Not Your Average Dinner: Taco Night

Five-minute upgrades (like easy decorations and clever side dishes) make this standby dinner even more delightful.

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Easy Extras

Taco night is a mainstay on many families' dinner menus — it's reliable, it's delicious, and it lends itself to a DIY, buffet-style meal. But like any dinner habit, it can get ho-hum after awhile. So we dreamed up some clever upgrades that will give your dinner the zip it's been missing. Our only rule? That no idea was so time-consuming or challenging that it overtook taco night's easy-peasy vibe.

Give Disposables Some Flair

Paper cups are already handy, since they free you from post-meal cleanup. But they're also a blank canvas for some extra taco-night style. Enter Washi tape, which can transform almost any material in seconds. Here, we layered a bunch of hues to mimic the pattern of traditional Mexican serape blankets — but you can also just hand a few rolls to your kids and let them decorate cups however they like.

Top Off Straws

Are your kids feeling extra crafty? Have them snip paper cacti out of construction paper and then glue them to straws. Since the plants come in many shapes and sizes, there's almost no wrong way to make them.

Dole Out Personal Chip Bags

Serving dinner in disposable containers doesn't sound special, but chip bags actually bring a takeout-style playfulness (plus built-in portion control) to your meal. Steal from your stash of paper lunch bags to create these individual servings in a flash.

Serve Guac with a Twist

Follow your chip bags' lead and serve cute individual cups of guacamole, too. Chopped pineapple adds an unexpected fruity zip to the creamy dip and is easily mixed into homemade or store-bought guac.

Whip Up a Two-Minute Centerpiece

Yes, your dinner table can boast a fun centerpiece, even on a weeknight. First, pick up a bunch of supermarket flowers on your way to the cash register. Then, repurpose the cans from your dinner prep as vases. Though the materials are unassuming, the colorful florals look super festive next to the bright labels, which hint at the Mexican theme.

Cut Out Papel Picado

If your kids know how to snip out a paper snowflake, they know how to create this riff on Mexican folk art. You can have them fold and cut from templates found online, but patterns they create on their own will feel more personal (and come together quicker!). Use string to connect the squares into a banner, or simply lay them on your table as a makeshift runner.

Choose a Crowd-Pleasing Taco

You can't have taco night without the main event! Turkey is a lighter choice than beef and is the perfect base for a bevy of toppings. This recipe suggests crisping tortillas into shells, but store-bought taco shells are totally acceptable stand-ins on a busy night.

Get the Recipe: Turkey Tacos Picadillo

Build a Toppings Bar

A spread of toppings lets each family member perfect his or her own plate (and relieves the cook of such duties). Plus, it's the perfect opportunity to encourage your crew to try new veggies like radishes or jicama. You can also fill squeeze bottles with sour cream for better control and easy squeezing for kids. 

Serve a Colorful Side

Sometimes the simplest ingredients yield the most-vibrant results. Frozen corn and bell peppers turn into a tasty veggie side in just 20 minutes.

Get the Recipe: Confetti Corn

Decorate Churros for Dessert

Taco night's DIY vibe can continue through the meal's sweet ending. Store-bought churros make this take on a traditional dessert weeknight-friendly. Find them in the frozen section or the international aisle, and have everyone top them with cinnamon, sugar, chocolate and sprinkles.