Really wish your kids ate salad? Here are some doable strategies (and recipes) that worked for us and might work for you too!
When I first started dating my husband, he didn’t eat anything green, except Granny Smith apples. (When he reads this, he will indignantly declare, “Also parsley!” but the rest of us know that does not count.)
So I started making him “starter salads” in tiny bowls: just a few leaves topped with a pile of croutons and a good smothering of dressing. Over the years, I upped the ratio of lettuce to croutons, found a dressing he really likes (the Everyone Loves This Vinaigrette), and practiced patience.
I’m happy to report that now, years later, he eats a large green salad almost every night of the week–and he actually orders them in restaurants even when I’m not there. I consider this one of my finest accomplishments. (Got a picky spouse? Here are 10 foods mine learned to like!)
Those tiny “starter salads” are not unlike the ones I gave to my kids when they were younger. Here’s a snapshot I took in those early days of their salads (on the left) and ours (on the right):
At first, it was hit or miss. Sometimes my kids ate their salad, sometimes they nibbled a single leaf, some nights their salads went untouched.
The important thing: They saw salad at dinner, and they learned that greens aren’t yucky. And when I started adding diced peppers or shredded carrots, they learned to eat different kinds of foods mixed together–and that’s a big deal for some kids.
Leafy greens are so good for kids because they’ve got nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and even calcium. And salad is such a perfect vehicle for lots of other healthy foods like different veggies, nuts, seeds, and fruit too. Salad is actually the first food in my Let’s Try New Foods Challenge, a free program I designed for the whole family that encourages kids and grown-ups to try new foods in different ways: Sign up for the free challenge here.
How my kids learned to like salad
Fast forward to now, and just like my husband, my kids are both reliable salad eaters. Here are a few things that really helped:
1. Crunchy greens: Texture is key for many kids, and limp and wimpy will not win them over. I look for the crunchiest greens I can find at the store. That means I bypass a lot of the bagged lettuces in favor of head lettuce like Romaine and Little Gem. (Washing and prepping lettuce at the beginning of the week saves time: place washed lettuce in a bag with a dry paper towel to absorb excess moisture.)
2. Tasty dressings: Caesar was the salad that got my older son hooked, and it’s still his favorite. Here’s my recipe for lighter Caesar dressing, but I buy bottled Caesar dressing too, as well as Ranch (nothing wrong with that! Read: In Defense of Ranch Dressing). My younger son used to prefer sweet, fruity vinaigrettes like raspberry. How to find a dressing they love? Have a dressing taste-test and set out a few different kinds with their favorite veggies to dip.
3. Freedom: When they were younger, my kids sometimes ate their salad with their fingers, dipping the leaves into dressing on the side (make this Dippable Salad For Kids). When my younger son was in his dinosaur phase as a preschooler, I’d hold lettuce leaves out like a tree branch, and he’d reach up and munch on them. It was a silly game, but it made salad approachable–and fun. Setting up a build-your-own salad bar is another way to give kids freedom and personal autonomy. Get some ideas here: How to Build a Healthy Salad
4. Consistency: Serve salad regularly. The more kids see a food, the more likely they are to eventually try it–then eventually try it again, maybe just like it, and eat it reliably. So be patient. We’re playing the long-game here. It could take weeks, months or even years for your kids to try certain foods, and that’s okay!
Salad dressing recipes your kids might like
- Lighter Caesar Salad
- Everyone Loves This Vinaigrette
- Creamy Shallot Vinaigrette
- Greek Yogurt Poppyseed Dressing
- Four Homemade Vinaigrettes
Wish your kids more foods?
I hear this a lot from parents, so I created a free challenge for the whole family called Let’s Try New Foods. Each week you’ll get an email from me with a new food, strategies, and recipes–plus printables to make it fun. And salad is the first food we tackle! Sound like something your family needs? Sign up for the free challenge.