Easy Dinner Ideas for Yo-Yo Nights {You're On Your Own!}

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This list of easy dinner ideas for kids to make on their own is great to keep handy for busy evenings. Print the menu for your fridge so the kids can figure it out all on their own!

A photo collages shows several easy dinner ideas kids could make.

"Sometimes the kids and I just eat cereal for dinner."

A friend recently admitted this to me when we talked about easy dinner routines for our family.

I was thrilled to hear absolutely no signs of guilt as she explained her kids' favorite yo-yo night dinners, also known as "You're On Your Own."

She still sat and ate with the kids. They still had "family dinner."

But every member was in charge of finding their own simple meal to bring to the table.

This is such a brilliant way to relieve some of the stress of the nightly cooking routine, especially as we head into such a busy time of year!

Jump to:

What is Yo-Yo Night?

This brilliant nickname is short for: "You're On Your Own."

Why might you need a Yo-Yo night?

  • Work ran late and your kids are home alone.
  • You are utterly exhausted and had a stressful day.
  • You're sick and can't get out of bed.
  • You have an important work deadline and you can't stop to make dinner.
  • It's date night and you're going out leaving the kids at home.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: You need more time to talk with your kids and not be distracted by cooking.

Yo-Yo night can mean your kids are prepping and eating dinner on their own, but it doesn't have to mean you're skipping family dinner! Because after all, I believe family dinner will save the world.

You could easily call for a Yo-Yo night and have everyone assemble their dishes and eat at the same time at the dinner table. Then use that time to connect with your kids using these fun family dinner questions!

Yes, this absolutely still counts as "family dinner" and it is just one of the family dinner habits I mention here.

How to Prep for Yo Yo Night

Realistically, part of fend for yourself night means the family is going to have to scrounge around and get creative with what they find in the pantry, fridge, or freezer.

Smart parents will plan ahead for last-minute yo yo nights and keep a few shelf-stable things ready for the kids to choose from.

Either way, the best thing you can do to prep for an unexpected yo yo night is to print off my easy dinner ideas "menu" and keep it on the fridge or taped inside your pantry door.

Kids have a hard time connecting the dots between what's on the shelf and what they could pull together for a meal. Take out the guesswork for them!

Sign up for my email newsletter and I'll send you the FREE PDF menu I created that has all the easy dinner ideas mentioned in the post below so you can print it.

Get the Free Printable Menu Here:

    Breakfast for Dinner Ideas

    Breakfast for dinner is one of the greatest solutions to a fast dinner fix on a busy night.

    If your child knows how to make one of these easy breakfast ideas for kids, they can revisit a favorite at night and be ready to eat.

    1. Cereal & Milk
    2. Scrambled Eggs & Toast
    3. Bagel & Cream Cheese
    4. Frozen Breakfast Burrito
    5. Frozen Waffles with Cream Cheese or Peanut Butter
    6. Oatmeal Packets with Chopped Nuts and Raisins
    7. Granola Bars
    8. Yogurt and Granola
    9. Trail Mix

    No Cook Dinner Ideas

    Not comfortable letting your child actually cook yet?

    These no-cook dinners are easy enough to make with a butter knife or spoon at most.

    1. Deli Meat Sandwich
    2. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
    3. Cheese and Crackers
    4. Chips and Salsa
    5. Veggies & Dip
    6. Hummus and Pita Crackers
    7. Hardboiled Eggs or Egg Salad

    Microwave Dinner Ideas

    Teach your child how to use the microwave and they'll be able to make these simple dinners with a single bowl or plate.

    1. Microwave Popcorn
    2. Microwave Ramen Noodles
    3. Prepared Soup with Crackers
    4. Easy Mac & Cheese Bowls
    5. Microwave Nachos
    6. Bagged Salad with Shredded Rotisserie Chicken on Top

    Oven or Stovetop Dinner Ideas

    These easy dinners will require use of the oven or stovetop to boil water or brown meat.

    The skills are simple and once your child knows how to do them on their own, it opens up a much wider variety of easy dinners.

    1. Frozen Pizza
    2. Buttered Noodles
    3. Cheese Quesadillas
    4. Hot Dogs in Crescent Rolls
    5. Ground Beef or Baked Chicken Tacos (or any of these easy 30 Taco Tuesday recipes)
    6. Jar of Spaghetti Sauce (with or without Browned Meat)
    7. Grilled Cheese with Canned/Boxed Tomato Soup

    Healthy Side Dishes

    The dinner ideas above have a significant lack of fruits and veggies and yet this should not cause too great a concern unless you're eating like this every single night.

    One night here or there without a fruit or veg is not the end of the world. This is not the time to worry about how to get kids to eat more veggies, that work is for another night.

    But, to ease your parental guilt, keep a few items prepped and ready to go and require one choice from the list as part of their yo-yo dinner:

    1. Applesauce Cups or Pouches
    2. Fresh Grapes
    3. Bananas
    4. Baby Carrots and Ranch
    5. Salsa for Topping Anything
    6. Sliced Tomatoes and/or Shredded Lettuce for Sandwiches
    7. Cup of Cherry Tomatoes
    8. Cup of Sugar Snap Peas
    9. Cup of Raw Broccoli Spears

    Pre-Approved Desserts

    Let's be honest. Your kids are far more likely to be on board with making their own dinner if they know they have a pre-approved treat to eat at the end.

    Set expectations for portions and options beforehand and then let your kids make the final choice.

    Keep these easy desserts on hand for easy picks:

    1. Pudding Cups
    2. Ice Cream Sandwich or Frozen Treat
    3. Cookies
    4. Jell-O Cup
    5. Rice Crispy Treat
    6. Mini Bag of M&Ms

    Best Recipes for Kids

    Many of the easy dinner ideas I mentioned above can be found with complete instructions in this awesome kids' cookbook.

    Your child will learn how to do basic cooking skills like:

    • brown ground meat (like for tacos)
    • grill a grilled cheese
    • flip a quesadilla
    • make pasta
    • and so much more.

    Once they have those skills, dinner can be a hands-off experience for you!

    BONUS: These are important skills they absolutely need to learn before they leave your house! Your yo-yo night is actually giving your kids an essential life skill.

    How to Teach Kids to Cook

    With a copy of my cookbook and a few kitchen essentials, teaching your kids a few handy basic meals is easy peasy.

    Easy Recipes for Families

    And for the nights when you do have to cook, here are some easy strategies for getting dinner to the table fast:

    Best Recipes for Kids

    Get all the best tips for cooking with kids here:

    A photo collage shows several easy dinner ideas.

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