I’m at a restaurant, perusing the menu, and I zero in on the sandwich section. I see a burger (though it could have just as easily been a turkey club, or french dip) and determine, “Yep, that’s what I want.” I put my menu down and carry on a conversation with the other members of my party, waiting for our server to stop by and take our order. When she comes over and says, “Is everyone ready,” I confidently proclaim, “Yeah, I’ll have the burger,” and hand her my menu. Then, she asks, “What would you like for your side?” Ugggghhhh, the side. I forgot about the side! I scramble around, muttering, and finally ask, “What are my options?” She then replies, “French fries, cole slaw, or fruit.”

“Booooooring,” I think.

Nevertheless, I’m compelled to pick something, out of nothing more than obligation. My brain says “fruit” but my mouth usually says “fries.” I don’t really want either, but I eat the fries begrudgingly, thinking the whole time, “I wish I had a better side.” Fries? Standard. Fruit? I don’t know that I’d call the pitiful, flavorless, soggy items in that cup “fruit” anymore. Cole slaw? First, shouldn’t that just come with my sandwich, like a pickle; and second, is that ever a serious contender?

Every once in a while, though, I’m surprised with an option that makes me take notice. It’s an option that screams, “This ain’t your average side!” Usually, the server lists off the same humdrum choices identified above, but then utters, “Tater tots.” My ears perk up, I sit up a little bit straighter, and efficiently turn my head to look my server in the eyes. I wait a split second to confirm I heard her right and blurt out, “Tater tots. I’ll have those.” Confident in my selection, perhaps even cracking a half smile, raising my eyebrows, and assuredly nodding my head, my non-verbals signal to the table, “Nailed that choice!”

Tater tots are good. Really good. As showcased in “Napoleon Dynamite,” they’re cravable, addictive, and even portable! Additionally, they have a certain quality that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe they take me back to simpler times of playing outside, or recess. Maybe it’s that they taste like bite-sized McDonald’s hash browns, those greasy perfect potato patties! Maybe it’s because they’re common enough to be familiar, yet uncommon enough to be tired and boring. More than likely, it’s probably an amalgamation of all three. Regardless, tater tots hit the spot, providing a welcome respite from the standard side item doldrums.

If you’re like me and you enjoy tater tots from time to time, you may be curious about how you can breathe a little life into your at-home side item repertoire. Interested in making traditional tater tots? Check out our tater tots recipe!

Here’s the thing, though: Remember how I mentioned part of the reason tater tots are so appealing is that they are common enough to be familiar, but uncommon enough to be tired? Well, placing this recipe into your rotation, and only this recipe into your rotation, might turn an occasional treat into (dare I say it?) a boring, predictable side. To avoid this, you should consider classing up your tots. Here are a few ideas for how to do that:

The Cuban Tot

Do you like Cuban sandwiches? Yes? Then you might love Cuban tater tots. With ham, swiss, mustard, and pickles wrapping your crispy spud, this unique combo can keep your tots fresh and exciting. Get the recipe.

Bacon-Wrapped Tots

Food Marriage

Similar to the Cuban tot above, these tater tots combine several great tastes into one. A bit simpler, since you’re only wrapping your tot in one ingredient, these still pack a powerful punch in the taste department. Because bacon. Come to think of it, I’m sure pancetta and prosciutto would work well too. Get the recipe.

Loaded Tater Tots

I Thee Cook

You know what’s good? Loaded baked potatoes. You know what else? Loaded double-baked potatoes. You know what else?! Loaded mashed potatoes. So, it comes as no surprise that a loaded tater tot would be great too. Sour cream, cheese, bacon, and chives? Throw it in a tot and take your experience to the next level. Get the recipe.

The Tot Cup

Sweet Caroline’s Cooking

I found a recipe once for mac ‘n’ cheese cups made using a muffin tin. These perfectly portioned individual snacks proved to be a great accompaniment to a family meal. Turns out, you can use this strategy to create a giant tot that can then be dressed to your own specifications too. Similar to the loaded tots, only bigger and customizable, throw sour cream, chives, bacon, or avocado on top once they come out of the oven, and you have some fancy, king-sized tots! Get the recipe.

Sweet Potato Tots

Wishful Chef

Every once in a while, you might be feeling frisky and want to switch up your tuber of choice. Looking for a “better” carb and a sweeter flavor? Try out sweet potato tots. Throw in a brown sugar and maple dipping sauce, and you might actually get the kids interested in eating some sweets. Plus, sweet potato tots can be baked, so…class, class, class. Get the recipe.

Cauliflower Tots

Little Things

You might not believe it, but cauliflower can be a solid substitute for potatoes. Given this, making a cauliflower tot makes a lot of sense. The flavors and consistency are similar enough to still summon the good feelings associated with eating regular old tater tots, but different (and probably more healthy) enough to shake things up. Again, this is a solid option to try if your kids oppose veggies. Get the recipe.

The next time you’re out and about, you’ll likely be hoping to hear “tater tots” as a side option. But you don’t have to wait in order to indulge. At home, you can infuse your meals with excitement by trying any of the tots recipes highlighted above. Your kids will probably enjoy ‘em and, if you’re anything like me, you will too. Bon appetit! Ohhhh, French! Now that’s classy.

Header image courtesy of Sweet Caroline's Cooking.

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