July 16, 2012

Kid-Friendly Salads

"I just can't stop eating this salad!" my seven-year-old exclaimed tonight at dinner.

I have waited so long to hear those words.  My kids eating and loving salad--I wasn't sure I'd see the day.  I thought, they'd never eat raw veggies, in a salad, no less.  I had made so many textbook mistakes along the way: introducing fruit based-baby food before veggies, serving exclusively cooked veggies instead of raw ones, giving up on finding tasty salad dressings and dips free of nuts, eggs, and dairy for my food allergic children.

Their newfound love for salad comes in the midst of what seems like a constant barrage of new findings that have induced severe pangs of guilt among parents of small children everywhere (particularly FA moms), such as the connection between triclosan in antibacterial soaps contributing to food allergies, the detriments of feeding soy to young children, the hazards of buying produce that isn't organically grown...the list goes on and on.  And although most of these studies may still be in research stages, there are varying degrees of merit to each of them.  You start checking dangerous foods off your list, minus the food allergies, and what are we left with?

Before we declare defeat, we remember that a balanced diet is what it says it is--a balance, or a variety of foods, to maintain a healthful diet.  No matter how they may alter the food pyramid into something virtually unrecognizable (it's now a plate, by the way), fruits and veggies remain at the top of the list.
And that is why I am so grateful for salad.  It is very possible that salad will remain a staple in the diet of my food allergic children, as adolescents, teens, college students (one can hope), and adults.  And that would be great, because they're easy to make, easy to tailor to one's tastes and food restrictions, and always in season.

So without further ado, a few tips about how to introduce and yes, get your kids to love eating salad:

1. Perseverance and patience.  As skeptical (and I was the biggest skeptic of all) as you might be, try try and try again.  You do this when you're introducing food to an infant, you just get a little less optimistic and headstrong as they become picky toddlers.  My mom has almost always served a green salad as a side for Sunday night dinners, and after weeks and weeks (and weeks!) of refusing salad, they now ask for salad on a regular basis.  It started with one tomato, then a few, then many, then a piece of lettuce to go with the tomatoes, and so on.

2. Stick with the familiar, at first.  Create first salads using a few well-loved ingredients, and cook or par-cook or grill some of the veggies if they're accustomed to them that way.  Slowly introduce favorite cooked veggies raw, and new veggies and other ingredients that may be less familiar.  When introducing a new ingredient, place in on the side in a bowl so kids have the option to taste test it before adding it to their salad, and can control its portion before adding it to their plates.

Healthful salads can be customized to accommodate food allergies and picky eaters.
3. Let the children lend a hand.  Start at the farmer's market or supermarket by allowing children to pick a few ingredients, preferably fresh fruits or veggies, to add to their salad.  Teach them to prepare the ingredients--wash, peel, cut, etc., as age appropriate.  The lettuce dryers and salad tossing are always a big hit.

4. Create a salad bar.  Give each ingredient its own bowl or plate and allow the whole family to personalize their salads.  Because of cross contamination often found in restaurant salad bars, this could be a unique opportunity for our food allergic children.

5. Have an assortment of allergy-safe dressings for your children to choose from.  The children hosted a salad dressing pop poll tonight at the dinner table, and were tickled to see which dressing each family member liked and disliked.  I especially like a few of the Brianna's Homestyle Dressings, like their Rich Poppy Seed and Saucy Ginger Mandarin.  For you DIY types, pick up a salad dressing bottle with recipe measurements inscribed on the outside--like the Kolder Salad Dressing Bottle--making shaking, serving, storing, and clean-up a breeze.

6. Start with the more kid-friendly leafy greens.  Baby spinach, butter lettuce, and romaine lettuce are all good choices--they've got good crunch, but are easy to chew and on the sweeter end of the spectrum.

7. Keep a few more "exotic" ingredients on hand for salad nights.  I add tortilla strips and bacon bits to salads to help entice little ones.  Irene added quinoa, edamame, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds to her Greens and Quinoa Salad.  Think pomegranate seeds, bosc pears, sliced strawberries, artichoke hearts, olives, and heirloom tomatoes.  You'll be surprised what your kids gravitate to, and they'll be even more surprised!

Add salad nights to your weekly dinner repertoire!  Enjoy!


  1. Great ideas here Sarah! My girls always want to bum off some of my salad at Izumiya but they won't get it otherwise. I need to try your idea.
    Mahalo for the book BTW! I got it yesterday from my mum.

    1. Oh, you're welcome! I had Theresa drop it off weeks ago. Glad it got into the right hands! :)