As hard as it can be to get kids to eat veggies, I find that salads can often be a loophole in a child's "no-veggie" policy. What's not to love? They're fresh, colorful and often packed with different textures and flavors. Now that spring is here, there's no better way to take advantage of local produce than to showcase it in a salad.
And if you follow a few simple rules, it's pretty easy to put together a satisfying salad that the whole family will love.
Fresh lettuce: Flabby, brown-tinged lettuce is a salad deal-breaker for me. So I always look for a head of lettuce that feels heavy for its size, indicating that it has retained its moisture. If it's a variety that's meant to be crisp, such as romaine, than the leaves should have some snap to them when bent.
If it's a tender lettuce, such as Boston, loose-leaf lettuces or baby spinach (which isn't technically a lettuce, but for the purposes of this discussion, we'll treat it like one), then the leaves should be soft but have good color, with no patches of yellow or brown.
In any event, I like to soak my lettuce or spinach for at least 10 minutes in cold water before thoroughly drying. Doing this will revive a slightly tired leaf and make a fresh one seem even fresher.
Contrast: Make sure your salad sings by using ingredients with different textures, flavors and colors. While sliced carrots, sweet peppers and cucumbers are salad standards, try adding lightly blanched vegetables that have been chilled, such as asparagus, green beans, peas or shelled edamame. Drained and rinsed canned beans can be a wonderful addition (garbanzo beans -- also known as chickpeas -- are my personal favorite). Or sprinkle on toasted nuts. Of course, cooked chicken, fish, meat or cheese can be added to make the salad more of a main-course affair.
Light on the dressing: I would much rather a salad be underdressed than overdressed. You can always add more dressing, but there's not much to do when your lettuce is collapsing under the weight of too much of a good thing.
One way to avoid that scenario is to make sure your dressing doesn't start out too heavy. Try adding a tablespoon or two of water to your vinaigrette, or milk to creamy dressing, if they look a bit on the thick side.
And make sure the dressing is flavorful and seasoned well, so that you won't need a bucketful to get the desired results. Then add only a little at first, lightly toss and then see if you need more.
As always, get the kids in the act, too. Is there anything packed with more toddler entertainment than a salad-spinner? No matter what age your kids are, between the spinning, chopping, tossing and plating, there's a salad task for them. And having them help make the salad will no doubt make the eating more fun, too.
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.