Night after night, most parents are faced with the arduous task of putting economical, nutritious and appealing meals on the table. Sometimes, it’s a snap – there may be a family favorite or a slow-cooker meal that’s always a crowd-pleaser. Other times, it’s pure drudgery. Despite your best efforts, you know your family is going to be less than enthused to sit down to a lack-luster meal. And that’s where the fun can come in.

If there’s one room in every home that should be filled with fun and laughter, it’s the kitchen.

Night after night, most parents are faced with the arduous task of putting economical, nutritious and appealing meals on the table.

Sometimes, it’s a snap – there may be a family favorite or a slow-cooker meal that’s always a crowd-pleaser. Other times, it’s pure drudgery. Despite your best efforts, you know your family is going to be less than enthused to sit down to a lack-luster meal. And that’s where the fun can come in.

Let them eat cake

Is it another meat loaf-and-mashed-potatoes night? Try this new twist: Bake the meatloaf in two round or square cake pans, and use the potatoes to “frost” the middle and outside of the “cake” layers. Use a pastry bag and large tip to add a quick decorative potato border to the top and bottom edges of your “cake.” To finish it off, use dots of ketchup and mustard as accents. If you’re really ambitious, add food coloring to a small amount of mashed potatoes to make a few colorful flowers.

The few minutes it takes to apply the “frosting” are definitely worth the time. This Layer Cake Meat Loaf will bring a smile to everyone at your table, young and old alike. And, it tastes good, too!

Let it snow

Savory stews, hearty soups and nourishing casseroles are winter mainstays. For a new twist, dress them up with whimsical snowmen created from mashed potatoes.

Use about 3 tablespoons of potatoes for the bodies, and one tablespoon for the heads. The snowmen can be placed on top of the main course before it goes into the oven. Before serving, add the accessories, such as peas, peppercorns and carrots. Complete the look with a ketchup scarf.

Mashed potato fun is only limited by the imagination. Ghosts, angels, animals, fruit and more are all possible. While these spud sculptures certainly appeal to kids, creating them should be left to adults if working with hot mashed potatoes.

Recipes courtesy of Taste of Home “The Ultimate Groundbeef Cookbook,” www.tasteofhome.com.

The Journal-Standard