Deconstructed Meals: Easier Family Dinners with Picky Eaters

deconstructed meals for picky eaters

Picky Eating is a Challenge

Cooking for a family comes with many challenges.  There’s planning, grocery shopping, preparing food to start with.  After that, it can be frustrating when not everyone in the family wants to eat what has been prepared.  Cooking for picky eaters can be tricky, but there are ways to make mealtimes easier for everyone.  Deconstructing meals is one strategy to make meal time more relaxing.

What are Deconstructed Meals?

“Deconstructed meals” mean different parts of a complete meal are separated out before the whole meal is prepared.  This means that kids (or other family members) can choose which parts of the meal they eat, or do not eat. 

Let’s use a cheesy chicken casserole that has main ingredients of chicken, broccoli, cheese and rice for dinner as an example. To deconstruct this meal, set aside some of the cooked chicken, some of the cooked broccoli, some of the cooked rice, and some of the shredded cheese.  Then, move forward with preparing the casserole recipe as planned with the rest of the ingredients. 

If you’re serving this meal to smaller children and making their plates, try serving the chicken, shredded cheese, rice, and broccoli with a little ranch dressing, hummus, or even some of the sauce from the casserole to try for dipping the broccoli.  Add a spoonful of the cooked casserole on the side in case they want to try it in that form. 

For older kids, simply put all of the separated out ingredients on a cutting board or large plate/platter, and let them serve themselves what they want.  This keeps the whole family eating the same meal, so no special separate meals are made on the side.

Here are some other easy meals/types of food to serve deconstructed:

  • Creamy or saucy pasta dishes – before mixing in sauce and protein or veggies, separate out some of the plain pasta, and serve with the protein and veggies on the side
  • Tacos/Mexican food – put taco meat or fajitas, veggies, beans, rice, cheese, and salsa all in separate bowls and let the family make their own tacos or bowls
  • Salad – Put chicken, meat, hardboiled eggs or beans, dressing, salad greens/lettuce, cheese, nuts, fresh or dried fruit, and any other favorite salad toppings in separate bowls or on a large cutting board or platter next to each other so everyone can create their own.  If the kids don’t like raw salad greens, try having other veggies available that are easy to pick up and dip in dressing, but still go well on salad.  Try options like chopped cucumber, shredded or baby carrots, or chopped celery, or broccoli. 
  • Baked Potatoes with a variety of topping options – set out shredded cheese, cooked broccoli or spinach, cooked ground or shredded chicken or beef, with a salad or beans on the side. For smaller children, it may be easier for them to eat cooked baked potatoes that are cut up into small cubes they can pick up. 
  • Pizza – Set out some family-favorite pizza toppings, such as pepperoni or ham, fresh pineapple, shredded cheese, and veggies.  Use the rest of the pizza ingredients to assemble and cook the main pizza that will be served.
  • Sandwiches or wraps – Set out bread, wraps, or tortillas, along with a protein such as cooked meat, tuna, or beans, and other sandwich toppings – lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, cheese, mayo or other dressing.  Let everyone pick and choose what they want. They can make their own sandwich or eat the ingredients they choose separately.
  • Yogurt parfaits – these are great for any meal of the day.  Set out a variety of chopped fruit, nuts, flax or chia seeds if desired, along with yogurt.  Everyone can make their own!

grilled chicken with peach pico de gallo deconstructed dinner

Think Outside the Box when Making Family-Favorite Recipes

Try experimenting with ways to deconstruct some of your family favorite recipes.  If you need help learning different strategies to work with the pickier eaters in the family, consider working with a Registered Dietitian.  We specialize in working with you to find ways to make a healthy lifestyle easier in your life.  With a little bit of practice and thinking ahead, everyone in the family can eat and enjoy the same meals together! 

Amber Ketchum, MDS, RDN, LD


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