Inside: Want your kids to eat more leafy greens? Here’s how to make a kids’ salad they can dip. A perfect salad for picky eaters.
For many parents, salad is the final frontier–something they really want their kids to like (but alas, their kids don’t).
My strategy is always to serve”Starter salads” to my children. That strategy also worked for my husband, who now eats huge salads every night and orders them out at restaurants. even without me.
But if your kids aren’t quite ready for salad bowls, here’s a baby step that can get them closer to loving their greens: Make a kids’ salad they can dip.
I got this idea one night when I was making a Caesar salad.
As I tear the romaine leaves, my seven year old keeps pulling pieces off the cutting board.
He especially liked the leaves at the very center of the romaine hearts–the small, crisp, sweet ones. Eventually I put some in a small bowl for him, and off he went, eating.
Who says salad has to be eaten with a fork, anyway?
A Perfect Salad For Picky Eaters
Count I used to be a picky eater myself, I can tell you that mixed foods (mixes of different foods) can be scary and intimidating.
Deconstructing those foods can really help–like serving tacos as plain shells, cheese, meat, and lettuce in separate bowls.
Or offer soup as a broth in a bowl with pieces of chicken and vegetables that they can eat plain or add to their broth.
In this case, we’re deconstructing the salad into its individual parts: Lettuce, veggies, and dressing.
That way, kids can eat everything separately, pick and choose what they want, and feel comfortable before mixing anything in a bowl.
And they can eat it with their fingers. Bonus!
What I’ve found over the years is that when you serve vegetables in different ways on different days, you just might hit on something your kids like.
How to Make a Kids Salad They Can Dip
Crunchy lettuces that cling to dips are the best kind to use.
The centers of romaine hearts or the leaves of compact lettuces like Little Gem are the perfect size and shape for handling and dipping.
Lettuce leaves can be served right next to carrot sticks, peppers, cucumbers, and other raw vegetables with a favorite dressing or dip.
Salad Dressings That Are Great For Kids
The best dressing for kids is….whatever they want!
Like ketchup or BBQ sauce, salad dressing can help kids explore unfamiliar foods and develop a comfort level.
And no, the salad dressing does not “cancel out” the nutritional value of the vegetables.
On the contrary, dressing up can help develop the habit of eating and liking vegetables, which will help keep children healthy for years to come.
My advice: Try different dressings to see what they like best, store bought or homemade (no judgment on store bought dressing–read: In Defense of Ranch Dressing).
When they were learning to like salad, one of my kids preferred sweet, fruity dressings like raspberry vinaigrette. My other son liked creamy dressings like Caesar and ranch.
You can set up a salad dressing taste test with small bowls. Let each dressing be given a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or “thumb in the middle”.
Here are some recipes for homemade salad dressings to make and serve as dips:
Salad Questions For Kids
Why do children like to eat salad?
Leafy vegetables are good for children. They have nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and even calcium.
Lettuce also contains antioxidants, which are natural plant compounds that protect cells from disease-causing damage.
Salad is a great vehicle for many other healthy foods such as a variety of vegetables, fruits, and protein-rich foods as well.
At what age can children eat salad?
Children should be able to eat lettuce by age two–but start with small pieces at first and always supervise your child while eating.
And remember that some foods are taken into account choking hazards before age 4 such as grape tomatoes and baby carrots. Cut tomatoes and grapes in half (or quarters if they are very large) and carrots into thinner pieces.
How do I feed my kids salad?
Alas, there is no magic solution. As with any food, consistency is key.
Continue to serve and offer salad, and enjoy it as a model to your children. Take baby steps, like using this technique of placing lettuce next to vegetables for dipping. And avoid any pressure or guilt.
You can read about how I raised two salad-eaters here: How to Teach Your Kids to Love Salad
What if my child doesn’t eat any vegetables?
It’s okay–and common for picky eaters to reject most (or all) vegetables. They are not as sweet as fruit, may have unpredictable or unfamiliar textures, and may even taste bitter, especially to “super tasters”.
Here are some strategies to take now: Your Child Doesn’t Like Vegetables. What now?
My biggest piece of advice: Just keep offering different types of vegetables in different ways. For example, you can add some crisp lettuce leaves on a snack platter along with more acceptable foods, such as cheese cubes and pretzels.
What about lettuce recalls? Is it safe for children?
There are memories of romaine–in part because it’s one of the most widely eaten lettuces, so more of it is being grown and sold. The shape of romaine can also make it more susceptible to contamination. So always pay attention to recalls.
For more on lettuce safety–as well as whether you need to re-wash bagged greens or whether organic salad is a safer choice–read my post: Is Salad Safe? Here are 9 Facts You Need to Know.