Inside: Wish your kids would eat more leafy greens? Here’s how a children’s salad can be made. An ideal salad for picky eaters.
For many parents, salad is the final frontier—something they really wish their kids would like (but alas, their kids don’t).
My strategy has always been to serve a “starter salad” to my kids. That approach also worked on my husband, who now eats big salads at night and orders them at restaurants. even when i’m not there,
But if your kids aren’t quite ready for a bowl of salad, here’s one small step that can get them one step closer to loving their greens: Make a kids’ salad they can dip into.
The idea came to me one night while I was making Caesar salad.
While I was tearing the romaine leaves, my seven-year-old kept sneaking pieces off the cutting board.
He especially liked the leaves in the center of romaine hearts—the ones that are small, crisp, and sweet. I finally put some in a small bowl for him, and he goes on chewing.
Who says salads have to be eaten with a fork, anyway?
A perfect salad for picky eaters
As a former picky eater, I can tell you that mixed dishes (in which different foods are mixed together) can be intimidating and scary.
Fragmentation Those recipes can really help — like serving tacos as plain shells, cheese, meat, and lettuce in individual bowls.
Or offering soup as a broth in a bowl with pieces of chicken and vegetables they can eat plain or add to their broth.
In this case, we’re breaking down a salad into its individual parts: lettuce, vegetables, and dressing.
That way, kids can eat everything separately, pick and choose what they want, and get comfortable before mixing anything together 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 can give your kids something they’ll love.
How to Make a Salad for Kids They Can Dip
Crunchy lettuces that hold up to dips are the best kind to use.
The leaves of compact lettuce, such as romaine heart centers or Little Gems, are the perfect size and shape for holding and dipping.
Lettuce leaves can be served with carrot sticks, peppers, cucumbers, and other raw vegetables, along with a favorite dressing or dip.
Salad Dressings That Are Good for Kids
Kids are best dressed in… whatever they like!
Like ketchup or BBQ sauce, salad dressing can help children explore unfamiliar foods and build a level of comfort.
And no, salad dressing doesn’t “cancel out” the nutritional value of the vegetables.
Conversely, dressing can help build a 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 judgment on store-bought dressings—read: in defense of ranch dressing).
When he was learning to like salads, one of my sons took a liking to sweet, fruity dressings like raspberry vinaigrette. My other son loved creamy dressings like Caesar and Ranch.
You can set up a salad dressing taste test with small bowls. Have them give each dressing a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or “thumbs up.”
Here are some recipes for homemade salad dressings to make and serve as a dip:
Questions about salads 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.
Lettuce also contains antioxidants, which are natural plant compounds that protect cells from disease-causing damage.
Salads are also a good medium for a lot of other healthy foods like different vegetables, fruits and protein rich foods.
At what age can babies eat salad?
Children should be able to eat salad around the age of two – but start with smaller pieces first and always keep an eye on your child while they eat.
And remember that some foods are considered a choking hazard before age 4, such as grape tomatoes and baby carrots. Cut the tomatoes and grapes in half (or quarters if they are very large) and the carrots into thin strips.
How do I feed salad to my kids?
Alas, there is no magic solution. As is the case with any food, consistency is key.
Continue to serve and present the salad, and enjoy it as a model for your children. Take baby steps, like using this strategy for dipping lettuce with vegetables. And avoid any pressure or guilt.
You can read about how I raised two salad eaters here: How to Teach Your Kids to Love Salads
What if my child won’t eat any vegetables?
It is okay and common for picky eaters to reject most (or all) vegetables. They are not as sweet as the fruit, may have an unpredictable or unfamiliar texture, and may also taste bitter, especially for “super tasters”.
Here are some strategies you can try now: Your child hates vegetables. now what?
My biggest piece of advice: Keep serving up a variety of vegetables in a variety of ways. For example, you could put some crunchy lettuce on a snack plate along with more acceptable foods like cheese cubes and pretzels.
What About the Recall on Lettuce? Is it safe for children?
There have been recalls on romaine – partly because it is one of the most widely consumed lettuces, so it is more grown and sold. The size of romaine can also make it more susceptible to contamination. So always pay attention to the recall.
For more on lettuce safety – as well as whether you need to re-wash bagged greens or if organic lettuce is a safe option – read my post: Is lettuce safe? Here are 9 facts you need to know.