4 Build-Your-Own Food Bar Ideas For Kids August 16, 2017
Say hello to the most fun, customizable, and picky eater-proof dinner out there: the build-your-own food bar.
The last thing you want to do on busy weeknights is make entirely separate meals that cater to everyone’s conflicting taste preferences. But when faced with one die-hard tomato lover and another ardent tomato hater, what is the humble home cook to do? DIY food bars, that’s what.
Not only are they versatile and customizable, but they’re easy to prep in advance, foster creativity, require practically no recipes, and are inherently communal. Are you thinking what we’re thinking? Your kids’ next birthday party spread — not to mention your next dinner party menu — is totally covered.
We rounded up a list of ingredients that work perfectly in a taco, flatbread, pasta, or salad bar — but remember, these are just suggestions! Feel free to only feature a few or improvise with some that didn’t make it on our list. Although more options mean more combos for kids to play around with, the ultimate goal is simplicity. Dinnertime stress is not invited to the party.
1. Taco Bar
We’re thinking Taco Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday should be a thing. Any takers?
What you’ll need:
- Tortillas: corn or flour
- Protein: cooked chicken, steak, shrimp, chickpeas
- Cheese: Cheddar, colby, Monterey Jack, Manchego, Oaxaca
- Veggies: thinly sliced iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, corn, sliced tomato, sliced onion, chopped cilantro, diced peppers (bell or jalapeño), sliced scallions
- Condiments: Guacamole, salsa, hot sauce, sour cream
- To prevent guacamole from oxidizing and turning brown, squeeze some lime on it.
- Cook up a big, heaping bowl of rice and warm up some black beans to serve alongside the tacos.
- Prefer hard taco shells rather than tortillas? Simply coat both sides of the tortillas with cooking spray, then carefully drape each over two bars of the oven rack. Bake at 375ºF until crispy, 8-10 minutes.
2. Flatbread Bar
Say goodbye to your delivery guy and hello to homemade personal pizzas.
What you’ll need:
- Dough: store-bought or homemade
- Sauce: tomato or pesto
- Cheese: Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, feta, ricotta
- Protein: cooked sausage, chicken, pepperoni, ham, bacon
- Fruits and veggies: sliced squash, broccoli florets, roughly chopped herbs (basil, parsley, oregano), halved cherry tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, corn, halved olives, sliced onions, arugula, chopped pineapple, diced apples, sliced avocado
- Other crunchy things: Walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts
- Condiments: BBQ sauce, honey, hot sauce, balsamic vinegar
- Basil and intense heat do NOT pair well, so add during the last few minutes of oven time or even after the pizza is done cooking.
- Most homemade pizzas fall into the 10-14 inch range, which feeds two people (or three little ones), so try splitting the group into pairs.
- Invest in a second sheet pan, so the kids can start assembling the next batch of pizzas while the first ones are baking away.
READ MORE: How to Store Fresh Herbs & Veggies
3. Pasta Bar
Time to unleash your inner nonna.
What you’ll need:
- Pasta: cooked spaghetti, farfalle (butterfly-shaped), rigatoni, orecchiette, ravioli, ziti
- Veggies: chopped herbs (basil, parsley, oregano), diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, steamed peas, sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, chopped peppers
- Protein: cooked ground beef, sausage, chicken, prosciutto (Italian ham)
- Sauce: marinara, pesto, Alfredo
- Cheese: Parmesan, pecorino, ricotta, mozzarella
- Add-ons: lemon zest, crushed red pepper, extra virgin olive oil
- To prevent plain pasta from sticking together once it’s cooked, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil. And if you aren’t going to be eating it for a bit, run the pasta under cold water to remove the starch, then reheat it with all the sauce and toppings once ready to serve.
- Don’t be afraid to mix two sauces together — tomato and Alfredo taste amazing together.
4. Salad Bar
Whoever said salads have to be boring has obviously never experienced the customizable, load-it-up magic of a salad bar.
What you’ll need:
- Greens: arugula, spinach, romaine, kale, spring mix, frisee
- Protein: cooked chicken, steak, shrimp, boiled eggs, mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pine nuts) tofu, beans, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
- Grains: brown rice, quinoa, Israeli couscous, farro, croutons
- Veggies: halved cherry tomatoes, corn, steamed or baked sweet potatoes, sliced cucumbers, chopped celery, broccoli/cauliflower florets, chopped mushrooms, sliced radishes, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, halved olives
- Cheese: feta, chedddar, goat, gorgonzola, Parmesan, mozzarella
- Dressing: balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, papaya tarragon dressing, soy peanut dressing, basil chili dressing
- Roast nuts in advance for a deeper flavor.
- Challenge the kids to have as many colors of the rainbow present as possible. You’d be surprised what a little healthy competition can accomplish.
- If the kids want to experiment with making their own salad dressing, remember this easy formula: one part acid (vinegar or citrus) to four parts oil.
Dinner isn’t the only meal that’ll benefit from a build-your-own, personalized twist. Try your hand at an oatmeal bar, waffle/pancake bar, or yogurt parfait bar for a fuss-free way to start the day. And once dinner is over, extend your DIY expertise into dessert with an ice cream bar or sweet crepe bar.
Speaking of ice cream, have you heard about nice cream? It’ll rock your world.
But if you’re more of a crepe fan, try your hand at Brazilian tapioca flour pancakes.