13 deconstructed dinners that can be made family-style

Dinner times can be super stressful when you have fussy eaters in the house. Serving deconstructed dinners in a family-style at the table can help.

We’ve talked lots about the beige diet and our struggles with our autistic children to eat a variety of foods. One major piece of advice from Occupational Therapists that specialise in feeding is serving deconstructed dinners. Referred to as family-style or buffet-style, deconstructed dinners are a way to:

  • provide sensory exposure to different foods
  • utilise the ‘Division of Responsibility‘ model where parents provide, and children decide what they will eat
  • reduce anxiety, stress and negative emotions around the dinner table by giving control/choices to the child
  • make it easier on the parent to provide healthy food without cooking multiple different meals each night

Here’s 13 different deconstructed dinners that can be served out family-style for relaxed, healthy eating.

Home-made Pizza

cooked pizza
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

The ultimate make-it-yourself food. Home-made pizza is as simple as making or buying pizza dough, and preparing a bunch of different toppings. Chop up toppings and lay them out across a bench for everyone to make their own pizza, their way.

Healthy toppings could include:

  • diced fresh vegetables including capsicum, thin zucchini slices, potato slices, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion
  • pre-cooked vegetables like roasted sweet potato or pumpkin
  • plant-based ‘meats’
  • non-dairy cheeses, grated
  • pineapple
  • herbs like rosemary or basil
  • tomato paste or pesto as a base spread
  • olives, capers, sundried tomatoes or marinated artichokes from a jar

This deconstructed dinner allows parents to offer a number of healthy options, but children can decide what they want and how much on their own pizza.

Mexican tacos/burritos/nachos

Many mexican-style foods are great deconstructed.

Make a tray of

  • chopped vegetables such as lettuce, tomato, capsicum, cucumber, grated carrot, red onion
  • grated cheese
  • lime-juice cooked rice
  • beans, such as mix of black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, with seasoning, or a seasoned plant-based mince
  • salsa
  • jalapeños
  • hot sauce

Children can then choose what they want to add to their taco or burrito or nacho stack.

Stirfry with rice

Stirfry probably isn’t the first dish you think of for deconstructed dinners, because everything gets stir-fried together.

But, it’s pretty quick and easy to fry up individual components, or groups of ingredients, to serve a semi-deconstructed stirfry.

Cook up brown rice, white rice or noodles and serve separately on the table.

Stirfry the protein of your choice, from cashew nuts, sliced tofu, or tempeh. Serve that out separately.

Stirfry a variety of vegetables such as thinly sliced carrot, snow peas, bok choy, baby corn, bamboo shoot and broccoli.

Heat up a drizzle sauce made of soy sauce, oil, garlic, and ginger mixed with a little cornstarch.

Everyone can serve out their rice or noodles, then top with the cooked protein or vegetables of their choice, deciding if they want a sauce or not.

Buddha bowls

mouthwatering buddha bowl
Photo by Heather Brock on Pexels.com

A modern deconstructed food, Buddha bowls are an easy way to serve out a range of healthy foods and have children choose what they want.

A Buddha bowl could have the options of

  • a grain, such as rice, quinoa, polenta or cous cous
  • a protein, such as marinated tofu strips, seasoned roasted chick peas or beans
  • chopped vegetables, such as lettuce, grated carrot, cucumber, roasted pumpkin cubes, wilted kale, roasted cauliflower, red onion, corn or avocado
  • something crunchy, like salted nuts, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds
  • a sauce/dressing, like hommus, a tahini-soy-maple syrup based dressing, or a satay peanut butter-sweet chili-coconut milk dressing

Burgers and toasted sandwiches

Swap in a staple of fresh, wholemeal bread buns or a tasty sourdough loaf bread. Put out a variety of fillings including:

  • different spreads like hommus or mayo or tomato/bbq sauce
  • salad items like lettuce, sliced beetroot, roasted pumpkin, red onion, cheese slices or pickles
  • falafel or plant-based burger patties

Everyone can then make their own burger, roll or toasted sandwich with the fixings that they want

Hot pot

A popular Korean dish that’s personalised for each person who orders it, hot pot can be tailored to meet individual needs.

Make up a big pot of vegetable stock. Ladle out smaller portions of the stock into a small saucepan to make each person’s hot pot dish.

Have a variety of ingredients that can be quickly added to the small saucepan of stock and that cook in a couple of minutes. This might include:

  • sliced onion
  • kimchi
  • sliced mushrooms
  • spring onion
  • tofu strips
  • bok choy or other green leafy vegetable

Top with bean shoots, diced spring onions and mix in korean chili paste and soy sauce to taste.


edamame bean risotto in ceramic bowl
Photo by Alesia Kozik on Pexels.com

While risotto traditionally is all made together in the pan, it’s possible to make a cheat’s risotto that’s deconstructed.

Make up a plain risotto in the pan, with just the rice, stock and wine.

Separately, cook ingredients that can be added to the risotto at the table such as:

  • frozen corn, peas or green beans
  • caramelised onion and garlic
  • roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, cherry tomatoes or zuchinni
  • toasted almond slivers
  • sauted mushrooms
  • finely grated cheeses

These additions and garnishes can be stirred in at the table for a deconstructed risotto that each person can create themselves.

Roast trays

A really easy dish is a tray of roasted items. Chop up vegetables into similar-sized pieces and place on a baking tray or dish. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and season with chicken salt. Roast for 30-60 minutes. Children can then select the items off the tray that they want to put on their plate for dinner.

The roast tray might include:

  • potato
  • sweet potato
  • pumpkin
  • capsicum
  • cauliflower
  • chickpeas from a tin
  • cherry tomatoes

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs is a simple dish to serve deconstructed at the table.

In one pot, cook spaghetti (or any other pasta) in boiling water. Drain and serve the pot on the table.

In a saucepan or oven tray, cook the meatballs (or plant balls – we like the Ikea plant balls) and serve them on the table.

Using another pot, heat up a jar of pasta sauce and serve that on the table.

In a small bowl, serve out some grated cheese.

Children can then serve the amount of pasta they want, how many plant balls, how much sauce (if any) and practice their eating-responsibility.

Wrap it up

close up photo of burrito
Photo by Nishant Aneja on Pexels.com

A number of dishes consist of different items rolled up and eaten. From the Mexican burritos or enchiladas, to Greek yiros or pita breads. Or, Vietnamese cold rolls and Japanese sushi.

For any of these wrapped dishes, take your wrap – either a tortilla, a yiros bread, rice paper or nori sheet with sushi rice.

Put out a variety of fillings, which might include:

  • a protein (beans for a tortilla, yiros meat or falafel, marinated tofu strips for asian offerings)
  • salad items (thinly sliced or grated carrot, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, coriander, rice noodles for the cold rolls)
  • sauces (salsa for a tortilla, hommus or garlic mayo for a yiros, soy sauce or sweet chili for a cold roll or sushi)

Wrap up the meal as you need it, at the table so there’s plenty of options and self-serve convenience.

Okonomiyaki / Savory Pancakes

Like the hot pot, this item needs to be cooked individually each time, so takes a bit longer to prepare.

Make up a savory pancake batter with flour, soy sauce, miso, milk and water.

Thinly grate different items that can go into the savory pancake batter such as cabbage, onion, carrot or various “meats”. Each person can select the fillings they want, add a bit of batter to stick it all together, and cook their own savory pancake.

Toppings are also easy to self-select, from pickled ginger, soy sauce, mayo, or spring onions.

Baked potatoes

Just like tacos, baked potatoes are a classic deconstructed meal.

Bake potatoes in their jackets in the oven or in campfire coals. Microwave them beforehand to par-cook the insides before getting the jackets crunchy in the oven.

Toppings could include:

  • grated cheese
  • homemade coleslaw with grated cabbage, carrot and spring onion
  • plant-based mince mix, baked beans, or leftover mexican bean mix
  • sour cream or hommus


grilling kebab
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Summer in Australia means BBQ dinners. This dinner is easily deconstructed and put out on the table for people to select what they want.

A deconstructed BBQ meal could include:

  • a choice a barbecued sausages, patties, kebabs
  • grilled potato slices, sliced onion, eggplant slices, zucchini slices or corn on the cob
  • bread slices
  • sauces such as tomato sauce, BBQ sauce or chili sauce
  • assorted salads like potato salad, garden salad, coleslaw or other salad of choice

Conclusion: deconstructed dinners

If you have fussy eaters, beige diets, sensory issues, or generally difficult dinner times, try these deconstructed dinners and serve it out family-style. With 13 to choose from, that’s 2 weeks worth of dinners served deconstructed at the table!

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