillas are the perfect gooey, crunchy delivery vessel for the juicy, meaty burger. This recipe features an incredible mayochup sauce featuring ketchup, mayonnaise for a hint of flavor, and sriracha. It is equal parts zingy, creamy, and spicy.

When cooking your burgers, rather than relying on your eyeballs or fingers to determine doneness, use an instant-read thermometer to ensure you cook your ground beef to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Recipe: Gooey Quesadilla Burgers

Bean, Beef, And Cheese Enchiladas

For many of us who grew up in the Southwestern part of the U.S., Mexican food was a staple of our diets as kids. One dish that featured prominently on our menus was cheesy, meaty enchiladas. Though they seem labor-intensive to assemble, they do not have to be. This recipe comes together from start to finish in just 30 minutes, relying on store-bought enchilada sauce and canned beans for expediency.

To make these more festive, consider using spinach and herb tortilla wraps. They have a nice flavor, and their verdant hue provides added visual appeal.

Recipe: Bean, Beef, And Cheese Enchiladas

Cast Iron Fried Chicken

Whether you grew up in the South or ate the chicken of a certain Colonel from Kentucky, this recipe is a must. While the recipe calls for a cast iron pan, you can easily substitute a frying pan or skillet made from stainless or carbon steel, ideal for high-heat cooking.

The key to this recipe is the buttermilk marinade, which is acidic enough to help break down the chicken proteins, helping to tenderize it. And as the recipe specifies, do not overcrowd your pan when frying the chicken. Doing so lowers the temperature of the oil, causing the chicken to cook unevenly and making the skin greasy and soggy.

Recipe: Cast Iron Fried Chicken

Baked Ranch Chicken

Before our palates grew to appreciate the inherent flavors of vegetables, we had ranch dressing. It's still the preferred creamy delight of many Americans for salads, chicken wings, and anything that needs flavor and moisture.

These baked chicken breasts rely on a packet of ranch dressing mix to give the breading its flavor. The other secret ingredient that helps to tenderize the chicken and adhere the breadcrumbs to it is the rich, creamy Greek yogurt. Its inherent acidity gives the final dish a delightful tang to help balance the slightly salty, oniony, and herbaceous ranch dressing mix.

Recipe: Baked Ranch Chicken

1-Pot Chicken And Rice

From paella to arroz con pollo to gumbo, cultures across the globe have a variation on a chicken and rice dish, making it a staple of the diets of children from a myriad countries. This recipe has a decidedly Latin flair, using chili powder, oregano, and paprika to season the chicken thighs.

If you prefer chicken breasts, purchase bone-in, skin-on ones. The crisp skin and bones confer a complexity of flavor that you cannot achieve without them. When considering the type of rice to use, while any long-grain variety will do, I recommend basmati or jasmine, which have a fragrant, nutty flavor and light, fluffy texture when cooked.

Recipe: 1-Pot Chicken And Rice

Cheesy Baked Ziti

Pasta bakes were always a staple growing up. We often viewed them as a way to dump a bunch of leftovers into a single dish and turn them into something new. This baked ziti is a bit more sophisticated than that but retains some of the same flavors and textures we grew to know and love.

Though ziti is a classic noodle for a pasta bake, any tubular pasta works, including macaroni, bucatini, penne, or rigatoni. And don't skip the ricotta. It helps to tame some of the acidity of the tomatoes while adding creaminess. If you cannot find it, try substituting cottage cheese, queso fresco, or Greek yogurt.

Recipe: Cheesy Baked Ziti

Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Pork

From little league to tailgating, pulled pork sandwiches were common at game-day events with the family. Back then, making pulled pork would be an all-day affair. Today, you can make this dish in just over an hour, thanks to the magic of the instant pot.

If you haven't jumped on the instant pot bandwagon yet but have a crock pot, you can use it to prepare this recipe. After seasoning, sear the pork in a skillet before adding it to the crock pot with the water. It should take roughly eight hours on low to cook the pork to a fall-apart tender doneness.

Recipe: Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Pork

Slow-Cooker Beef Stroganoff

While my Hungarian family was more of a goulash crowd, all my friends favored a classic beef stroganoff for a meal you can set and forget on a cold winter day. Dijon mustard adds a hint of zing, while the Worcestershire sauce confers an umami-rich flavor.

Where many stroganoff recipes rely on flour as a thickener, this one uses cornstarch to create a velvety sauce, making it gluten-free if you substitute gluten-free noodles. Whisking the sour cream with some hot broth in a separate bowl before adding it to the final dish will prevent it from curdling and creating a clumpy mess.

Recipe: Slow-Cooker Beef Stroganoff

Creamy Chicken Alfredo Pasta

As a kid, chicken Alfredo was my go-to order when I got to visit Olive Garden. As a grown-up, I prefer making my own Alfredo sauce. It's infinitely more flavorful and satisfying. This version is utterly decadent, with plenty of butter and heavy cream in the sauce.

I recommend using freshly grated authentic Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, rather than the pre-grated stuff in the green plastic container, for a more complex flavor. I also suggest incorporating a hint of freshly grated nutmeg to give it that je ne sais quoi that will have your dinner guests scratching their heads with curiosity and rubbing their bellies in delight.

Recipe: Creamy Chicken Alfredo Pasta

Classic Lamb Shepherd's Pie

Despite being classic British comfort food, Shepherd's pie is sure to be enthusiastically received by anyone who loves cheesy potatoes. Depending on the crowd, you may swap the lamb with ground beef, particularly if cooking for kiddos. The taste of lamb can be a touch gamey for the uninitiated. If game meat is your jam though, venison or buffalo work beautifully in this recipe.

When making the mashed potato topping for this pie, you'll want to purchase a starchy potato, like a Russet, rather than a waxy one. These tend to fall apart and become creamy rather than holding their shape and turning into a pasty, gummy mess.

Recipe: Classic Lamb Shepherd's Pie

Chicken Chile And Cheese Enchiladas

As we already noted, enchiladas can be a fabulous meal for those who appreciate the flavors of Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine. This recipe relies on a pressure cooker or instant pot to cook the chicken in a fraction of the time.

You can use a crock pot if you don't own an instant pot or pressure cooker. Place the ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low for four to five hours or high for two to three hours. To use leftover chicken, shred the meat and sauté the ingredients in a skillet until the onions have softened and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Recipe: Chicken Chile And Cheese Enchiladas

Comforting Chicken And Dumplings

Chicken and dumplings are another popular Southern comfort food that many enjoyed for Sunday supper growing up. The base of this recipe is a hearty chicken stew. What makes it unique are the tender dumplings. While you typically use water to make dumplings, this recipe utilizes some of the flavorful broth from the stew to give them a richer taste. The finished dumplings are like a large, flat noodle with a slightly al dente texture.

I recommend baking a batch of hearty cornbread to round out this meal. Finish this meal off with peach or apple cobbler, with vanilla ice cream.

Recipe: Comforting Chicken And Dumplings

Stuffed Chicken Parmesan

Another dish that I would frequently order at fancier Italian restaurants was chicken parmesan. It always felt like the sort of thing fancy grown-ups would eat. Now I realize the recipe isn't as challenging or fancy to make as I had envisioned, and this stuffed version is so spectacular you'll never make plain chicken parmesan again.

While shredded mozzarella is an affordable and readily available cheese for the stuffing, consider upgrading to fresh mozzarella. You can obtain pre-sliced fresh mozzarella, that's easy to tuck into the pockets at the center of your chicken breasts. The fresh mozzarella is even creamier and more gooey than the shredded variety.

Recipe: Stuffed Chicken Parmesan

Easy Beef Stew

Beef stew is one of those recipes that tastes even better the next day. We often made a batch of it on a Sunday to reheat throughout the week. This beef stew is flavorful and layered with complexity, even though it comes together rather quickly.

The key is to simmer the beef in the red wine and stock. Before you coat your beef in flour, pat the meat dry with a paper towel to encourage proper browning. When looking for a good red wine, opt for one that's not overly tannic or oaky, and moderately acidic, like a Pinot Noir or a red Zinfandel.

Recipe: Easy Beef Stew

Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup

Whenever I had a cold growing up, my grandmother would immediately whip up a batch of chicken noodle soup, insisting that it would make me feel better. While I'm not sure the soup had medicinal properties, it did taste delicious. This homemade version is much better than canned soup, with lower sodium levels too.

This soup relies on aromatic vegetables, fresh herbs, and a splash of white wine for flavor. When choosing a white wine to cook with, choose one that's not overly sweet or oaky and has a decent level of acidity, like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

Recipe: Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup

1-Skillet Salisbury Steak

Something that was a regular on the menu for dinner in my home was meatloaf. On occasion, we made it in a loaf pan. That said, it was more frequently made in little patties, closely resembling this Salisbury steak recipe. Season the meat patties in this recipe with an assortment of dried spices, herbs, and umami-rich Worcestershire sauce. To help keep the patties moist, soak the panko breadcrumbs in water for five minutes before adding them to the meat.

A rich mushroom sauce completes this TV dinner-inspired recipe. Consider a combination of mushrooms for added complexity, like cremini, porcini, and chanterelles.

Recipe: 1-Skillet Salisbury Steak

Southwest Chili

If you grew up eating hearty bowls of spicy chili while watching football on Sunday, this recipe will warm your taste buds and heart. It features several kinds of canned beans for a more complex flavor and texture. Though ground beef is classic, you could make this recipe with any ground meat, including pork, chicken, lamb, or game meats.

Because you'll be using the liquid in the canned beans, you may want to purchase low-sodium varieties to help control the salinity of the final dish. I also recommend buying fire-roasted diced canned tomatoes. They confer a slightly smoky flavor that will taste delicious in this recipe.

Recipe: Southwest Chili

At-Home Philly Cheesesteak

You don't have to grow up in Philadelphia to become a Philly cheesesteak aficionado. This sandwich is beloved all across the country. Though it may seem like a complicated recipe, it's simple, and the homemade version is infinitely more flavorful.

The key is getting the right kind of beef. Though ribeye is classic, the more affordable bottom round can taste equally good. If you can't find pre-shaved, place the ribeye or top round in the freezer just long enough to make it cold but not frozen solid before slicing it. Use a sharp knife and cut the meat against the grain for the most tender final product.

Recipe: At-Home Philly Cheesesteak

Baked Ham And Cheese Sliders

When I wasn't eating a peanut butter and jelly or turkey sammie, ham and cheese was a popular lunchbox item. This simple yet clever recipe elevates the basic ham and cheese by turning it into sliders, coating it with a delectable topping, and baking it in the oven until it turns into a gooey, meaty delight.

If you want to add a Cubano spin, layer thinly sliced deli pickles with the ham and cheese. Alternatively, throw in some Reuben action with a layer of sauerkraut for crunch and that sharp fermented flavor.

Recipe: Baked Ham And Cheese Sliders

Pepperoni Pizza Pinwheels

This recipe is ideal for the whole family to assemble, and it will make you feel like a kid again by encouraging you to play with your food. The simple recipe relies on store-bought crescent rolls for a de facto pizza crust.

Though you can keep things simple with pepperoni, pizza sauce, cheese, and peppers, feel free to swap out any ingredients. You may want to make some of these with green pesto instead of the red sauce, or use different kinds of cheese like Cheddar, pepper jack, or Swiss. Lastly, you could use any cured meat, including prosciutto, salami, or mortadella.

Recipe: Pepperoni Pizza Pinwheels

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

Though pot pie was not something I commonly ate at home, it was something I always ordered at Marie Callender's when we dined there. This homemade version takes one labor-intensive step out of the process, making a pie crust from scratch. By using a store-bought pie crust, the recipe comes together relatively quickly.

Do not skip the step of cutting slits into the top of the pie crust before baking, or steam won't be able to escape, causing the pie crust to puff up and crack. Lastly, don't skip the resting period either. Doing so will make it impossible to plate this up without the pie falling apart.

Recipe: Homemade Chicken Pot Pie