This post has been originally published on Today I Ate  a Rainbow blog. I think it sums up very nicely the dinnertime strategy I have to use on many nights when the final dish may be too challenging for my little eaters.

If you are a parent of a picky eater, you probably feel exhausted by short order cooking, preparing separate meals for everyone and listening to whining and complaining at mealtimes.

While it is never easy to parent kids through this frustrating, albeit developmentally appropriate, eating stage, research shows that giving in to demands or pressuring kids to eat food is not likely to help. As a mother of a reformed picky eater myself, I have tried all the wrong strategies when my daughter suddenly started refusing previously liked foods at the age 2.  If I knew back then what I know now I would have avoided many mealtime battles with my little one!

One of the secrets of a peaceful mealtime with your toddler is including in a meal some acceptable options she feels comfortable with. But does it mean that you need to cater, cook separate meals or, even worse, offer alternatives to what is on the table? Of course not! This will teach your toddler that you do not expect her to learn to like the foods the family is eating and will only further entrench the picky eating habits.

So what is a busy parent to do? Try serving “deconstructed meals” often as your child is going through the picky eating stage (this typically happens between 2 and 6 years).

Here is an example of a deconstructed salad I serve for dinner often, especially on hot summer nights. I often accompany it with some fresh cooked whole wheat pasta and olive oil with lemon juice for a simple dressing.

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Many compound dishes can be served in a deconstructed way, providing all family members with essentially the same meal that picky eaters can vary slightly depending on their abilities and preferences. Here are basic rules for serving meals in a deconstructed way:

  • when planning meals for your family, choose options with ingredients that can be served separately for everyone to mix them on their own plate. Salad, wraps, sandwiches and pasta, fish and chicken dishes can all be “deconstructed.”
  • serve meals family style by placing food in serving bowls in the middle of the table and encourage everyone to serve themselves what they like.
  • make sure to include at least one food in the meal that your child typically eats.  But do not worry if all your child is only interested in is his favorites like pasta or rice. There is an adjustment period he will have to go through to get used to this new way of eating. You will see more interest in new and less liked foods over time.
  • avoid pressuring your child to serve himself or try certain foods. While some children are more adventurous and compliant, many will react to pressure by doing the exact opposite and will take much longer to come around to eat and enjoy a variety of foods.

Here is another example of a deconstructed meal with all components – meat sauce, pasta and vegetables served separately.

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This simple recipe for deconstructed quesadillas will work for the whole family. Aside from its practical benefit of bringing peace to dinner table, it is also incredibly fun to make with your kids. Some of my Facebook followers tried it at children and even adult parties and it was a hit!

Deconstructed Quesadillas
Serves 6-8

Make your own quesadilla

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked brown rice

1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained

3 oz of ham or cooked chicken breast, cut in small pieces

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 tablespoon olive oil with a sprinkle of salt for 10 minutes or until all the liquid evaporates

1 cup of frozen corn, thawed

2 cup of your favorite shredded cheese

12-16 whole wheat tortillas

Preparation:

1. Pre-heat a frying pan on a medium fire

2. Place one tortilla on a chopping board or plate and invite each child and grown up to place their choice of fillings on one side of it. Fold the tortilla in half, covering the filling.

3. Using a large turner, carefully transfer the tortilla on a frying pan. For big kid and adults, place the plain tortilla on a pan first and ask them to add their choice of filling to the tortilla then.

4. Heat the tortilla on a medium heat until the filling is heated through and cheese has melted.

5. Carefully transfer on a chopping board and slice into triangles using a knife or a pizza cutter.

6. Enjoy!

Need more tips and recipes to help you feed your family easy, nutritious  and, most importantly, stress free meals? I am offering online classes for parents struggling with all kinds of feeding issues. You can read more and register here. 

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