DIY dinner ideas, what are they and why do you need them for those busy weeknights? In a nutshell DIY meals are usually easy family dinner recipes that can be thrown together and then each family members sorts themselves out. They work brilliantly for families who have ‘picky eaters’ (I’m not a fan of that term but that’s a rant for another day) and other family members who prefer bold flavors. If you are cooking and trying to meet everyone’s needs, it can be somewhat of a nightmare. Which is why DIY meals rule the day.
It can also be used if you have a family with different dietary requirements. I have a friend with 4 kids, all of which have allergies or specific dietary needs which makes meal time a royal headache. I know she uses the DIY dinners set up a lot, her kids all know what they can and can’t eat so it make meal times so much less stressful.
I haven’t listed specific recipes, I’m sure you have family favorite easy meals already, rather I’m sharing ideas on how have the whole family sitting down together at the dinner table and the meal be served with minimal effort and in a fun way.
I am a big fan of families eating together, it’s a great way for everyone to catch up on the days news, spend some quality time together which these days is precious. If you have been struggling with family connection time then I highly recommend doing these types of dinners a couple of times a week and having a non screens (TV included) at meals times. It might be hard initially to break the habits but it does get easier and the whole family benefits.
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Easy weeknight DIY dinner ideas
Let’s get the obvious one of the way first, Taco’s! Put the different ingredients out on the table, taco shells or tortilla’s, then whatever your family enjoys, chili, refried beans, sour cream, grated cheese, shredded meat, salsa, guacamole, green salad. Then everyone builds their own tacos, the less adventurous can stick to their preferred safe ingredients and the spicy food lovers can go wild with the hot sauce on their own dishes.
DIY Wrap It Ups
In Japan we have nori maki, in Korea it’s gimbap, but there alos many other ways of making a wrap. You can use nori seaweed, rice paper, tortilla or any other type of flatbread. Thin omlettes, crepes, galletes… All great wrap ideas, just add the fillings. And again, anything goes. Kids love making their own wraps and quickly get good at it. It’s also a good problem solving meal, get them to think about the best way to wrap their ingredients so they don’t lose anything!
It’s also a good way to get them to try something new, they can just add a tiny bite without it resulting in a major meltdown and a wasted meal.
All the flavour, without the effort! If you have a store that sells rotisserie chicken it can make for some great quick dinner ideas. The easiest is to carve it up and serve with a choice of vegetables and salad and maybe make wraps, pita pockets or even baked spuds and let everyone build their own meal. Or you could serve it up with a pile of mashed potatoes, some quick steamed veg and a creamy sauce. Or chuck it in with some spinach pasta and cover in melty cheese. Often sticking to simple ingredients makes for the quickest healthy recipes.
If you have chicken left over, use the bits to make sheet pan chicken fajitas the following night.
Nothing beats a homemade pizza but when everyone likes different toppings it can take the joy out of making it. Instead of making family sized pizzas to share, go for individual ones, that way everyone can pick their favourite toppings. Those who like tomato sauce can have it, and those who prefer a white sauce can choose that, Love ham and pineapple? Knock yourself out, hate mushrooms, no problem.
This totally cuts down on the fighting and arguments and everyone gets to enjoy their pizza, how they like it. If you don’t want to make the base you can pick up pre-made bases and the toppings take next to no time to prepare. Whilst they are in the oven, you can get one with making packed lunches or supervising homework.
Sheet pan suppers
I love making sheet pan dinners because you can throw everything in and let it cook as you get on with other jobs. Chop up a bunch of veg, anything from bell peppers, Brussel spouts (divine when roasted), cauliflower, potatoes and sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beets, carrots… toss them in olive oil and add some herbs and spices to your liking and pop them into roast. If you are short on time, par-cooking the vegetable first helps speed things up.
I often do a tray of veg along with chicken thighs or wings.
Stick everything on the table and let them serve themselves.
Muffin Tin Meals
If you want meal time to be a bit more fun, especially if you have had a long day and you don’t want any battles over food. Then try the muffin tin dinner idea. Give the kids a muffin tin or a number of silicon muffin cups and then have a dinner bar, where you have different items set out, like a hotel buffet. The kids get to fill up their muffin tin as they like. Now, you might want to set some rules, say if the muffin tin has 12 holes, 4 of the holes must contain fruit or vegetables. Just so you don’t have a kid putting cheese in every hole (that would be me!).
Any you don’t have to get complicated with the dinner bar, open the fridge and put what you have got on the table. Think of it as a smorgasbord or the more ‘on trend’ charcuterie, cold cuts of meat, fruit, salad, cheese, boiled eggs, crackers, bread, pickles – anything goes really. More Muffin Tin Dinner ideas here.
Soup and Sarnie are perfect diy dinner ideas
This is one of family favourites. I love my Instant Pot because I can whip up soup in next to no time, and soup is a great way to sneak in some ‘secret ingredients’ or two AKA vegetables that kids normally turn their nose up at. Soup is perfect served with crusty bread but even better with a toasted sarnie (sandwich). We love a cuban style sandwich with shredded pork tenderloin and mozzarella cheese, it turns a simple soup into a more hearty meal. It also stops certain people from whinging that soup on it’s own isn’t a meal!
Hot Pot Meals
There are a lot of Asian meals such as sukiyaki, nabe, and shabu-shabu and the variations of them that are cooked at the table in a hot plate style dish. Then everyone picks out what they want to eat. Not really a DIY dinner idea but more serve yourself. If you have everything chopped and prepped beforehand it can make for an easy weeknight dinner.
Slow-cooker and DIY dinner ideas
To save time with your DIY meals, you can use a crock pot or Instant Pot, to make the main dish. We use the Instant Pot for chili, curry, soup, and stews. There are loads of great easy dinner recipes and you’ll a new favorite recipe or two in next to no time. Slow-cooked beef or pork in a hearty sauce makes a great base for a meal, you just need to add bread, pasta, rice or potatoes and either cool the vegetables in with the meat or have a salad on the side.
Another gadget that is all the rage at the moment is the air fryer, we don’t have one but I do know you can make far more than just chips (French fries). I haven’t tested how it would work with DIY meals, if you use one, let me know!
Follow the three Q’s for successful DIY dinner ideas
1. Quick to prep
More often than not, when we look at a new recipe we just check the cooking time, but really we need to consider the prep time too. If you are using fresh vegetables for example, how do they need preparing? If the dish has a hearty meat sauce, is it because it needs to marinade for 6 hours before you even start cooking? When you are checking out new recipes, I recommend sticking to a simple recipe made with pantry staples as they generally take less time to prepare.
2. Quick to cook
This is the obvious one but sometimes a long cook time works too. A sheet pan dinner might take 50 minutes to cook vs pasta that can be done in 15 minutes but a sheet pan dinner is a low maintenance meal. Other than checking on it occasionally you don’t need to do anything which frees you up for other things.
The same goes with Instant Pot or Crock Pot meals.
3. Quick to clean up
I’m fan of Jamie Oliver’s cook books and love his 15 minute meals but to be honest Jamie doesn’t save me any time because he uses so much stuff to put the meal together! If you have a dishwasher, this is less of an issue but it is a problem if you are washing up by hand and you have the kids to get ready for bed etc. Something to keep in mind when you are deciding which favorite recipes to keep for busy nights.
FAQ’s about DIY Dinners
What if I don’t have time?
I get it, we are all busy. If you are struggling with this there are some things I recommend trying
- Learn to meal plan (get my free planner in the library)
- Delegate – get the rest of the family helping, from peeling veg to setting the table and cleaning up
- Get the family together and brainstorm quick and simple dinner ideas
- Read this post and try the hacks listed
What if I’m rubbish at cooking but want to make a home-cooked meal for my family?
Baby steps, find a simple recipe, with just a few ingredients and work on perfecting that then add a new recipe to your tool belt. Learning to cook takes practice and experience, so keep at it. If you have a busy night of the week, that is not the time to try a new recipe. Instead, try new recipes when you have the time and energy to pay attention to what you need to do. It always takes longer to cook a new recipe too because you are reading the instructions and following along.
And get the kids involved, you could have a family challenge where you learn to cook one new recipe a month together.
Where do you find your recipes?
I do like a beautiful cookbook but I do look for recipes online too. I don’t have a specific site, I tend to go to UK sites over US mostly because I use metric measurements. When I do find a recipe that everyone loved and it passes the 3Q’s test I add it to my family recipes Airtable.
There are my current favourite cookbooks:
- Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
- Gino’s Italian Escape
- Flavors of Morocco: Delicious Recipes from North Africa
What if I’m left with loads of bits after a meal?
Let’s distinguish between leftovers first, if it has been on someones place (and possible half chewed) it’s not leftovers, it’s food waste to go in the bin or compost.
On the other hand it is food that hasn’t been used up then it’s leftovers and this is great.
Why? because you can use them in sandwiches, bento’s, for snacks or even to add to a dinner bar on another night or for muffin tin dinners. My son calls it ‘this and that’ dinner when it’s basically things that need eating up and maybe a mis-match of dishes. It’s like going to an international buffet at a hotel! <– Just reframe it if you have someone who objects to leftovers!
TOP TIP – invest in some glassware or pretty ceramic dishes that have lids that you can easily pop in the fridge. I like the Ikea glass sets that can be used in the fridge, oven and freezer.
I hope these DIY Dinner Ideas help you have more stress free meal times and instead have some fun creating your own meals with the kids. It’s a great time to bond and take the pressure off you!
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