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Easy Dinner Ideas Even Picky Eaters Might Eat

They might also throw it at the wall, but at least you tried.
Just. Try. It.
Just. Try. It.

In my experience, there are four types of parents when it comes to feeding their young kids dinner:

1. Those who attempt family meals, but in the end wind up making a separate toddler-friendly plate (read: noodles) after their kids reject the offering, and are basically a short-order chef to a tiny tyrant.

2. Those who say eff it, feed their kid a toddler-friendly meal (read: noodles) early, then make a second, adult dinner to enjoy once the kid is asleep. Because who doesn’t love scarfing down a heavy dinner at 9 p.m.?

3. Those who have completely given in and just eat like a toddler now, subsisting entirely on mac and cheese, pizza, and bread alongside their child.

4. Those who swear up and down that their magical unicorn toddlers eat WHATEVER IS PUT IN FRONT OF THEM, be it curry, sushi, plant-based everything, and they have great manners, to boot. GOOD FOR YOU, BRENDA.

This article is not for the group 4 parents.

WATCH: How to handle picky eaters. Story continues below.

Like all of us when we first started out, I planned to be a group 4 parent. Of course my kid will eat whatever I eat! You just have to keep tryin-HAHAHAHA no.

As I watched plate after plate of my blood, sweat, and tears get tossed on the floor while my kid yelled for bread or candy, I have definitely become more of a short-order chef/eff it/give up entirely mom. But now that my kid is three and I’m gestating another one, I feel strongly that I should only have to cook one dinner per day (if that ... thanks for always being there, Swiss Chalet), and it should not always be cheese pizza.

And that’s how I became obsessed with deconstructed dinners.

What are they? An adult meal you will actually enjoy eating that can be deconstructed into components your kid will also eat.

Why do they work? In theory, you get to eat something delicious, and your kid gets to graze on the ingredients. Perfect for the kid who hates when foods touch each other or have been in contact with the dreaded sauce.

How do you know if a recipe can be deconstructed? If you look at a recipe and think “I would eat the hell out of that” also ask yourself if your kid might eat parts of it. If yes, it will work.

Why are they genius? You only have to cook one dish.


Here’s a recipe I recently tried: bacon, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash pasta.

Get the recipe: Recipe Runner

I looked at this recipe and saw a) a delicious dinner my husband and I would enjoy, b) noodles, meat, and vegetables I could put on a plate for my kid, c) the potential for leftovers. Winner winner, pasta dinner!

I swapped out the bacon for turkey sausage, because I wasn’t sure about serving my toddler a plate of bacon for dinner. I also used whole-grain noodles to get some fibre in us all. Aaaand I accidentally bought sweet potato instead of squash, which increased the roasting time a little, but was a delicious surprise.

Here’s the adult version:

Tasty, right?
Tasty, right?

And the kid version:

Yes, BRENDA, we're still using Halloween napkins in mid-November.
Yes, BRENDA, we're still using Halloween napkins in mid-November.

What I did: Set aside a portion of the pasta once it was cooked, and mixed it with my kid’s only allowable topping: butter. Cut up a serving of sausage and veggies into bite-sized pieces BEFORE I mixed it all together, lest they touch each other. Added some shredded cheese to mimic the parmesan we had on ours.

How was it? Frigging delicious.

No, I mean did the kid eat it? Oh. Well, kind of.

He really enjoyed ... the noodles.
He really enjoyed ... the noodles.

Things started out well enough. He declared “this is a yummy dinner!” as he ate the buttered noodles. Predictably, he also ate the cheese.

But then things started to devolve.

When I told him to stop dropping noodles in my water glass.
When I told him to stop dropping noodles in my water glass.

Aaand then everything went to shit.

Shredded cheese was a poor choice, in hindsight.
Shredded cheese was a poor choice, in hindsight.

BUT. Was it delicious? Yes. Did I only have to cook one meal? Yes. Did my toddler get some nutritional value out of it before he threw it all over hell’s half acre? Yes.

And bonus! We had leftovers the next day, and my kid CLEANED HIS PLATE. I called the sausage “meatballs,” which was music to his ears. We also bribed him with the promise of putting up Christmas lights if he could sit like a big boy. Whatever works, right?

Five stars would make again.
Five stars would make again.

So, yes, I am very pro deconstructed meals.

Here are some more recipes you could try to deconstruct if you, too, want to reap the rewards:

  • Toddler version: buttered bowties, plain chicken, peas
  • Toddler version: plain rice, bite-sized pieces of beef, broccoli (no sauce!)
  • Toddler version: Rice, cauliflower, black beans, tomatoes, guacamole (tell them it’s slime?)
  • Toddler version: egg noodles, plain chicken, carrots, raw bell peppers (kids like the crunch)

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