This is a guest post by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, a registered dietitian, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids, a guidebook to the very best foods for kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Some of you may already have little salad eaters at your table. However, for many parents, salad is a final frontier—something they really, really wish their kids would eat (but really, really don’t think they will!).
Leafy greens are so good for kids because they have nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and even calcium. Also, salads are a perfect vehicle for lots of other healthy foods like other veggies, plus nuts, seeds, fruit, and beans too.
My kids (and husband!) didn’t use to eat salads, but now they all happily dig into sizable salads throughout the week. Their changes of heart didn’t happen overnight—or within a week or two. I just kept serving it in different ways, and over the years, they all ended up trying it and finally liking it. Consistency is key with any new food. The more kids (and spouses!) see a particular food, the more likely they are to taste it eventually, then taste it again, and then maybe end up loving it!
If your kids aren’t salad-lovers yet, here are my best tips for helping them get there:
- Serve a “Dippable Salad”
Who says you have to eat a salad with a fork? First, find super-crunchy greens. Many bagged salads are a little limp and wimpy, so check out the heads of green leaf, red leaf, Bibb, and butter lettuce in the produce section. The centers of romaine hearts are also the perfect size and shape for holding and dipping. Serve the leaves alongside carrot sticks, peppers, cucumbers, and other raw veggies with a yummy dip or dressing, and let your kids dunk them by hand. When you serve vegetables in different ways on different days, you may just hit on something your kids love.
- Do a Salad Dressing Taste Test
Pick three or four different salad dressings you think your kids might enjoy. Fruity dressings that are sweet, like berry vinaigrettes, are good bets. If you want to make your own dressing, my Creamy Apple Vinaigrette is sweet and kid-friendly. My younger son also likes our homemade Everyone Loves This Vinaigrette. If you’d rather go the store-bought route, that’s fine too (although be sure to check the ingredients). Set out the dressings with raw veggies. They can give their reviews of each and vote on their favorites.
- Create a Build-Your-Own Salad Bar
Letting kids serve themselves can be very empowering because they love having choice and control over what’s on their plate. Try setting out a bowl of greens (more than one variety, if possible), plus little dishes of salad toppings such as chopped veggies, dried fruit, grilled chicken, and anything else you think they might enjoy—just be sure to include some familiar favorites. Serve it with some fruit and a fancy baguette from the store to make it special. You can serve this as a “salad course” before dinner, or if you have lots of filling toppings on the table, as dinner itself—whatever works for you. What if your kid fills his bowl with croutons, carrots, and dressing? Don’t sweat it. The important thing is that you’re making salad familiar and routine.
- Make “Starter Salads”
These are simply a few leaves in a small bowl (optional: put something on top that they already like, such as croutons, bacon, shredded carrots, dried cranberries, or chopped apples). Offer them one or two dressings, or they can eat it plain—whatever they choose to do. The point is that they see salad at dinner. Also, they’re learning that greens aren’t yucky.
To help encourage your kids to try salad and lots of other foods, grab a copy of my free Try New Foods Chart. You and your kids can keep track of any new foods they try (or try again!). There are spots for rewards after every five foods—this can be an extra book at bedtime, an additional 15 minutes of screen time, getting to pick the dinner one night, whatever you decide (just not a dessert or another kind of food). Get your copy here!