From tomato-based broths to buttery meats, my Mexican-American parents always strived to make meals that maintained the authenticity of our heritage, while still making them exciting for their kids. They were heavily influenced by Tex-Mex cuisine (my Texan-born grandmother often told me that we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!), and they were masters at making dishes based on Latin cuisine kid-friendly by reducing spice levels and oftentimes fusing them with American staples — let’s just say that I’m no stranger to peanut butter and jelly tortillas. Growing up, I remember looking forward to mealtime and savoring all the diverse flavors and textures that were presented to me.
Like many kids, my children are extra sensitive when it comes to their taste buds. Although I’m adamant about introducing them to new flavors and textures from a variety of cuisines, lately they have been hard core enthusiasts of plain buttered noodles. Eager to get my kids on board with childhood favorites of mine and expand their palates, I’m looking to Latina food bloggers and moms who’ve mastered the art of clean plates.
Inspired by the meals that I loved growing up, as well as some new favorites, here are 15 kid-friendly dishes that your little ones are sure to gobble up.
Easy Arroz Con Pollo
This classic chicken and rice dish from Isabel Eats is a staple in many homes across Latin America. As food blogger Isabel Orozco writes, “It’s one of those Latin American dishes that everyone and their mom has their own version of. And I can’t blame them!” I, too, have my own version of this recipe and I integrate peas, garbanzo beans, or hominy to provide extra nutrition and flavor.
10-Minute Pizza Tortilla
Although pizza is a staple of Italian cuisine, its popularity has spread well into Latin America, with toppings like chorizo, jalapenos, shrimp, and avocado dominating. Pizza is a fan favorite in our household and our pantry is always stocked with tortillas, which serve as the “crust” in this recipe from Uno Casa. (I’ve always liked using tortillas as a pizza base, as I don’t have to prepare dough or meddle with the store-bought version.) This 10-minute recipe is the perfect solution for a quick and easy meal that my kids will actually eat.
Migas is a popular Mexican and Tex-Mex dish that means “crumbs” in English. It’s typically a breakfast meal, but my parents would make this on heavy rotation for dinner. Looking back, I understand why: It’s really simple to make and delicious, just like this recipe from Isabel Eats. You pan fry cut-up leftover corn tortillas, mix them in with scrambled eggs, and viola! I like to add in black or refried beans to add some extra protein to the mix.
Green Chile and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese
Food blogger Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack was inspired by the love of her mother’s Mexican macaroni and cheese and created this recipe for Muy Bueno that pairs poblano sauce with chopped hatch green chile and smoky bacon. This recipe takes the traditional macaroni and cheese to the next level. Your kids may never ask for the boxed version ever again.
Not all Latin American cuisine is dominated by meat. In fact, seafood is quite popular in many South American countries, as well as vegan and vegetarian dishes. When my husband experimented with going vegan earlier this year, I had to come up with meat alternatives for a lot of our meals. To my surprise, my children loved this recipe from Uno Casa and never complained about the difference in taste. Even though my husband’s vegan phase has ended, I still prepare this meatless option regularly.
Black Bean Pasta
This pasta dish from Easy and Delish is made with only five ingredients in the Instant Pot and incorporates all of the yummy flavors that kids and parents alike will enjoy. Traditional Tex-Mex ingredients such as beans, ground beef, and chili seasoning combined with elbow pasta and cheese make for a meal that your kids will gobble up. Add in your choice of beans (black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, pinto beans, great northern beans, or navy beans) and you’re good to go.
Slow Cooker Pork Tinga Flautas
Flautas are a Mexican dish that consists of small rolled-up tortillas stuffed with a filling (like chicken or pork, beef, or cheese) and fried. Once a week, my father would make flautas, like this recipe from Muy Bueno, with shredded chicken and corn tortillas. To make life simpler, he would buy a ready-made rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and shred the meat. To this day he still brings flautas to my home once a week for my children who devour them and ask for seconds and thirds.
Empanadas, half-moon-shaped pies, gained popularity in Argentina but are now eaten all over the world. They are small, can be filled with almost anything, and are portable enough to eat on-the-go. This pizza empanada recipe from chef Denise Browning of Easy and Delish is popular in my household because, let’s face it, anything that comes close to a pizza is a hit with my kids. Empanadas are a great way to expand my children’s taste buds (whether they be pizza, meat, or seafood filled) and switch up our stale weekly meal plan.
Sweet Summer Corn Risotto
Corn is a staple in most Latin American cuisines and I love that this recipe from chef Gia Stanley of Always B Hungry fuses the ingredient with a classic Italian dish, risotto. I’ve always been afraid to prepare risotto but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try this recipe that pairs arborio rice with corn, an ingredient I eat almost every day. There were no leftovers and it’s safe to say that this will be on rotation during meal planning.
Tortilla soup is another recipe where everyone and their abuela have their own unique version. It can be made with chicken stock or tomato stock, with chicken or without. Either way, this quintessential Mexican dish is full of rich flavors that your children will fall in love with. Served with tortilla strips and a sprinkle of shredded white Mexican cheese, this version from Gemma Aguayo-Murphy of Everyday Latina is a great to make when the cold weather starts creeping in.
I don’t always have time to make elaborate meals for my kids. Sometimes 5 p.m. rolls around and I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner. Refried bean tacos were a staple when I was growing up and always available as a snack or part of a full meal. Since becoming a mom (and channeling my inner Abuela) it’s become a habit of mine to make a pot of beans every other week to have around if I need something in a pinch. Sometimes I’ll make them in an Instant Pot, like this recipe from The Other Side of the Tortilla calls for, or I’ll refry them in the style of Mely Martinez of Mexico In My Kitchen. I pile them on some tortillas topped with extra cheese and dinner is served. It’s simple and full of protein.
Enchiladas are a more dressed up version of flautas and are great if you have leftover chicken in the fridge. They can be made with either corn or flour tortillas and filled with your choice of meat or veggies. This recipe from Everyday Latina is perfect for transforming leftover chicken into something savory, kid-friendly, and amazing.
Store bought meatballs are always hit-and-miss with my kids. I’ve tried so many different recipes but it wasn’t until my father shared with me his recipe for meatballs (albondigas) on Modern Brown Girl that we found a sure-fire hit with the kids. My father’s recipe is a more Americanized version of the classic Mexican albondigas soup version because it does not include cumin, cilantro, or Mexican oregano. I absolutely loved these growing up and still do to this day. My father cooks them in a soup, but I like making just the meatballs themselves. These are the only meatballs my kids will eat and it makes me happy that the recipe comes from my father.
Sheet Pan Nachos
I have a girlfriend who has four energetic boys ranging from elementary to middle school and claims that they are bottomless pits. She swears by sheet pan nachos as an easy way to get rid of extra ingredients in her pantry while feeding her hungry brood. Created by a restauranteur named Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, nachos can be made as simple or as elaborate as you wish. There are no rules and you can’t really mess them up. Just layer flavors and ingredients you know your kids will eat on a sheet pan, bake, and you're done. You can serve this dish directly from the sheet pan, which means there are no extra dishes to clean.