If you think it’s hard to get kids to eat their vegetables, try getting them to clean their salad plates.
Salad can be a tricky sell around the dinner table. If you try to make it plain and simple, just tossing some lettuce with a splash of vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil, it can come off as boring, or even astringent to young taste buds. If you try to jazz it up with high-calorie, high-fat ingredients that you think they’ll like, well, you’re sort of defeating your own purpose.
But there are ways to make the salad bowl more appealing to both young and old. It’s all about tastes, textures and colors. Mixing your salads up with interesting, but familiar ingredients with lots of variety can make all the difference and help get lots of healthy foods into your family’s diet. Here are a few tips that will make salad lovers of even the most skeptical eaters.
Dressing it up: While vinaigrettes make wonderful salad dressings, they often can be too acidic for children. Try using low-fat dressings, which are creamier and more accessible to child-size palates. Homemade is usually much better and fresher tasting than store-bought.
Crunchy, crispy, soft: It’s all about texture. If you only have crunchy carrots, cucumbers and celery in a salad, while it may be healthy, it’s not particularly interesting. Roasting vegetables, such as peppers, squash and root vegetables, is a good way to vary textures. Try adding some additional, non-vegetable elements into the mix, such as nuts, a bit of cheese, perhaps some meat or even fruit. Apples, pears, citrus, berries and many other fruits are delicious and often unexpected in a salad — and kids love them.
A splash of color: You eat with your eyes first. If you want to get a young diner’s attention, make sure to give your salad lots of eye candy in terms of colorful ingredients. For that reason, I like to include plenty of sweet peppers, beets, carrots, radishes and any other colorful additions to my salads.
Sizing things up: Sometimes a salad with big lettuce leaves, large cucumbers and unwieldy chunks of carrots can be difficult for children to even get on their fork, much less into the mouth, so cutting things into small bites can help keep the dish more manageable. On the flip side, keeping the salad in bigger pieces or cutting items into sticks and letting the kids dip the ingredients into the dressing can also be an attractive alternative.
Of course, some of the standard family cooking advice also stands for salads — getting your kids in on the act of making whatever it is you’d like them to be eating. If they’re helping with the selection of the salad ingredients, the prep work and the final tossing, they are much more likely to want to be involved in the eating.
And timing is everything, so start them eating salad early in their young lives. It’s one more way to help them develop good habits that will last them the rest of their lives.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.