Let your teen handle dinner with easy recipes and creative options.

Easy Dinners That Teens Can Make

by Anne Hirsh

Depending on your teen's comfort level with cooking, there are a variety of parent-free meals possible. Make sure your teen understands safe handling procedures for meats to avoid cross-contamination, as well as oven safety; also, he should not leave hot cooking surfaces unattended. Once these basics are covered, your teen has a variety of family meal options that won't be hard to master.

1. Layered Casseroles

Whether it's lasagna, moussaka or your teen's own concoction, layered casseroles offer one-dish baking that's easy for teens to master. For lasagnas, spread a layer of sauce under and over each layer of noodles, and fill the in-between spaces with chopped veggies and ricotta or similar cheese and sprinkle with mozzarella or Parmesan. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil to keep the moisture in while baking. This eliminates the added step of boiling the noodles first, making it a simple dish for teens. For a moussaka-style dish, replace the noodles with thin slices of eggplant or zucchini, add a layer of ground meat instead of the cheese, and choose Mediterranean style spices along with the vegetables. This and Southwestern dishes don't need to be covered since there are no noodles that need the moisture.

2. Gourmet Salads

For a lighter meal, let your teen take on the traditional Italian caprese (pronounced kuh-PRAY-zay) salad, with her own personal twists. He can slice fresh mozzarella cheese and his favorite type of tomatoes, then arrange them artistically on plates with fresh basil leaves. Have him drizzle the plate with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or creamy balsamic and herb dressing, then add his own touches, such as other chopped raw vegetables, rinsed canned chickpeas or other beans for added protein, or even fruit or nuts for a summery feel. This makes a light and refreshing summer meal, and doesn't require any cooking at all, plus it lets your teen get creative with the arrangement and additional ingredients.

3. Taco Variations

Let your teen choose his favorite ground meat, whether it's the traditional ground beef or healthier options like ground turkey, chicken or bison. He can brown the meat with a taco or fajita seasoning, then shred cheese, lettuce and add any other vegetables he likes to the mix. Jicama makes a refreshing and unusual addition to tacos, or try shredded cucumbers or carrots. Let your teen choose whether to serve the meat and other fillings soft-taco style in flour tortillas, in hard taco shells or in a bowl with corn chips used as scoops.

4. Complete Cornbread

Make a Southwestern-style meal with any packaged cornbread mix and a little creativity. Have your teen add canned or previously cooked beans, ground uncooked meat, chopped peppers and shredded cheese to your favorite cornbread mix. Stir the additions in once the mix is prepared as directed, then pour it into a baking dish and bake as directed. As long as the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat will be properly cooked through. This dish works well with a salad or fruit salad on the side, and may require two packages of cornbread mix for larger families. Once your teen gets the hang of this basic recipe, he can try it with biscuit or other bread mixes and a variety of meats, beans and vegetables. If your teen has a knack for baking, let him experiment with different made-from-scratch bread recipes once he masters the mix.

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