Some assembly required: six dinners for Lego lovers

Got a budding builder on your hands? These choose-your-own dinners are for you.

If you have a kid who loves to build and deconstruct, we’ve got great news: the dinners we’re sharing in this post are going to be a hit at your house. We’ve read quite a bit about deconstructing dinners or modular dinners as a strategy that takes apart a recipe and lets each family member pick what’s on their plate (without turning you into a short-order cook). We’d like to take a more—er—constructive approach: each of the dinners we’re talking about involves putting all the ingredients on the table for kids to build their perfect dinner piece by piece, a bit like a Lego project. They take assembly, but they’re customizable, surprisingly fast and because they involve dipping, sprinkling, and sampling, they’re a surefire hit with children. Think of these dinners as a chance to welcome your kids picking and choosing—and to maybe try a new taste or three in the process.

To get your kids involved in the prep as well as assembling these dishes, we’ve got helpful tutorials here on knife skills. Be aware that these dinners do take quite a bit of chopping, and they’re most fun when kids have time to linger over their options and figure out new flavour combinations they like. With that in mind, save this for a slower night when you aren’t rushing to after-school activities.

Rice paper wraps or rolls: Vietnamese-inspired rice paper wraps are mild-tasting, and an excellent vehicle for trying new veggies. For folks who like bolder flavour, you can include dipping sauces on the table (here are just two ideas to get you started). You can find rice paper at most grocery stores, and to prep them, all you need is a large bowl of water and a place for the rice paper to drain before you start rolling. Kids will enjoy submerging their rice wrap and watching it soften before they drain it and load it up with fresh options like thinly sliced carrots, red pepper and cucumber. If you somehow have leftovers, here’s a great hack for packing them into lunch boxes—just place a slice of apple between your assembled rolls to keep them from sticking together.

Bulgogi lettuce wraps: While this recipe features a stovetop version, these wraps are easy to prep ahead using a slow cooker and a rice cooker. For dinner prep, all your kids need to do is wash and spin lettuce. To assemble, just spoon meat, rice, and sauce into a lettuce leaf, and enjoy!

Tortilla soup: A deconstructed soup? This tortilla soup recipe shows you how to pull it apart into its various components to make it customizable for each family member.

Poké (and Buddha) bowls: These colourful bowls of rice, veggies, protein and sauce originated in Hawai'i ("poké" means "to slice" in Hawaiian). Traditionally, they are made with raw fish - but you can make all sorts of variations using cooked meat or tofu. This vegan variation is a helpful starting spot for getting inspired to put together your own bowls.

Deconstructed or Rainbow salad: A deconstructed salad is actually just a fancy name for an at-home salad bar, but your budding builders will appreciate your phrasing it that way. Set out your family’s favourite salad offerings as well as some new choices to nibble at: think chickpeas, tuna, sliced hardboiled eggs, nuts, and colourful options like radishes, or pomegranate seeds. To make it a rainbow salad, just set the ingredients out in lines on a cutting board or serving plate and let family members make their own rainbows. Here’s a great visual guide to making a hearty salad, that also features some great insight into why this option can be so attractive for kids who think they’re veggie-averse.

Tacos: maybe the most popular build-your-own dinner, with good reason—they’re delicious! We’ve got variations for veggie, gluten-free, beef and fish tacos, but the basic concept of filling a soft wrap with each family members’ favourite fillings is the same.

If your family is begging for more deconstructed dinners, we’ve got more great ideas for you here. Have you tried any of these with your kids? Let us know what ingredients were a hit here on our Facebook page or Instagram feed.

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