I Tried Family-Friendly Recipes From 3 Celeb Chefs And It Got Me Out Of My Dinnertime Rut

by Angela Andaloro

I recently have found myself in the midst of a dinner rut. Dinner has been a little controversial around my house.

Our 7-year-old is in the throes of a picky eater phase. Even something that worked the week before could suddenly be unacceptable. Any parent knows a moment like this will pass, but it can be hard to keep in mind when you’ve just spent an hour or more cooking.

I’ve been sticking to a lot of staples, but in my quest to make one meal for everyone, I’ve gotten pretty bored with dinner. That usually devolves into me skipping dinner on some days, and that starts a cycle of bad eating habits I’d rather avoid.

Desperate for something new that might work for everyone, I turned my sights to celebrity chefs.

If anyone can get kids to eat, it’s celebrity chefs who are also parents. After looking around, I saw three names known for their family-friendly recipes. Gordon Ramsay, a father of five, spawned a little chef of his own. His daughter Matilda came out with her own kid-friendly cookbook. Next, there’s Joanna Gaines, an unstoppable mother of five with another cookbook on the way this spring. Last but not least is Food Network star and mom of one Giada de Laurentiis.

Looking for something — anything — different for dinner, I first turned to Gordon Ramsay. Gordon has made cooking a family affair. His daughter Matilda even has her own cookbook, Matilda & the Ramsay Bunch: Tilly’s Kitchen Takeover.

I grabbed the recipe for Slam Dunk Meatball Subs from Matilda’s cookbook, hoping for the best.

slam dunk meatball ingredients family-friendly recipes
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

We love meatballs of all varieties in this house, so I was hoping this would turn out well. I gathered the ingredients and was pleasantly surprised to discover I had most of them in my house already. This is something I always keep in mind to widen my options for dinner in a pinch.

Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

I appreciated being able to get everyone involved in the prep for this recipe. One great recommendation that was in the recipe was that the parsley could be cut with a knife or with scissors over a mug. I had a happy volunteer for the latter.

family-friendly recipes meatballs
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

I was on my own when it came to making the meatballs. Their small size made it a quick task. After 25 minutes, they looked awesome. Meanwhile, I had the sauce simmering. I was a little concerned that it didn’t seem to thicken up but knew I had some time to go.

Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

I’m happy to report it wasn’t a disaster. Ultimately, the kiddo wasn’t into the sauce, which I’d anticipated, but he was otherwise OK with it. I also wished the sauce had been thicker, but it was still pretty tasty. It wouldn’t be going into rotation here, but I felt like I wasn’t too far off base.

Next up was Joanna Gaines. I beyond trust whatever Joanna cooks up for her family of seven. Still, some of the available options were more sophisticated than the general household palate here could handle. I went for a staple, Becki’s Mac and Cheese from Magnolia Table, Volume 1.

family-friendly recipes becki's mac and cheese magnolia
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

We’ve had luck with a few varieties of mac and cheese, so I felt pretty good about this one. I was also majorly craving some comfort food, so I knew this would hit all the spots. Again, I was delighted to discover I had most of the ingredients.

mac and cheese family-friendly recipe
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

I loved that this recipe, like the last, was easy enough that everyone could get involved. I was also pumped to try a new blend of cheeses. There’s nothing that brings this kid joy quite like grating cheese and eating handfuls while doing so. It worked out perfectly.

breadcrumbs mac and cheese family-friendly recipes
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

The separate cooking of breadcrumbs was also major for me since I adore them, but I knew the little guy wouldn’t go for them. It also made the whole house smell so good. It made me think of how versatile mac and cheese is. It would be easy to add meat or veggies to this dish to give it a little extra something.

Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

The mac and cheese was a major success! There were only two minor complaints, both from the little guy. For one, he thought the sauce was too thick and made it too “sticky.” It’s definitely a preference and a big difference from your average boxed mac and cheese.

The second was about the “crunchy parts,” which was easy enough to handle. He may have been a little skeptical, but I think if I make it again and make sure to avoid serving him the crispy edges, he’ll lap it right up.

family friendly recipes spaghetti nests
Giada De Laurentiis/Food Network

Last but not least, I gave Giada de Laurentiis a shot. I’ve never tried any of Giada’s recipes before, but she came up everywhere when I was researching family-friendly recipes by celebrity chefs. It makes sense since Italian food is generally a safe bet where kids are concerned. After browsing recipes, I chose these adorable Spaghetti Nests, featured on Giada at Home.

spaghetti nests ingredients family friendly recipes
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

What I really loved about this recipe was that it wasn’t much different from making a standard spaghetti dish. I got the water boiling and got some help on the sauce from my budding sous-chefs. From there, I got to work on the cheese mixture.

spaghetti nests assembly family friendly recipes
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

Once the spaghetti and sauce were ready, we were all set for assembly. I mixed the spinach in with the spaghetti as our 7-year-old told me he wasn’t going to eat any spinach. Sure, kid, whatever you say. I was confident the presentation would change his mind.

Making the nests was pretty easy. I had better luck using a fork to help me shape the nests so the indentation was prominent enough.

spaghetti nests family friendly recipes
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

I was quite honestly holding my breath as I popped the nests out from their little springform pans. Thankfully, they came out perfect. It was so fun to plate the little nests, and they looked totally adorable. As I suspected, all complaints about eating greens disappeared once the nests were served, which was a relief.

spaghetti nests family friendly recipes
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

One of the best things about this recipe is that it’s quick and easy enough to be put into rotation for weeknight dinners. This was by far the easiest to put together and the quickest to make. We all had different favorites between the three recipes, but this was surprisingly the favorite of our picky little guy.

It seemed that I’d made it through another night without waging war over eating dinner, and I was beyond relieved. Sometimes breaking old habits involves some thinking outside the box. I’m feeling pretty good about these three family-friendly recipes busting us out of our dinnertime rut.