In Defense Of Ranch Dressing

In Defense of Ranch DressingThere’s a bottle of ranch dressing in my refrigerator.

It’s not homemade. Its not organic. It has preservatives and added sweetener and artificial flavor.

But because of this dressing, my ten year old eats baby carrots and bell peppers in his lunchbox and digs into green salads several nights a week.

I have mixed feelings about this dressing. There are ingredients in it that I try to avoid. I make the vinaigrette my husband and I eat on our own salads (read: “5 Foods I Don’t Buy Anymore”). And frankly, as a dietitian, I cringe a little bit whenever I see someone at a restaurant dunking wings or French fries into little tubs of ranch.

But my kid likes ranch. And after homemade ranch was rebuffed, and he didn’t like the various brands of natural and organic I bought, I gave in. Because having this particular bottled dressing around means he’ll eat (and enjoy) a lot more veggies.

As much as I’d rather not rely on ranch, I don’t think it’s an enemy. Like ketchup, it can actually be a vehicle for trying new foods or enjoying foods that might otherwise seem bland or bitter. In one study published in the  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, preschoolers who were especially sensitive to bitter flavors ate 80 percent more broccoli at snack time when it was served alongside ranch dressing.

Still, I feel a little guilty every time I pull the bottle out of the fridge. So I asked Katja Rowell, MD, aka The Feeding Doctor, for her take. I love Dr. Rowell’s reasonable, compassionate approach and was relieved that she gives the okay to ranch.

She says:

“I think parents are afraid that if their children don’t learn to like plain foods, they won’t learn to enjoy them, but for many kids it’s the opposite. Condiments and flavor, whether it’s Ranch, ketchup, hot sauce, or a little butter with a pinch of salt, help children learn to like more foods. A big part of feeding kids is creating a supportive environment where kids can learn to tap into good taste and variety, and Ranch can be a small piece of that puzzle. Having an open, positive attitude towards food helps children approach food with positivity and curiosity. You still decide what to serve your kids, but if you observe that Ranch is helping bring a positive attitude and openness to a wider variety of foods at the table, that’s a good thing.

Parents feel like they have to be perfect with nutrition and that can backfire. I see more and more kids with extreme picky eating and food aversions where the parents have tried to have only whole and unprocessed foods. But worry, conflict and anxiety can be toxic, and I believe is far more harmful than allowing Ranch dressing into a balanced intake.”

So yes, I’ll gradually try to broaden my son’s horizons when it comes to dressings and dips. (As a former picky eater myself, I also know that could take a while–and that’s okay.) But right now, for my son, a little bit of bottled ranch goes a long way toward both developing a habit of eating vegetables at meals and snacks and actually enjoying them. In the long run, I think that’s what really matters.

For more from Dr. Rowell, visit her website The Feeding Doctor. She is author of the book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More. Her second book, about extreme picky eating, will be released next May.

Disclosures: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same, but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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  1. Janice says

    This is fantastic! My picky eater ate roasted potatoes doused in ketchup last night, First. time. ever. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I remember recoiling in horror when someone said they gave their kids apple sliced tossed with cinnamon sugar. What? It covers the browning she said. What? Aren’t apples the most perfect food? Don’t kids love them? Why do you need to add sugar to them!!! I tried to conceal my judgement,. And then I had a child who wouldn’t jump at the chance to eat plain apple. Yup. Cinnamon sugar apples. They are delicious by the way.

    • says

      Janice–that is so funny about the apples! Oh gosh, I was so judgmental about too many things before I had kids–then karma put me in my place! 🙂 I grew up on cinnamon-sugar apples as a treat and still occasionally give them to my kids. We call them “apple pie apples” because they taste like the ones my kids sneak from the bowl when I’m making apple pie. Thanks so much for your comment!

    • says

      Thanks Aviva. As I say in the post, I’ll keep trying to expand his palate and am always on the lookout for new recipes for dressings so I will definitely pin yours (your recipes are great!).

  2. says

    Sally, you’re awesome! (but you already knew that I feel that way!). I love this piece and especially Katja’s quote. There’s been so much backlash in the press lately, with parents feeling the pressure to be “perfect” and reach seemingly unattainable goals when it comes to cooking and feeding their families. Our role has to be one of positive messaging and enabling the process. To me, that means helping parents start exactly where they’re currently at, and finding small, achievable ways to gradually move things in a healthier direction. If you know the destination you’re working towards, steady baby steps will still get you there!

    • says

      Thank you Janet! I love what you say: “If you know the destination you’re working towards, steady baby steps will still get you there!” Perfect can become the enemy of good is so many cases when it comes to eating–and I agree with you that so many parents feel way to much pressure to get everything absolutely “right” and “perfect” when it comes to food. That’s a tall order and ultimately unachievable! Thanks so much for chiming in.

  3. says

    Perfectly said, and I love you got the MD ok too (’cause who listens to what dietitians say? LOL). This is the exact bottle we have in our fridge, and 2 of my 3 kids will not eat raw veggies without it. The other kid, praise the Lord, is a foodie in training, and drools over gourmet olives, salads drizzled with balsamic, and quinoa. So he’s my favorite, and the other two leave me alone as long as they have their HV Ranch 🙂 Sharing this on my FB page – my readers will love this!

  4. says

    This makes a lot of sense to me actually – I am an extremely picky eater because I don’t like a lot of sauces…and I don’t eat a lot of fruits or veggies either. Perhaps if I had tried a lot of foods with sauces, I would also be able to eat them without being “dolled up.” Instead I am tentative to try anything new.

    • says

      Elaine–that’s an interesting theory. I actually didn’t like many condiments growing up eithel (and was a horribly picky eater). As an adult I’m discovering what I was missing and am broadening my horizons a lot. I think sauces and other condiments can definitely help kids get over the fear of new foods–or help them overcome what may seem bland or bitter at first. Thanks for chiming in!

  5. says

    A couple of nights ago I was pulling dinner out of thin air – scrambled eggs and mushrooms with frozen microwaved (organic) peas. My 6 year old was none to sure about the mushrooms… Hubs, despite his total dislike of the fungi, suggested ketchup – a quarter size on the plate and eggs and mushrooms were eaten. My 2 year old decided that she liked them, too. Win! (Hubs ate something else – it’s a deep and enduring hatred for mushrooms!)

    Another “sauce” that we love in our house is Ume Plum vinegar. We get it at our health food store and while it sounds weird it’s really good! Salty and tangy and wonderful on veggies. My girls eat more veggies with this stuff on it than anything else. Since I don’t ever use salt when cooking, the added salt through this isn’t excessive either.


    • says

      Thanks for the vinegar suggestion–never heard of it, but I do love vinegar. I never feel guilty about sauces (even ketchup and ranch!) because they really do help with trying and accepting new foods–and most people I know don’t continue to put ketchup on everything as grown-ups. 🙂 I think it’s something you phase out of as your tastes change and you get older. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Esther says

    I’m very selective about the foods I feed my son and he was a great little eater. Then he started rejecting vegetables and I was so bummed. I tried Ranch and it worked for him. I buy other kinds of grilling sauces too. He likes the variety and mostly eats it up including veggies. I try not to obsess over the labels because I know there’s ingredients I wouldn’t buy but I feel it’s for the better good.
    Another trick I use to get more veggies in: I buy frozen organic bags of 1 fruit, 1 veggie and 1 kale, allow them to thaw then I use a food processor to process into a puree. Freeze the mixture into ice cube trays and save them in a freezer container. In the mornings I thaw 2-3 and add them to plain full fat Greek yogurt. He loves it!

  7. says

    This is my theory exactly! While I was the food service director at a K-8th grade school, I added a salad bar. I started with low fat ranch dressing and eventually decided to try changing to the full fat version after the veggie consumption wasn’t quite where I wanted it. It was interesting to watch as many, many more veggies started disappearing off that salad bar with this small change. Anyway to get the veggies INTO the children is okay with me 🙂


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