Need a break from cooking dinner? Try this genius (and healthy!) shortcut snack meal your kids will love.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Tekkol/Shutterstock

If the slog of making dinner every. single. night. has you feeling worn out, you'll want to put this into your rotation pronto: The "Snack Board Dinner." If you've seen the elaborate and eye-popping charcuterie and cheese boards all over Pinterest and Instagram, consider this the doable version for busy parents. It's simple, fast, healthy—and even better, may encourage your kids to try new foods.

Here's how it works: Grab a large plate, tray, cutting board, or baking sheet and pile on what you have in the fridge and pantry, like pieces of leftover roast chicken, chunks of cheese, handfuls of edamame, raw vegetables, apple slices, and nuts. Station it in the middle of the table (or the living room floor if you're having a picnic dinner!), and everyone takes what they want.

The Snack Board Dinner has a lot of perks for parents. "These boards cut down on food waste because you're using leftovers and smaller amounts of food that would normally be thrown away," says Robin Plotkin, RDN, a culinary nutritionist who teaches food board-making classes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. You also can prep these boards ahead and keep them refrigerated. They cut down on dishes too—you only have one plate to wash!

This kind of dinner presentation is ideal for kids too. There's the sheer novelty of having "snacks for dinner" (every kid's dream), and when food is presented on a unique and fun board, they may be more willing to try new or previously disliked foods, especially if those foods are arranged alongside familiar favorites. "Even if you've offered it a million times and they've refused, it's worth trying it again in this new way," says Plotkin.

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Here are Plotkin's tips for making this concept work for you:

  • Encourage each family member to add one item of their choice to the dinner board, so there's at least one food that's a "for sure" item for them.
  • Place any drippy or wet foods (like melon or pickles) in small separate bowls placed on the board.
  • Hit up the grocery store's salad bar if you want to include a few foods new to your kids but don't want to buy a big portion.
  • Add dips, not only for veggies but also for protein-rich foods. For instance, serve chunks of leftover cooked chicken or tofu with toothpicks and dips like BBQ sauce or peanut sauce.
  • Include some foods on skewers (kids love em!). You can take skewered shrimp, chicken, or beef right off the grill or out of the oven and place them directly onto the board. You can also skewer cold food combos like tomato, mozzarella, and basil or olives, pickles, and cubed turkey on toothpicks.
  • Have a "Family Board Night" and incorporate your Snack Board Dinner into an evening of board games.
  • Consider theme nights with cuisines like Italian, Tex-Mex, and Chinese.
  • For a fun treat, build a fruit and sweets board for dessert.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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