Sloppy Joes, chicken fingers, stuffed shells — we all have our favorite foods that remind us of growing up. (We also have some not-so-favorite dishes... tuna noodle casserole, anyone?) The family dinner table can often feel like feeding time at the zoo, so it’s no surprise that many of the classic meals people remember from childhood tend to be simple ones. These dishes have proven popular with parents over the years because they’re quick, kid-friendly and economical.
Here are some of the dishes that make us feel like a kid again, along with recipes that will have everyone leaving the dinner table happy and full. You may not have grown up eating all the meals on this list, but we venture a guess that at least a few of these dishes just might take you back to childhood.
No meal says “childhood” quite like frozen fish sticks (or fish fingers, for some). Straight from the freezer, it takes just a quick shake of the box onto a baking sheet, and minutes later dinner is served. Recreate this favorite meal by making fish sticks from scratch, and update the normal jarred tartar sauce with a slightly more sophisticated lemon mayo.
Some of us loved it, some of us hated it — whichever side you fall on, Hamburger Helper was likely a dish from childhood you just can’t forget (as much as some would like). If you’re one of those to whom it brings back fond memories, try making this healthier, not-from-the-box version.
To many, sloppy Joes are childhood on a plate. Sugary Manwich sauce straight from the can mixed with sautéed ground beef may be what many of us grew up eating, but if you have a little time, try making it from scratch.
What kid doesn’t want to eat a cupcake for dinner? Mom and Dad, you were so sneaky with your dinnertime tactics. Here’s a (slightly) more grown-up version.
Back in the day, the ultimate after-school snack was a toasted English muffin topped with pizza sauce, cheese and toppings, and baked until golden and bubbly. Toaster ovens were practically invented for English muffin pizzas. For a slightly more grown-up version that’s perfect for a quick dinner, bake all the delicious flavor of a pizza into a muffin (and we promise not to tell if you still eat them “after school”).
Again with the sneaky dessert tactics! But honestly, there probably aren’t too many kids who dislike noodles and red sauce — and when they’re baked together into a “pie” and a fun-shaped slice of dinner ends up on your plate, it’s an easy win.
Ah, the simple charm of a fried bologna sandwich. Topped with mustard, it tastes just like a hot dog!
This Midwestern classic is the definition of comfort food. It’s also called a hotdish (another name for a casserole typically containing a meat, a vegetable, a starch and a can of condensed soup). Whatever you call it, it’s delicious.
If there are two foods nearly every kid adores, they’re pizza and tacos. When combined, they’re dinnertime nirvana. Start with a tortilla “crust” topped with marinara and pile on mozzarella and pepperoni. Or do the opposite — use refried beans as the “sauce” with cheddar cheese, olives, and tomatoes as the “pizza” toppings.
Another divisive dish, this one may either conjure up comforting childhood memories or strike fear the moment you get a whiff of canned tuna cooking in the oven. Either way, this casserole was a dinner table staple for many kids while growing up. If you’re eager to relive those days, try this easy version.
Courtesy of Pillsbury
Roll-ups come in handy when parents need to get a kid-friendly meal on the table pronto. These are made with ingredients that are often already found in the fridge, or that are easily tossed into the grocery cart. Plus, kids tend to love any food that’s rolled up.
Also known as “taco-on-a-plate,” this one is hit because A) tacos in any form are amazing and B) it’s essentially the “Choose Your Own Adventure” of dinners. If you want to make a grown-up (aka healthy) version, try substituting ground turkey for ground beef, and get creative with the toppings.
Pizza is a universal childhood favorite, and is made even more fun when it comes in a unique shape. This recipe is like a homemade version of those frozen-food-aisle pizza rolls you remember eating as a kid.
One-pan meals are popular with parents for good reason — minimal dishes and thrifty ingredients save the day when time and budgets are tight. Try making this throwback favorite in your Instant Pot.
If you grew up in the South, you’ll definitely remember this delicious dish of layered corn chips, chili and cheese. It can be made in a casserole dish or served single-serving style by layering the ingredients in a bag of Fritos, which is perfect to take on the road (or in the mini-van).
Is there anything more crowd-pleasing than a big dish of cheesy pasta? How about the same dish topped with tater tots? This version sneaks in some vegetables, something we all were on high-alert for while growing up, but the benefit of which we now understand — maybe.
No one wants a boring old sandwich for dinner, but fun ingredients stuffed into a pita pocket? That’s a way more exciting meal. This basic recipe can be used as inspiration for many variations, and just might remind you of quick dinners from long ago.
There’s a reason that chicken fingers are a staple on restaurant kids’ menus across the country — they’re so darn tasty, can be eaten with small hands, and everyone loves a food that can be dunked into sauce. This homemade version is even better than you remember.
Dinner becomes exciting when you can bring a favorite carnival food to the table. Size matters, too — any food becomes even more kid-friendly when you make a mini version of it.
Bagel melts aren’t just for dinner — they can be great at any meal. They’re so versatile, you can create one with whatever ingredients you happen to find in the fridge (which may be why they were a popular choice for a quick dinner back in the day).
This recipe is an easy way for parents to get kids to eat their soup — by tossing in all the flavors of a cheeseburger. It’s not only delicious, but really fun to eat.
Kids love the thrill of having a meal during a time when it’s normally off-limits, and parents love that the ingredients are usually already in the fridge or pantry. Scrambled eggs, French toast, pancakes, bacon… It can be hard to choose when there are so many easy, delicious breakfast-for-dinner ideas.
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