Kid Food: What to Prepare When American Children Get the ‘Munchies’

The American variation of cheese on toast is popular with the younger set. (Photo via The Saucy Librarian)

The American variation of cheese on toast is popular with the younger set. (Photo via The Saucy Librarian)

Although we all try to feed our children wholesome, nutritious food (yada, yada), most of us have a handy list of go-to, kid-friendly meals that we can rustle up when pressed for time. Brits typically fall back on beans on toast, cheese on toast, scrambled egg on toast, fish fingers and beans, pizza and sausage and chips. When in the States though, all but the pizza can send your kids’ American friends running for the front door.

Other than the Italian or Polish variety (which aren’t eaten with chips and beans), sausages are small, skinny and usually served at breakfast. However, I have yet to meet an American who hasn’t fallen in love with succulent British sausages, so that might be something to try when you have kids over for lunch. They’ll certainly take the chips (sorry, fries) but you might want to check they’re okay with the beans. In fact, most American kids I’ve met (in over 20 years of parenting here) aren’t big bean fans at all.

So what’s safe to feed American kids if beans on toast is off the menu? Well, there’s pizza obviously, just don’t serve it with a knife and fork. Pizza is definitely finger food, as are chicken nuggets and fries, and anything else they can get away with if my American kids are anything to go by. (It was when I yelled “Ice cream is not finger food” that I realized remedial training was required.)

They also like macaroni ‘n cheese, and although the packet stuff is pretty disgusting, don’t go too fancy with your home-made, gourmet mac if you want to avoid disappointment. Anything not bright orange will be eyed with some suspicion.

If you’re asked to rustle up a grilled cheese, this is almost your cheese on toast option, but obviously, with a twist. You’ll need two slices of bread (it’s a sandwich after all), as well as the cheese, and some butter. It doesn’t go under the grill (broiler in the U.S.), but is cooked in a skillet (frying pan) or can be thrown on the BBQ grill. If you add sliced ham, it’s more or less a Croque Monsieur.

Be careful when asking a young guest what he or she would like to eat, as you might not have heard of some of the requests. A Sloppy Joe, for example, is basically a runny hamburger in a bun; it’s ground (minced) beef, onions and tomato sauce spilling out of a hamburger bun.

If s/he mentions pigs in a blanket, this isn’t a chipolata wrapped in bacon, but a hot dog (or other sausage) wrapped in some kind of pastry; more like our sausage roll, but not. Similarly, a bagel dog is a hot dog encased in bagel pastry, while a corn dog is the same dog coated in cornmeal batter, deep-fried and usually served on a stick.

Be warned that even the lowly sandwich can throw a curveball when attempting to feed American kids. Not so very long ago, I made my son’s friend a cheese and ham sandwich, as requested. Unfortunately the sandwich was deemed inedible because I had spread margarine on the inside slices of the bread; the kids was simply not used to a sandwich including margarine and nothing, but nothing, would persuade him to try it.

Fortunately, unless there’s a severe allergy, the humble PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich is a favorite with most kids so always keep some in stock no matter how revolting you think it is.

But never fear, we’re not as rubbish on the kid-meal front as we thought; according to the European Toddler Nutrition Survey, British toddlers are the fussiest eaters in Europe, so if nothing else, we have plenty of experience to bring to the battle table.

What are your favorite kid-friendly meals to make? Tell us below:

See more:
Food Memories: What Do You Miss From Britain?
How to Host a Dinner Party in the U.S.
Choices, Choices: How to Navigate American Restaurant Menus
Food and Drink: 10 Things That Taste Different in the U.S.

Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.

See more posts by Toni Hargis
  • Grand Moff Vixen

    I dare say that a sloppy joe is not even comparable as a runny hamburger. You haven’t eaten my mother’s recipe. Poor comparison. The description of what is used to make it is accurate though.

    When I grew up I ate whatever I was given and what was available. My family subsisted on bean, rice, & cornbread for dinner for many years. Cracked wheat for breakfast, and PB&J for lunch. I still have fond memories of beans & rice and still like them to this day.

    Final note: we were not allowed to be picky. Too many parents cater to their children’s eating preferences completely. I was not given that opportunity. I am still dismayed when I see a child throw a temper tantrum and the parent who had previously said no then gives in. Sad times.

    • Liza

      “Other than the Italian or Polish variety (which aren’t eaten with chips and beans), sausages are small, skinny and usually served at breakfast.”
      My local US supermarket meat department sells well over a dozen varieties of sausages including Polish, and several variations of Italians, bratwurst, chicken sausage, andouille and on and on. My kids and their friends gladly eat them and never turn them down. Perhaps you don’t know the proper way to prepare them. The small skinny sausages you refer to as being served at breakfast are indeed “breakfast sausages” and aren’t typically eaten at other times, but of course they could be.

      I find the British-type sausage to be very bland and usually filled with breadcrumbs of some sort. Edible but flavorless.

      • Grand Moff Vixen

        Why are you replying to me? Your reply is focusing on something I never commented on.

        • Eliza

          My apologies, GMV. Not too familiar with this process.

      • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

        Oooh, good, Pond sausage wars!

      • John H Harris

        Agreed. It was all filler, very little meat when I visited southern Wales back in 2007. They were good, but I needed to add a bit of hot sauce more often than not.

        Now the bacon was heavenly. More like what we’d call salted ham than the strips of cured pork belly we eat over here.

    • Frankie Herron

      I agree. Too many Americans allow their children to be picky eaters. That’s not doing a kid any favors and likely has a lot to do with America’s obesity epidemic.

  • PeterTx52

    ” I have yet to meet an American who hasn’t fallen in love with succulent British sausages” don’t know what British sausages you’re referring to, but the ones i’ve tried over the years are nothing more the tubes filled with fat and very little meat and almost no seasonings. would love to be pointed to the British sausages you’re referring to. And I speak from experience having traveled to Britain several times

    “coated in cornmeal batter, deep-fried and usually served on a stick.” always served on a stick otherwise there is no way to eat it. speaking of corny dogs (correct name not corn dogs) were invented at the State Fair of Texas which starts this coming weekend

    http://www.bigtex.com/sft/

    • lindy

      I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life and I have never once seen them called corny dogs, fairs and grocery stores alike. Maybe corny dog is a Texas regional name, or even the original name, but it is not the name in common usage by a long shot.

      • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

        I didn’t even hear the word “corny” when I lived in Texas.

  • KD

    Have to say both sloppy joes and corndogs sounds utterly disgusting

    • Grand Moff Vixen

      Until you have had them you will never know. Even if it turns out that you don’t like them at least you can say that you tried them out.

      • KD

        As I detest burgers to start with and don’t like many deep fried things, I think I’m fairly safe in stating they’re likely to be disgusting.

  • Eliza

    “Other than the Italian or Polish variety (which aren’t eaten with chips and beans), sausages are small, skinny and usually served at breakfast.”
    My local US supermarket meat department sells well over a dozen varieties of sausages including Polish, and several variations of Italians, bratwurst, chicken sausage, andouille and on and on. My kids and their friends gladly eat them and never turn them down. Perhaps you don’t know the proper way to prepare them. The small skinny sausages you refer to as being served at breakfast are indeed “breakfast sausages” and aren’t typically eaten at other times, but of course they could be.
    I find the British-type sausage to be very bland and usually filled with breadcrumbs of some sort. Edible but flavorless.

  • maggie

    There is nothing like a good Cumberland or Lincolnshire sausage. Sausages here are also
    full of fat.

  • maggie

    My daughter’s friends liked Shepherd’s Pie, Scotch eggs and one of her friends loved an Egyptian dessert from a recipe I picked up when we lived there.

  • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

    Sausage wars. Who would have thought.

  • EmmaK

    yeah why do they call it grilled cheese when it is fried bread with cheese? I am no health freak but that seems like an excessive amount of lard. Luckily my kids have been trained from birth to accept UK style grilled cheese, large Italian sausages, beans on toast, scrambled eggs etc and they don’t even like that American ‘cheese’ which tastes about as much like cheese as wallpaper paste.

    • Lisa Jones

      Butter or margarine in the skillet, just enough to cover the outside of the sandwich, that’s it. Almost no one uses lard.

      Unless, of course, you’re using lard to mean any fat and not just rendered pork fat. Still not that much, though.

  • hezzann

    Um, no. Cheese toast isn’t that weird here. We also have Beenie Weenie’s which are beans with franks in.

  • Bill

    Whoa whoa whoa…lets all slow down here for a second…

    A Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich disgusting?

    Travesty…just travesty…I am almost 40 years old and there are few comfort foods in this life better than a good old fashioned PB & J.

  • dp

    Sausage and beans, a no-no? Honey, are you unaware of the kid-food staple that is Beanie Weenies? If you’re not wont for whatever reason to get the brand name, they can be faked by cooking pinto beans with barbecue sauce and mixing in hotdogs (or whatever the sausage du jour is) cut into medallions.

    Basically, at least within the realm of my knowledge, broke food (spaghetti-os, spam, vienna sausages, mac and cheese, ramen, etc)= kid food. Possibly because that’s all our parents could afford when we were kids, possibly because they’re easy to fix up quickly and for whatever reason tend to appeal to young palates. I really don’t know.

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