Inside: Wish your kids ate 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, really wish their kids liked (but alas, their kids just don’t).
My strategy has always been to serve “Starter Salads” to my kids. That approach also worked on my husband, who now eats big salads nightly and orders them in restaurants even when I’m not there.
But if your kids aren’t ready for bowls of salad, here’s a baby step that can get them closer to loving their greens: Create a kids salad they can dip.
I got this idea one night when I was making Caesar salad.
As I was tearing romaine leaves, my seven year old kept sneaking pieces off the cutting board.
He especially liked the leaves at the very center of the romaine hearts–the ones that are small, crunchy, and sweet. I eventually put some into a little bowl for him, and off he went, munching away.
Who says salad has to be eaten with a fork, anyway?
A Perfect Salad For Picky Eaters
As a former picky eater myself, I can tell you that mixed dishes (ones that have different foods combined together) can be intimidating and scary.
Deconstructing those dishes can really help–like serving tacos as plain shells, cheese, meat, and lettuce in separate bowls.
Or offering soup as broth in a bowl with pieces of chicken and veggies they can eat plain or put into their broth.
In this case, we’re deconstructing a salad to its individual parts: Lettuce, veggies, and dressing.
That way, kids can eat everything separately, pick and choose what they want, and get comfortable before mixing anything together in one bowl.
And they can eat it with their fingers. Bonus!
What I’ve found over the years is that when you serve veggies in different ways on different days, you may just hit on something your kids love.
How to Make a Kids Salad They Can Dip
Crunchy lettuces that hold up 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 holding and dipping.
The lettuce leaves can be served right alongside carrot sticks, peppers, cucumbers, and other raw veggies with a favorite dressing or dip.
Salad Dressings That Are Good For Kids
The best dressing for kids is….whatever they like!
Just like ketchup or BBQ sauce, salad dressing can help kids explore unfamiliar foods and build a comfort level.
And no, salad dressing doesn’t “cancel out” the nutritional value of the vegetables.
On the contrary, dressing can help build the habit of eating and liking vegetables, which can help keep kids healthy for years to come.
My advice: Try different dressings to see what they like best, store-bought or homemade (no judgement on store-bought dressing–read: In Defense of Ranch Dressing).
When they were learning to like salad, one of my sons 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 little bowls. Have them give each dressing a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or “thumb in the middle”.
Here are some recipes for homemade salad dressings to make and serve as dips:
Questions About Salad For Kids
Why is it good for kids to eat salad?
Leafy greens are great for kids. They’ve got nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and even calcium.
Lettuces also contain antioxidants, which are natural plant compounds that protect cells from disease-causing damage.
Salad is a great vehicle for lots of other healthy foods like different veggies, fruit, and protein-rich foods too.
At what age can kids eat salad?
Kids should be able to eat lettuce around age two–but start with small pieces at first and always keep an eye on your child while eating.
And remember that some foods are considered choking hazards before age 4 such as grape tomatoes and baby carrots. Cut tomatoes and grapes in half (or quarters if they’re very large) and carrots into thinner strips.
How do I get my kids to eat salad?
Alas, there’s no magic solution. As with any food, consistency is key.
Continue serving and offering salad, and enjoying it yourself as a model to your kids. Take baby steps, like using this strategy of putting lettuce alongside veggies to dip. 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 kid won’t eat any vegetables?
It’s okay–and common for picky eaters to reject most (or all) veggies. They’re not sweet like fruit, may have unpredictable or unfamiliar textures, and might even taste bitter, especially to “super tasters”.
Here are some strategies to put into place now: Your Kid Hates Vegetables. Now What?
My biggest advice: Just keep offering different kinds of veggies in different ways. For example, you could put a few crunchy lettuce leaves on a snack platter alongside more accepted foods, like cheese cubes and pretzels.
What about recalls on lettuce? Is it safe for kids?
There have been recalls on romaine–in part because it’s one of the most widely eaten lettuces, so more of it is grown and sold. The shape of romaine may also make it more prone 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 if organic salad is a safer choice–read my post: Is Salad Safe? Here Are 9 Facts You Need To Know.