Some kids are lifelong picky eaters, but most kids have waxing and waning seasons of it. Sometimes it's even day to day. Right now, my 6-year-old refuses cauliflower unless it's mashed. Luckily there's a dinner strategy that we call "deconstructing" that keeps us from cooking separate meals and saving our sanity during picky seasons. Deconstructing dinner allows you to parcel out components of a meal for picky eaters (for example, leave out sauces or spices) so your kids can get a nutritious (but never fussy) meal and you get to eat something you'll enjoy.
Not sure what this strategy looks like in real life? Here's what a week of meals looks like for my family of four when either one of my two children tries to go on a green vegetable strike.
Welcome to This Week's Meal Plan
I believe meal planning is the secret to stress-free weeknight dinners. Since I'm frequently asked by friends and family what I'm cooking for dinner each week, I share my weekly meal plan here. Whether you're just learning to meal plan and looking for a real-life example of how this works or you're an old pro on the hunt for inspiration, here's a peek at how I'm feeding my family this week.
New to meal planning? Start here.
Ah, pasta — the picky eater's best friend! Not all pasta recipes are flexible (looking at you, one-pan pasta), but this recipe allows you to portion out some plain pasta for all, some sausage for some, broccoli for others, and finally feta for a few. Chop and cook extra broccoli for later in the week. If you have a pasta hater, consider baking a few potatoes — either sweets or Russets — and serving the sausage and broccoli alongside them. If you end up making potatoes, make up enough for Wednesday's dinner.
Tuesday: Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas
Here's how we do these sheet pan fajitas in my house with two finicky kids. First I set aside some sliced peppers to serve raw for my kids, before everything goes into the oven. While the chicken, peppers, and onions roast, I toast tortillas and make a few simple cheese quesadillas for the kids. They'll still get the fajita chicken with their raw peppers and quesadillas, but their plates look quite different from ours. Save any leftover fajita filling for tomorrow's twice-baked potatoes.
Wednesday: Bacon-Cheddar Twice-Baked Potatoes
Consider this twice-baked potato recipe a template and simple upgrade on the idea of baked potatoes for dinner. Less picky eaters can enjoy these straight-up with a green salad on the side, or you can fold leftover sausage (from Monday) or chicken and peppers (from Tuesday) into the filling. For super picky eaters, top the potato skins with just the cheese and serve broccoli (remember you prepped some on Monday!), a dollop of yogurt, and sliced apples on the side.
Thursday: Mediterranean Chickpea and Feta Wraps
Putting a recipe that I really want to eat on the meal plan of a picky week keeps me from getting dinner fatigue. These wraps prove that you can have what you want and feed picky eaters too. I use up Monday's feta cheese in the wraps for myself and then make super-simple wraps for picky kids (think: just the chickpea mash or a swipe of store-bought hummus) and serve cucumber slices on the side. I'll also be crisping a few slices of prosciutto I bought for Friday's pizza for my husband's wrap (he doesn't like feta).
Friday: Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza
This ostensibly grown-up pizza also sets you up to make and bake a simple cheese and tomato pizza. To ensure my kids eat some vegetables before their pizza, I'll set up a plate of chopped raw vegetables like carrots, peppers, and sugar snap peas (or whatever is left in the fridge) along with some dip. They're more inclined to munch on these when they're hungry and waiting for pizza.