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Whether we’re eating out, having dinner with family, or at a special celebration with friends, people are always surprised how my husband and I have been able to get our kids to eat salad—and several other foods most kids won’t touch.
When you consider that most children in the U.S. are picky eaters and don’t love vegetables of any type, I suppose it is surprising.
Of course, getting them to eat salad didn’t happen overnight and there are still days when they’re not into it—just like anybody else. Yet through the years, it’s become something about our meals that they accept and even look forward to.
I know what you’re thinking: there’s no way I can get my kids to eat salad. They hate anything green or healthy.
But stick with me here. Kids—yours included—can grow to love salad.
Not only are there a ton of health benefits, but when it comes to making it kid-friendly and delicious, the possibilities are endless.
Getting your kids to eat salad isn’t as hard as you think—let’s dig in!
Why should I encourage my kids to eat salad?
Serving up salads has a ton of health benefits and teaches healthy habits that will stick with your kids throughout their lives.
A ton of nutrition
According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9 in 10 children don’t eat enough vegetables.
Servings salads is a great way to pack in several fruits and vegetables into one meal and add a ton of nutrition which kids need for their growth and development.
By focusing on a variety of colorful produce like carrots, peppers, cucumbers, radishes and strawberries, kids also get a boost of antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce inflammation, protect cells from the damage of free radicals, boost the immune system and may play a role in preventing disease.
High in fiber
Salads and the vegetables you include are a great source of fiber in your kid’s diet.
Fiber satisfies hunger and helps them to feel fuller longer, which may prevent weight gain. High-fiber foods also balance blood sugar and prevent constipation.
Offering a salad is also a great way to get healthy fats like those found in avocado, olive oil, and nuts and seeds in your kid’s diet.
Healthy fats are a vital source of energy and help satisfy hunger. They’re essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.
Kids have a say in what they eat
Food choices make kids feel empowered and in control—even when you’re the one calling the shots and deciding which foods to buy and when to serve them.
I’d argue that it’s the lack of choices that makes mealtime such a big power struggle with our kids.
Just like Taco Tuesday or pizza night, kids get to choose the ingredients they want in their salads and get to create their own meals.
Puts an end to picky eating
Consistently serving up salads, trying out new fruit and vegetable combinations, and getting your kids involved is one of the best ways to put an end to picky eating.
In fact, according to a 2014 review in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, cooking programs for kids may positively affect their food preferences, attitudes and behaviors.
You may find—as I did—that when you regularly serve salad at home, your kids are more likely to eat it when you go out to eat as well.
Salad is pretty simple to make, but if you’re looking for help preparing healthy meals with your kids, I recommend the Kids Cook Real Food video eCourse.
Salads make for a quick and easy dinner
Salad is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get dinner on the table. In fact, it’s one of the ways I make dinner almost every night while working full time.
Start with your salad greens, add your vegetables, pick a protein—canned salmon and hard boiled eggs are quick options—add a dressing and dinner is done.
Common obstacles to get your kids to eat salad
Despite the benefits of eating salad, there are still challenges you may face.
For starters, raw vegetables—especially when there’s no dip—can be a tough sell for any kid so expecting them to eat a salad can be a tall order.
Another thing to consider is that some kids (and adults!) don’t like when different foods touch on their plates or when foods are mixed together.
If the lettuce and other vegetables are too large, or the portion size is too big, kids will just feel overwhelmed and refuse to eat it.
How to Get Your Kids To Eat Salad
The good news is that there are so many easy, creative ways to encourage your kids to eat—and love—salad.
Start early and model healthy eating
Since food preferences are formed early, the key to encouraging your kids to eat salad is by starting now.
I’ve discovered through the years that eating a salad every day for lunch helps me stay on track. It’s also one of the ways I was able to lose the baby weight after both of my pregnancies.
Since my kids would watch me make a salad, and we would sever it for dinner several times a week, they had a natural curiosity about what we were eating and would often ask to take a bite.
Serve tiny portions and stay consistent
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take between 8 and 15 times of introducing a new food for a child to accept it.
The key however, is to serve tiny portions. Kids need to have the freedom to smell, taste and explore foods without feeling pressured. A bite-sized amount therefore, helps them to decide whether they’ll try it or not.
Serve salad in the smallest section of your kid’s plate, or serve it in small plate like a tea-cup saucer.
Stay consistent and continue to serve small portions at every meal, every day, and eventually your kids may surprise you.
Get your kids to eat salad by picking the right type
I personally don’t like spinach unless it’s blended in a smoothie, and the same goes for our kids.
Taste, texture and overall food preferences are important to keep in mind.
Your kids may dislike some varieties of greens like kale and Romaine but a milder green like red leaf lettuce or a spring mix might be a win.
Get your kids to eat salad with the right tools
I never used to be the salad-eating type—cooked vegetables were more my speed.
But after I had my first child, my husband purchased this wood chopping bowl and mezzaluna set and making salads became easier and more delicious.
I simply add salad greens, carrots or peppers and avocado, chop everything in the bowl and I have a restaurant-quality salad. Now that my kids are older, they can chop the salad while I’m taking care of the rest of the meal.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some vegetables can be choking hazards, so you’ll want to be sure that they’re finely chopped. You can use a potato peeler, a box grater, or a food processor.
Add yummy ingredients
Think about foods your kids already love and add them to salads to make them more appealing. Put out a variety of ingredients like croutons, shredded cheese, raisins, cranberries, mandarin oranges, nuts and seeds and let your kids choose.
Although you don’t want to go overboard with the toppings, which can add sodium, sugar and saturated fat, if it’s the only way to get your kids to eat salad, then so be it. As your kid grows to love salad, you can slowly cut back or swap out all the extras.
Don’t forget salad dressing
Dressing can give plain ‘ol salad some serious flavor so try different types until you find one your kid likes.
Although store-bought dressings are easy, keep in mind that many contain preservatives, are made with soybean oil, a man-made, processed oil, and are high in sugar and saturated fat.
Consider making your own salad dressing at home with ingredients like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and avocado.
Try salad kits
My family has become hooked on a salad kit that has shaved Brussels sprouts, shredded cabbage, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries.
Salad kits can be an easy way to get your kids to eat salad and make it easy to pull together dinner in no time.
When choosing a salad kit, always read labels since many are high in calories, sodium and sugar.
Take your kids grocery shopping
Shopping for salad ingredients at the grocery store or farmers’ market with your kids helps them to feel empowered to make healthy choices. When they’ve had a hand in making a meal, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
In fact, according to an August 2014 study in the journal Appetite, kids who cooked with their parents ate 76 percent more salad than those whose parents prepared the meal alone.
It might seem that your kids will be picky eaters forever, especially if you have toddlers who are inherently picky, but most kids can become healthy, adventurous eaters and love salad.
The key is to continue to offer healthy foods and teach healthy eating habits every day. This simple shift in mindset can help you muster up the energy and dedication to stay the course and raise healthy-eating kids.