One of the biggest challenges in feeding your family is that e v e r y o n e has a different opinion. One person wants pizza, one wants tacos, and one wants a salad (dressing on the side, please, thank you very much). Mealtime never seems simple.

The reality is, we all like what we like.

Just like we’re each unique in life, we’re also one-of-a-kind at the dinner table. While some of us are more flexible than others, most of us have definitive and distinct preferences when it comes to food.

Some of us like crunchy, some of like smooth, some of us like spicy and some of us like sweet. Some of us like veggies, some of us do not. Some of us like all of the above and some of us like none.

This kind of individuality is AWESOME if you’re at a restaurant.

With tried-and-true menu options and the ability to tweak your order, it’s pretty easy for everyone to get a meal they like, no matter what kind of food the restaurant serves. From Italian to Mexican to Thai, most people can find at least ONE THING on the menu they like.

After all, what’s not to love about having someone (other than yourself) accommodate all of your family’s weird requests … and do all the dishes, too?

But, the reality is, we all have to cook.

Sadly, ordering from a restaurant every night simply isn’t feasible, no matter how big or how small your food budget may be. In the real world, we’re all on-the-hook for answering that question, “What’s for dinner?” every…single…night.

And that’s where those darn individual food personalities can become a challenge. After all, who has the time or patience to make a special meal for every single person in their family?

Most of us struggle with making everyone happy at mealtime.

While many feeding experts will tell you that you should only make one meal, how often does feeding everyone the exact same thing work? If I gave my kids – or my husband, for that matter – the exact thing that I wanted, there would be a mutiny. Or if I settled for what makes them happy, I would feel unsatisfied.

On the flip side, catering to everyone’s whim doesn’t make sense either. It would translated to more work for us (the parents). Plus, our kids would never learn to try and accept new foods.

FLEXIBLE MEALS are key to happy family meals.

Flexible meals respect everyone’s preferences, offer relatively healthy choices, and minimize the work it takes to feed your family well.

When you master the art of pulling together flexible meals, everyone is happy, everyone gets enough to eat, and you’re still helping to expand your family’s taste buds (through exposure, repetition and role-modeling).

Flexible meals offer a lot of simple, flavorful variety and are a served in a way that lets everyone customize their plate. This helps to ensure that everyone is happy, plus it empowers healthy habits and independence, which is really what it’s all about. To ensure that your flexible meals are a success, make sure that there is at least ONE thing, but ideally two things, that each person in your family will like. This may mean that sometimes your kid will just eat plain rice or bread, and that’s okay.


If you need more support, I’m here for you.

While Flexible Meals definitely work and help to take the stress off mealtime, it’s important to mention that some kids will naturally be more accepting of new foods than others.

Challenges such as food allergies, sensory processing disorder and even generalized anxiety disorders can make it more difficult for some children to broaden their taste buds.

If you need extra help in getting your child to accept new foods, you can always schedule a support session with me.

Check out these flexible family meals for some inspiration.

This list of flexible meals ideas will be constantly updated, so be sure to check back often and subscribe to my email list so that you get notified. {As a thank you for subscribing, I’ll send you my ebook, 21 Picky Eating Hacks!}

Subscribe Form

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Flexible Family Meal #1: Grilled Chicken Caprese with Mac ‘N Cheese

If you click through to the recipe, you’ll see that how I plated this dish for my kids looks NOTHING like the salad I made for myself. But it’s a good way to expose them to foods I WANT them to eat more of – and everyone was still happy. 🙂

The “Adult” Version of this Balsamic Grilled Chicken Caprese. Click through for the kid version. Photo and recipe by Smart Eating for Kids

Flexible Family Meal #2: Spaghetti with Summer Vegetables 2-Ways

My friend, Rebecca from Homemaker’s Habitat created this recipe for us and it’s one of my favorites. Her trick: keeping the veggies chunky for the grown-ups and blending them into a smooth sauce for the littles.

Pasta Two Ways: Gorgeous Veggies for Adults; Blended Sauce for Littles. Recipe and photos by Homemaker’s Habitat for Smart Eating for Kids

Flexible Family Meal #3: Make Your Own Pizza Party

Make-your-own-pizzas are a no-brainer family favorite. They go over especially well in my home where my son hates melted cheese on his pizza while my daughter hates marinara on hers. Sigh. Needless to say, customized mini pizzas are essential for us.

Who doesn’t love a pizza party? It’s even better when everyone can make their own! Recipe and photos by Smart Eating for Kids

Flexible Family Meal #4: Everybody’s Happy Chopped Salad Platter

Salad platters work really well for flexible meals, especially when you group all the items, rather than tossing them together. It’s super easy for everyone to grab what they want. And…oops!…someone may just end up with an unplanned topping or two on their plate. 😉

If you’ve been looking for a salad that everyone in your family will eat, this is it. Recipe and photos by Smart Eating for Kids

Flexible Family Meal #5: Farro Buddha Bowl with Crispy Baked Tofu

Buddha bowls are taking Instagram by storm and for a good reason. They look beautiful and are super easy for everyone in your family to pick and choose what they want in their own bowl.

Farro Buddha Bowl with Crispy Baked Tofu. Recipe and photo by Small Bites by Jessica


Know someone who might like this article? Share it with them!

Sign up for our newsletter

Tell a friend about this

Share this recipe

Question? We’d love to hear from you!

Other content you may like