Are You Setting Up the Healthy Habits Your Child Needs to Thrive?

Take The Quiz


Deconstructed Food: Win Kids Over at Mealtime

Deconstructed food allows kids to assemble complicated foods and entrees in their own way. Learn how using a deconstructed meal can make family mealtime easier and happier!

I see families struggle with family dinnertime. Not only do they struggle with WHAT to feed their families, they aren’t always excited about dinner time because it’s not always a pleasant interaction.

I have a different approach to serving family meals and it involves deconstructing the entrée, or what I call “The Dinner Bar” approach. You can call this a DIY (Do It Yourself) or a MYO (Make Your Own) approach, too!

I used this frequently when raising my own kids, and it’s an extension of family-style meals.

Mom feeding her young child in Deconstructed Food: How to Win Kids Over at Mealtime

What is Deconstructed Food?

Basically, deconstructed food disassembles, or takes apart, some of those complicated entrees kids may shy away from.

For example, casseroles are tough for some kids to warm up to, but when you separate the ingredients your child may be less intimidated and willing to build his own plate based on the ingredients he wishes to eat.

Take lasagna, for instance. Rather than layer it in the pan, why not separate the noodles, sauce, meat or veggie, and cheese.

Another example, instead of making your tacos, place the shells, filling and toppings in their own dish and let your child put the fixings together. You may be surprised to see your child doesn’t make a taco at all!

How Does a Deconstructed Meal Work? 

Deconstructed meals offer family-friendly, quick meals that will please everyone because each individual gets to pick and choose the ingredients to put on his plate. 

This allows your child more control of what and how much he chooses to eat. (Which aligns with the Satter Division of Responsibility, and favors better self-regulation of eating.)

You will love these deconstructed dinner recipes too, because you get to determine the menu, without the headache of extensive cooking and preparation.

To ensure your family meals are well-rounded and nutritious, include side dishes like vegetables, fruit or milk to encourage a balanced meal plan

With deconstructed meals, you can always present a “square meal” by including most food groups. 

Why Start ‘The Dinner Bar?’ 

As a pediatric dietitian who’s worked with many families over the years, I’m often asked for dinner ideas that work for busy families, picky eaters, and a desire for health-consciousness.

Families generally do well with breakfast and lunch, but they get hung up on dinner. 

Families are really busy, with little time to cook meals, let alone plan, shop, and prepare foods at the end of the day.

I know, I have one of those families!

Many families also have children with variable appetites, taste preferences, and nutritional challenges. 

Parents tell me frequently that it is so hard to choose a meal that will satisfy every family member’s needs, while also achieving the desire for that meal to be healthy, nutritious, not overly processed, and acceptable to their children. 

Plus, recipes sound good, and are good, but somehow they got lost in the busy-ness of schedules and family life. 

Using deconstructed food and mealtimes is an approach that is different!

How Do I Do Deconstructed Meals?

Let’s break it down, step-by-step:

  • When you think of a meal you want to serve your family, think of it in its basic parts. Break down the casserole into the protein, grain, veggies, and other components. If you’re doing a salad for dinner, separate out the ingredients into bowls. If you’re making kabobs, let the kids skewer the components, then grill them. A deconstructed meal presents the components of the main entree as separate, to be chosen and assembled by the eater. 
  • Assemble the meal components on your table or counter in the kitchen if pre-assembly is needed. Let each family member choose which foods, preferred combinations, and how much they want to eat, and serve themselves. 
  • Remember, ‘The Dinner Bar’ offers a variety of  ingredients for individuals to “build their own” entree for dinner.  Other meal items such as fruit, vegetables, grains, and milk are available to choose as well, to round out a nutritious meal.
  • Deconstructed food allows for variability in a child’s appetite and promotes his or her capability to choose which foods to eat (within what is offered).
  • A deconstructed meal is a “healthy smorgasbord” offered in a “build it yourself” atmosphere, and sure to be fun and please your family.

Examples of Deconstructed Food

Here are some family meal ideas using The Dinner Bar and deconstructed food:

Make your own personal pizza: Use fresh dough or pre-made dough and the sauce and toppings of your choice. Let each family member assemble their own pizza to their liking, then bake.

Tacos, Tostadas, Burritos: Separate the shells or wraps from the fillings and place them on platters or in bowls. Let your family members assemble their own combinations.

Entrée Salads: From lettuce and an assortment of vegetables to protein toppers like chicken, shrimp or beans, lay out the components for your entrée salad and let your kids assemble their own.

Loaded Potatoes: I love a loaded potato! It’s a great way to re-use leftovers like chili, roasted vegetables, or other past Dinner Bar items. Bake (or microwave) your potatoes and place them alongside your topping options. Let your family make their own loaded potato.

Remember, each Dinner Bar recipe takes the approach of preparing ingredients and allowing your child to make up his own entree, or plate of food. Each deconstructed dinner also includes side dishes so that you make a balanced meal.

The biggest benefit? These are simple, uncomplicated meals which are easy for mom and dad to prepare, and fun and engaging for children to assemble.

Need More Help with Family Meals?

Be sure to check out our workshop, Eat in Peace, and our Breakfast and Dinner recipe booklets. And check out our recipes for more ideas!

stacie billis on the nourished child podcast

Last Post

Back to School Dinner Ideas with Stacie Billis

Next Post

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) with Dr. Kelly Fradin

Kelly Fradin on The Nourished Child podcast