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The Best Dinners to Encourage Picky Eaters to Be More Adventurous

Build-your-own dinner ideas the whole family will love

Jackie Freeman

Published on: December 22, 2020


Whether you have a few picky eaters or just need to mix things up, DIY dinners are a great way to introduce new foods while making sure you have a little bit of something at the table that everyone will enjoy.

Not only are these build-your-own suppers easy to whip together, they are also extremely versatile and fun for the whole family. Plus, when kids have the opportunity to make their own choices, they are often more adventurous and willing to try new (or previously scoffed at) foods.

Next time you’re trying to plan a meal to please the whole family, try one of these DIY dinners, where little hands (and grown-up hands) can pick and choose their own toppings to create the perfect meal.

Baked potato bar

Baked potatoes are a great base for dinner. Cook up a bunch of baked potatoes (you can use the oven, microwave, slow cooker or an instant pot) and let the family choose from a variety of toppings. For protein, try beans, chili, baked tofu, chopped bacon or ham. Add a bit of dairy with shredded cheese, sour cream or butter. And throw in some veggies such as sliced green onions, diced tomatoes, leftover roasted veggies (broccoli is a favorite, topped with cheese) or even a sprinkling of corn. Warm everything under the broiler for a few minutes and dinner is ready!

Build your own pizza

Start with homemade dough, refrigerated dough, or take a shortcut and use toasted English muffins (use whole wheat English muffins for a healthier take). Then let the kids create their own personal pizzas with jarred marinara sauce, barbecue sauce or pesto as the base. For the toppings, try traditional choices such as pepperoni, sliced olives, Canadian bacon or pineapple. Or try something healthier such as sliced bell peppers, squash, mushrooms or red onions.

Eat your greens

Kids won’t eat salad? Try letting them build their own with some of their favorite ingredients, and you might just find a veg head sprouting. Don’t worry if they don’t take too many greens (shredded romaine or iceberg, arugula or baby spinach) to start with. What matters most is that they are trying some healthy greens. To get them even more involved, let them help prep by slicing hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes with a kid-safe knife, or shredding carrots or cheddar cheese on a box grater. You can even mix in different grains (quinoa or barley), veggies such as roasted sweet potatoes, beans or corn, nuts and seeds, or “crunchy bits” such as croutons or goldfish crackers.

Taco (or nacho) Tuesday

Hard tacos, soft tortillas or even chips are a great base for a fun weeknight meal. Build up from there with your choice of proteins, such as canned refried beans, shredded meat or cooked shrimp. Add another layer with avocado, tomato, bell pepper or radish slices. Top off your creations with your favorite sauces, such as guacamole, salsa, sour cream or a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Don’t forget to add a little shredded lettuce or cheese for the final pièce de résistance.

Breakfast for dinner

One of the most popular meals at our house also happens to be the easiest. Try a build-your-own waffle, pancake or crêpe bar, with sliced fruit (strawberries, bananas or sautéed apples), your favorite spread (Nutella, yogurt, whipped cream, syrup or jam), or some savory bits (crumbled bacon or sausage, shredded cheese). Top it off with an egg cooked “your way” (or not!). Round out your meal with a mimosa-inspired beverage (orange mixed with seltzer, ginger ale or sparkling apple cider) to really tickle the kids’ fancy. If you’re in a rush, there’s no guilt in toasting frozen waffles or making pancakes from a mix!

DIY pasta

Depending on how fancy you want to get, or how many mouths you need to feed, you can offer one or several types of pasta. You can use a variety of pasta shapes — fusilli, farfalle, mini ravioli or orzo. Easy heat-and-serve sauces can range from prepared marinara sauce to pesto to plain butter. Offer some protein such as leftover chopped chicken or (frozen and reheated) store-bought meatballs. Fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, peas, sliced mushrooms, chopped fresh basil, and lots of cheese options (grated Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and fresh mozzarella, just to name a few) are the perfect way to finish your creations.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2019, and updated in December 2020.

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