How to have better mealtimes with kids

Work together to make soups, salad, mains and desserts

If your young kids know which fork is for salad or that a napkin shouldn't double as a bib, congratulations – this story is not for you. If, instead, they’re content to watch their food go cold long after you’ve started doing the dishes, Luisa Rizzi (Culinary Arts ’04) has ideas for you.

Since 2015, the NAIT instructor has taught at the polytechnic’s popular summer camps for budding chefs (sadly, cancelled for 2020). She’s also responsible for feeding two pre-teen girls of her own. In both cases, she’s seen proof that meal times with kids can be pleasant. The key, she says, is to involve them in all stages.

“Kids for the most part want to be in the kitchen, helping, learning and tasting,” says Rizzi. “So why not include them in a fun way?”

“Kids want to be in the kitchen. Why not include them in a fun way?”

Rizzi does not just feed her kids; she helps them feed themselves. Together, they plan meals and, in pre-pandemic days, they’d shop together. “I encourage them to participate in the decision making.” Then they cook, under Rizzi’s guidance, which she believes “instills confidence, independence, maybe a bit of problem solving or critical thinking.”

Create meals from the recipes below, selected from the kids’ camps, and see for yourself. They range from simple to mildly challenging, and are fun and flavourful. They also follow a food philosophy that’s close to Rizzi’s heart, and that can make mealtime one of the best times of the day.

“Nothing keeps a family together like the love for food,” she says.


Classic chicken noodle soup

(experience level: 13 years and up)
Yield: 1 litre

chicken noodle soupIngredients

  • 1 cup egg noodles
  • 2 cups cooked chicken meat (white or dark)
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • ⅓ cup each of onion, carrot and celery (small dice)
  • salt and pepper
  • butter or oil


  1. Cook noodles in boiling, salted water (1 litre). Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.
  2. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in butter or oil (1 to 2 tbsp).
  3. Cut the chicken into small dice.
  4. Bring the stock to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. If the soup doesn’t have enough flavour, add more stock and reduce to concentrate.
  5. Add the chicken and noodles to the stock. Let them heat through before serving.

Vegetable medley soup

(experience level: seven years and up)
Yield: 1 litre

vegetable and barley soupIngredients

  • 1 cup carrots (small dice)
  • 1 cup celery (small dice)
  • 1 cup potatoes (small dice)
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 litre vegetable broth


  1. Put 5 cups of vegetable broth in a pot.
  2. Add ingredients.
  3. Simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir.

Greek Salad

​​(experience level: seven years and up)
Yield: 5 servings

greek salad


  • 1 cup black olives, drained
  • ¼ cup Italian vinaigrette dressing
  • 2 cups romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 5 pitas, cut into 8 wedges each
  • 1 cup seedless cucumbers, peeled, sliced thick
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup yellow peppers, julienned
  • ½ cup red onion, peeled and julienned
  • ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled


  1. Whisk the vinaigrette vigorously. Toss the romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, onions and olives.
  2. Arrange the wedges of one pita around the rim of the plate. Place the dressed salad in the center. Garnish with feta cheese.

Monte Cristo sandwich

(experience level: 13 years and up)
Yield: 1 serving

monte cristo sandwichIngredients

  • 2 slices white or whole wheat bread
  • butter as needed
  • 1 slice turkey or chicken breast
  • 1 slice ham
  • 2 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk


  1. Place the bread on a clean work surface. Spread the tops with butter.
  2. Place the turkey, ham and cheese slices on one of the pieces of bread (non-buttered side). Top with the remaining slice of bread, buttered side out.
  3. Secure the sandwich with 2 picks placed in opposite corners.
  4. Beat the egg and milk together to form a batter.
  5. Dip the sandwich in the batter until it is completely coated and the liquid has partially soaked into the bread.
  6. Fry the sandwich until golden brown on medium heat.
  7. Cut in half or quarters and serve immediately.

Mexican taco salad

(experience level: seven years and up)
Yield: 6 servings

taco salad with ground beefSalad ingredients

  • 1 tsp cooking oil, (e.g., canola)
  • 2 cups cooked ground beef (from ½ - 1 lb raw)
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 tsp taco seasoning mix
  • 4 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1 can (12 oz) brown beans or pinto beans
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 cup red onion, diced fine
  • 30 tortilla chips

Chili dressing ingredients

  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper


  1. In a frying pan, heat ground beef, water and taco seasoning.
  2. In a mixing bowl, add the lettuce, beans, tomato and onion and toss.
  3. Add dressing and toss together.
  4. Place in serving bowls and crush tortilla chips over each salad.
  5. Serve with sour cream and salsa if desired.

Classic mac & cheese

(experience level: seven years and up)

homemade macaroni and cheese with bread crumb toppingIngredients

  • 1 (16 oz) box elbow macaroni noodles
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick + 2 TB) butter, divided
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 12 ounces (3 cups) grated cheddar cheese
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tbsp dry bread crumbs

Pasta preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Boil water to cook noodles.
  3. In a saucepan, melt 8 tbsp of butter over medium heat.
  4. When the butter is melted, add ⅓ cup of flour and stir in.
  5. Gradually add 3 cups of milk as you stir.
  6. Around this time, your water should be boiling, so add the box of elbow macaroni noodles and cook.

Sauce preparation

  1. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring all the while on medium heat.
  2. Once it is boiling, stir with a whisk for about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. By now, it should be thickened. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir in the cheese.
  4. Add salt and pepper and stir until the cheese is melted.

Assembly and baking

  1. Add the noodles to the cheese mixture. Mix well.
  2. Turn the macaroni and cheese mixture into a casserole dish or a 9×13 inch pan.
  3. In a separate small bowl, melt 2 tbsp of butter add 4 tbsp of breadcrumbs plus a dash of pepper and mix.
  4. Sprinkle this breadcrumb mixture over the mac and cheese.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes. If you want it a little crispier, leave the lid off.

Berry-filled crepes

(experience level: for 10 years and up)
Yield: 2 - 5 portions

crepes with strawberries and creamIngredients

  • 1 large egg
  • pinch teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cups (or more) milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
  • cooking spray
  • berries

Crepe preparation

  1. Whisk eggs and salt in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in flour, then ¾ cups milk. Strain with a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl to remove lumps. Let stand 1 hour.
  2. If necessary, add milk by the tablespoon to thin batter to the consistency of heavy whipping cream.
  3. Heat 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Apply a light coat of cooking spray so crepes do not stick.
  4. Pour 3 tbsp of batter into the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom evenly. Cook until top appears dry, loosening sides of crepe with spatula, about 45 seconds. Flip and cook until brown spots appear on the other side, about 30 seconds.
  5. Turn crepe out onto plate. Repeat with remaining batter and stack crepes on a plate.
  6. To assemble, lay out crepes in the centre of a plate. Place desired berries in the middle.
  7. Place dots of whipped cream on the berries.
  8. Fold the crepe in half and roll.

Banana bread

(experience level: ages 13 and up)
Yield: two 500g loaves

banana breadIngredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, soft
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 285 g (2-3) pureed banana
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda


  1. Brown the butter by heating it slowly in a pan until it turns light brown and gives off a nutty aroma.
  2. Combine butter with sugar and whip with a mixer for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, pureed banana in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture.
  4. Combine the flour, salt, baking soda in a separate bowl. Stir into the butter mixture just until combined.
  5. Distribute the batter into pans, which have been greased and floured.
  6. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes.
  7. Un-mold by gently loosening loaves with a spatula and cool on a wire rack.

Vanilla ice cream sundae

(experience level: all ages)

scoop of vanilla ice cream


  • 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • caramel sauce
  • chocolate sauce
  • berries
  • Maraschino cherry
  • Small amount of whipped cream


  1. Place 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream in a dish similar to what a banana split is made in.
  2. Drizzle the 2 sauces on the ice cream.
  3. Spoon on berries.
  4. Place a small dollop of whipped cream over each scoop and top with a cherry.

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