Top 10 Deconstructed Dinners

So I got this nice note from a reader the other day:

I have to tell you I did my first real deconstructed meal the other night where I was not catering to the kids. It was so easy, such an epiphany! My husband and I made Chicken Tikka Masala with browned cauliflower and frozen peas in it. Before adding the (jarred) sauce, I loaded up plates with juicy sauteed chicken chunks and browned cauliflower and added some grapes and they Gobbled. It. Up. I had hot dogs at the ready but was feeling very sad about it. So this was amazing!! Thank you! — Jennie T.

Chicken Tikka Masala! That is some brave new territory, and it made me think that we’ve covered the DALS Top 10 Quick MealsTop 10 Side DishesTop 10 Ways to Use a Rotisserie Chicken, and even Abby’s Top 10 Reads last summer — so I think it’s high time we rounded up our favorite Deconstructed Dinners for the family table. Break it down now:

1. Tortilla Soup (Which also has a nice definition of Deconstructed Dinner for those of you completely in the dark here)

2. Chinese Chicken and Broccoli (like Jennie T., just save a few of the unsauced chicken chunks for kids who might object to the hoisin)

3. Chili-Rubbed Chicken with Mexican Salad, shown above (related: Burrito Bowl)

4.  Steakhouse Steak Salad with (or without!) Horseradish Dressing

5. Fish in Parchment Paper (Part 1 and Part 2) to be filed under “Oldie but Goodie.”

6. Orrechiette with Sausage and Broccoli (the classic)

7. Kale Cobb Salad (hold the Easter egg dye)

8. Chicken Orzo Soup, shown above, page 290 Dinner: A Love Story  (When Abby was a soup-o-thrope, I used to pluck the tender shredded chicken from this and lightly pat it with a paper towel before serving it to her with lightly dried carrots and a mound of orzo. What can I say? I really wanted her to like my favorite soup.)

9. Spicy Peanut Noodles (it’s just “plain pasta with a side of crispy snow peas” to the kids if you serve the peanut sauce on the side), page 261 Dinner: A Love Story

10. Quinoa with Spinach, Egg, & Sriracha (No matter how much I deconstruct and disguise this, my kids will not touch, but you might have better luck.)

Don’t see your favorite? What is it?

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This is genius. And not just for serving kids. I love to entertain but am finding it harder and harder to come up with recipes that meet the needs of various adult friends who don’t eat meat/gluten/dairy or whatever. Thank you for the whole concept of deconstruction, and the recipe roundup!!!


Ohhhh thank you!
Now how about a top 10 list of meals to make double of so that you can freeze half?


so many good ideas for picky kids and husbands alike!

we made spicier CI chicken tikka last week, my son ate some chicken (pre-sauced! ) and plain rice, plus clementines.

this also worked for our superbowl salad! our son ate the crispy chicken along with the beloved peach yogurt and sliced cucumbers.

and just for fun:


Let me again thank you for the deconstructed concept! As a working mama, there is just not time to prepare multiple meals, plus I am not a short order cook. We had homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner last week, and luckily I am getting versed in this concept. My grilled cheese avoiding daughter had toast sticks to dip in her soup with sliced cheese and pickles on the side. She even ate and liked the roasted garlic, so who am I to complain! Brilliant and such an easy mind bend once you think of it.


I made your Chicken Orzo soup on Sunday for the first time and I am eating the leftovers as I am reading this now. It is easy and absolutely delicious. My husband and older daughter loved it too. My younger one? Well let’s just say I will try again, deconstructed. I also made Rosa’s Mud Cake. I included it as the base in a death by chocolate trifle for a Superbowl party and people are still talking about how good it was! Thanks Jenny!


The quinoa/egg recipe made me want to try quinoa again after some past failures. But isn’t the quinoa bland just cooked in water with no salt or spices or anything? Can you saute it in the pan with the spinach to give it more flavor, kind of like fried rice, or would it just stick? Trying to avoid another quinoa failure.

Sarah J

Last night I did a deconstructed dinner of a salad with smoked salmon (canned, really good stuff, not from grocery store) and roasted fingerling potatoes. Kids skipped the green leaves and the lemon/chili dressing but had the blanched green beans, roasted fingerlings, smoked salmon (both of them gobbled it), avocado and some grape tomatoes (not in the salad, but they like them) it was so great. Parents enjoying yummy, almost-restaurant worthy salad and kids eating veggies and smoked salmon. hooray!
Thanks for your blog. Love it.


This is such a valuable skill to have, especially when you have kids with such different tastes. I have one meat-eating, seafood-loving kid, who hates carrots but will eat kale….to an almost-vegetarian who hates seafood and eats all veggies except greens.

My favorite deconstructables are salads, although I ‘deconstruct’ lots. These are two of my faves… *I serve the walnuts, green beans, and sweet potatoes to the kids, along with leftover chicken or fish sticks. *Serve kiddos whatever they’ll eat. This dressing is my favorite ever!

*PS – I love the idea of 10 freezables!


Not criticizing what works, we do this with our toddlers frequently (heaven forbid the different foods should touch) but I was wondering if your girls are getting better at eating meals that aren’t deconstructed as they get older?


This strategy totally saves me with my middle boy–he won’t even eat a chicken wrap that isn’t deconstructed, but it a simple way to ensure I only cook one meal for the entire family. It also allows him to try new things and be more open to new tastes because it’s on his own terms.

Jan @ Family Bites

Such a great concept. Even though my boys are older I still need to do this once in a while for my 12 year old. I’m thinking I should give the kale cobb salad a try this week!


Jenny – you totally have improved my life with this concept. We now serve virtually every meal “deconstructed” – why is it that a 4 year old will not touch the salad if Mom pre-mixes the ingredients & dressing, but when served in 12 different bowls he will make the EXACT SAME SALAD? I’ve decided it’s a mystery of the world and am just greatful you taught me how to overcome. Even my veggie-adverse 2-year old will put the veggies on his plate when he can pick (and someday, I just know he will eat them, right? right?).

Pastas, Tacos, Salads are our key deconstructed go-to’s. Soups have been my hardest hold-out, but I’ll try the pat-off method the next time I’m compelled…


I deconstruct all the time when I have a proper plan – soups, salads, stir frys! Another way to get my daughter to eat anything is turn it into a burrito or label it “taco” and let her use a few tortilla chips. She gobbled up SK’s huevos rancheros last night because I called them taco eggs…had the deconstructed version ready if she didn’t eat it! Love all your ideas, especially now feeding two littles…xo from London


Jenny – any suggestions for meals to make when you’re newly pregnant/extremely nauseous? Particularly meals that require very little cleanup? (I really don’t want to resort to cereal every night for the next 3 months!)


I realized last night that I’ve been deconstructing dinners for my 10-month-old. He’s too young to be picky, I guess, so in his case deconstructing just means drying stuff off to turn it into finger foods. We had beef stew last night, so he had soft-cooked beef, carrots, and potatoes.
So, if other readers are into the whole Baby-Led Weaning thing, I definitely recommend deconstructed dinners!


Just constructed (and deconstructed) #10: parents got it all, with sriracha on top of course. Kids got it all too: quinoa with butter and parm, eggs scrambled instead of fried, spinach salad instead of cooked. Maybe we weren’t all eating the same meal, but we were all eating the same foods!


finally got around to making that chicken orzo soup last night. it was snowing outside, so it seemed a perfect time to eat soup. my never-hungry 6 year old and my husband gobbled it up!! this one is definitely going in the keeper file! thanks!


Ringing in here to once again say thank you. I snorted (appreciatively) at the “what looks like soup is actually noodles in a brothy dipping sauce.”
But it stuck in my head and I tried it with the kids and holy Moses, it worked! For Mr. Super-Picky, I used a slotted spoon, avoided all vegetables, explained that the green things (basil and parsley) were what made pesto (ok, not when dried but details), and he ate it. He ate it! It was only a teeny bowl, but it was eaten. Step one: done. The older, less picky one had a small bowl, didn’t love it, but still tucked it away. Progress. Thank you. I would never have thought of soup as deconstructible but your awesome illustration inspired me to try. Very happy here. I am a soup lover and am working desperately to get my family there with me!


Though I do not have kids myself, I always return to your blog for the inspiring recipes, true stories, and honest (but funny) voice. I love the concept of deconstructed dinners, and think that it can apply to more than just children. In fact, as a a teenagers my best friends and I would often get together for a big salad lunch, where the salad was basically a deconstructed dinner in itself, and no two plates looked alike. Those meals are some of my best memories (and I’ll probably end up posting that recipe on my own blog one of these days). So once again, thank you for your beautiful writing!

Renee P.

We love the Indonesian Chicken salad – that worked great for us!
Tacos are a great one for deconstructing – lots of choices for toppings. Tacos are in our regular rotation (ground pork is our favorite, with homemade taco seasoning blend).

Elizabeth batte


I have followed you for years and years, and never understood these deconstructed meals until I had picky eaters of my own. Reading through DALS cookbook & The Dinner Plan help me give my kids healthy meals that I actually want to eat too! I pre-ordered The Weekday Vegetarians long ago and cannot WAIT to get it! I hope I can deconstruct a few meals for my kids with those recipes, too. 🙂 Just wanted to say I’m a big fan!

Elizabeth batte

Obviously I meant Dinner: The Playbook. I’m a sleep deprived mom of two toddlers. HALP.