Wish you could get your kids to eat healthier? Here are the tips we used to get our three kids, 6 and under, to not just eat salad, but love it!
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I still clearly remember the day I first realized that kids can actually like salad. Some friends had invited us over for dinner and when the salad was served, all 3 of their children, who weren’t that old at the time, took some without any sort of bribing. My husband and I just sat there incredulous! When we commented on it, both parents acted like it was just a normal thing and said that their kids had started eating salad and liking it at a young age.
So, I’m not sure why we were so surprised when our son started requesting to try salad when he was 3 years old, and why it took multiple times of asking before we actually gave in. I guess we simply assumed that our kids would be like us and not learn to like salad until they were pre-teens/young teenagers. Well, we were pretty wrong in that assumption because not only did our 3-year-old eat a couple of bites of salad the first time we gave him some, he soon truly loved it!
We now eat salad several times a week and both our 6-year-old and 3-year-old thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, they often fight over who gets to finish it up, a problem I never dreamed we’d have! And just recently, our 16-month-old starting asking for salad too and for the most part has liked it so far.
I know many parents struggle getting their kids to enjoy veggies, especially salads. But I’m suspicious that more kids would like salad if they are introduced to it properly. So, how did we get our kids to eat salad when so many kids don’t like it at all? Here’s what has worked for us.
(Disclaimer: Following these tips won’t guarantee that your child will end up loving salad, although I do think doing these things will make it much more likely! These are simply things that worked for us and are what other parents have agreed worked well for them too. But I am definitely not an expert on the subject! 🙂 )
How to Get Your Kids to Eat Salad
1. Start Young
As I already mentioned, with our firstborn, we just assumed salad would be on the “do not like” list and never bothered offering it to him. With our second and third, we looked at things a bit differently and began introducing salad to them when they started eating other harder-to-eat foods, somewhere around 16 to 18 months.
At that stage they are used to trying new foods, and experiencing new flavors and textures is a normal thing. As a result, I think there is more of a chance that they’ll be willing to try salad and end up actually liking it!
2. Start Slow
We often introduce salad by giving our child just a bite or two at each meal, often along with another food that our child loves. For instance, if we are having mashed potatoes, we’ll add a small piece of lettuce to a bite of that. This allows your child to get used to the new texture and taste without it seeming overwhelming.
3. Teach by Example
You know the old saying, “More is caught than taught”? If your kids regularly see you eating salads and enjoying them, chances are they’ll be more likely to want to try a bite too. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to occasionally casually mention how delicious you think your salad is!
4. Choose Your Greens Wisely
Our kids much prefer mild-tasting, leafy lettuce over thicker, strong-tasting varieties. I’m lucky to have a local grower that I can get beautiful leafy New Red Fire lettuce from year-round, and our kids love it. While I’ll occasionally throw in some spinach or another green, most of the time New Red Fire is our standard salad green.
When choosing your greens, remember that tougher or stronger-tasting greens like Romaine lettuce, kale, regular spinach and even Iceberg will probably be a little harder to get your kids to enjoy. Stick with leaf lettuces and baby spinach which are typically milder and not quite as tough, and you’ll likely have more success.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t add the stalky part of the lettuce to your salad. The texture will most likely be a big turnoff! I mean hey, I love salad and I’m not even crazy about that stalky stuff!
5. Chop Things Small
Small pieces are so much easier to eat, especially for little mouths! Tear lettuce into kid-friendly bite-sized pieces, grate carrots rather than slicing them, dice tomatoes and other veggies, etc.
6. Add Fun Topping
Unless your kids are big fans of raw veggies, you’ll probably need to think outside the box and try some other salad toppings. Some of our kid’s favorites are cheese (of course!), hard-boiled egg, black beans, almonds, ham or chicken, mandarin oranges and crushed corn chips. Raisins or dried cranberries are also often well received.
7. Choose a Kid-Friendly Dressing
Finding a salad dressing that your kids love will go a long way in helping them enjoy salad! Most kids love Ranch dressing, so that is what we use to start out. And it is actually still the only dressing our oldest really enjoys!
The rest of us, however, much prefer homemade Mexican Dressing. It is slightly sweet and mild enough in taste, making it pretty kid-friendly.
8. Be Generous
Especially when you’re kids are working at learning to like salad, go ahead and be generous with both the toppings and the dressing. If they have lots of other yummy flavors to enjoy with each bite of lettuce, it helps them be more okay with trying it.
As they get used to the flavor and texture of lettuce, you can slowly cut back on the amount of toppings and dressings.
Research has proven that often kids need to try a food multiple times before they actually learn to like it. If your child balks at trying salad, don’t give up right away.
Keep offering it and encouraging them to take just one bite. If they really seem resistant, drop it for a while and then try again in a couple of weeks or months.