When it comes to family dinner ideas there is one that reigns supreme in our house: Chinese Hot Pot. It is the trifecta of easy family cooking: simple, fast, and delicious (for kids and adults).
Like fondue, but without the cheese, Chinese Hot Pot is a colorful combination of vegetables, meats, seafood, and noodles that each diner cooks for themselves in a big pot of simmering water on the table. That may sound like a recipe for disaster for small children, but I assure you it is one of the easiest ways to get your kids to: 1) stay at the table for more than 10 minutes, and 2) eat loads of colorful, wholesome foods. Hot Pot was the easiest way to get my kids to try and enjoy fish, bok choy, and Asian broccoli.
How to Hot Pot Like a Pro:
1) Wash and prep your ingredients
Regulars at our Chinese Hot Pot dinners typically include wild Atlantic salmon, baby bok choy, rainbow carrots, and mushrooms. Tofu or thinly sliced beef are nice additions as well. Let your kids pick a few familiar foods to feature on the menu, along with one or two new ones to try.
And then there are the noodles! Fresh udon or ramen are best, but fettucine works as well. If you choose to use dry noodles, pre-cook them for a few minutes before setting them on the table.
2) Set the table
Place each item on it’s own dish. That’s the extent of “cooking” you need to do, which is why Chinese Hot Pot is one of my favorite family dinner ideas—DIY at its finest. Set the pot in the middle of the table, taking care to ensure that the cord stays out of the way. A tasty selection of sauces for dipping is a must. Make your own, like Ginger-Green Onion Dipping Sauce (a delicious and easy recipe featured in my upcoming cookbook), or use simple sauces like tamari. For the adventurous, try a chili sauce, like sriracha sauce, to spice things up.
3) Cook together
Using a small net, invite each person to dip his or her food into the boiling water. Let the food cook for a few minutes, then fish it out. In our family, each person plays a role cooking for the group. James is typically in charge of the salmon department. Catherine owns the thinly sliced Kobe beef and tamago. I handle bok choy and all manner of leafy greens. Anthony is the noodle aficionado, masterfully scooping the noodles out of the pot and into individual bowls without splattering hot water on unsuspecting guests (a Hot Pot faux pas). Get everyone in the mix by giving them a job.
At the end of the meal, the water will have transformed into a delicious broth. Portion it into small bowls and slurp—the perfect ending to the easiest family meal ever.
The only downside? Dishes. But I’ll happily deal with those plates when my kids eat a wholesome dinner without a fuss!