You may well imagine that we ate a lot of salads while I was writing my salad cookbook, sometimes 3-4 per day. And we continue to eat salads often, including main dish salads. While this can be so refreshing and delicious to adults, the little folk don’t always agree.
One reason could be because they don’t always digest raw vegetables as well as adults. It takes a strong digestive system to break down raw vegetables, and young children may not do as well at breaking them down. Cooked vegetables can be easier for them to digest, hence the disdain towards salad.
My little 4 year old girl actually does like salad. In fact, this week we had salad several times at lunch at her request. I find that if I don’t feed her enough vegetables, she will still feel “hungry” despite eating plenty of other foods. Perhaps she likes vegetables because it’s always been an important part of our diet. One time a friend was joking to my dad about our daughter not being able to eat “anything” since she was on a gluten free and dairy diet. He made a sarcastic remark about broccoli. But unknown to him, my little girl overhead him. She rose up in defense, “But I like broccoli!”, she declared emphatically. And it was true. She does love it. But even with her liking salad, she won’t eat the proportion that Joel and I do. And I still have to figure out ways to help her enjoy a meal that is salad based.
Here are some of my tips for eating salad with little ones.
1) Easy on the Greens, Heavy with the Toppings
When I do a main dish salad, with cheese, fruit, meat, nuts, etc on top, I dish up my little girl’s plate differently. Joel’s and my plate will be full of leafy greens and topped with all the goodies. Little girl’s plate will be full of the goodies, with some leafy greens. Having to dive in and out of greens to find the meat or beans or avocados can be a daunting thing when you are 4. This way she feels that she has plenty of filling food, and will still eat some of her leafy greens too.
2) Salad Wraps
Along those same lines, I had a lot of fun making salad wraps for my cookbook. Here the salad is wrapped around yummy fillings and used like a “wrap”. It has a high filling to lettuce proportion which keeps meat lovers and little people happy. In my book I include recipes for Apple, Cranberry Turkey Salad (which can be used as a filling for a wrap), Soy and Sesame Chicken Wraps, Taco Wraps (think tacos using lettuce as a taco shell!), Moroccan Beef or Lamb Wraps (which I adore) Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps with Two Dips (A family and recipe tester favorite! One of the recipes my daughter will specifically request). Chicken and Peach Wraps, and Everyday Lettuce Wraps.
I also find that salad wraps appeal to those younger because you get to play with your food. Small children really enjoy getting their fingers into their food and salad wraps are perfect for that!
3) Let them Pick out the Recipe
I will ask for requests when meal planning from my husband and now I’ve started to ask my 4 year old too. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that she has her favorites too. For example, she loves, loves, loves my Simple Carrot Salad (which is not sweet, but savory). She really enjoys the Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps with Two Dips because is has noodles and chicken in it and she loves to dip the wrap into the peanut or honey lime sauce. She likes the Wilted Spinach with Hot Bacon Dressing. And the Fresh Taco Salad is a hit with both my husband and my daughter. By using recipes that she enjoys, I can know that the work I put into making dinner will be rewarded by actually being eaten by all.
4) Set Aside Toppings
But sometimes, I know that she would better enjoy the toppings not in a salad, so I set aside a portion for her to eat plain. For example, I have a Simple Salmon Salad (also in the book) that I make often and she enjoys. But she likes fish a lot, so she prefers to eat the salmon not in the salad. So I set some aside for her (whether it came from the Slow Roasted Salmon Recipe or from a can) and serve up with a small side salad for her. That with a buttered piece of toast, keeps her happy.
5) Keep it Sweet
I’ve found that while I really enjoy a nice tang, that balancing it with a bit of sweet makes a big difference to my little one. Having a salad dressing that is on the sweeter side helps her enjoy salads. For example, my Sweet Onion Poppyseed Dressing is sweet as well as tangy. My daughter’s favorite is my Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette, made with a well aged balsamic (which is sweeter). You can also add a sweet element by adding fruit like fresh peaches, or dried cranberries, or candied nuts to the salad.
All in all, we’ve found that we can all enjoy eating salads together as a family. What about you? Do you have any kid friendly tips?