Think Your Toddler Won’t Eat a Salad?
The modern food industry has taught us to think that some foods are for kids— chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs — and other foods simply are not. Salad would fall into this second list.
But what is a salad anyway? The word makes many of us think of a bowl of lettuce, but it doesn’t have to be that way. What about a Caprese salad? Tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil — yum! Wait, where’s the lettuce?
My 4-year-old is by far my pickiest eater. His older brother and younger sister will at least taste most anything that is put in front of them, but not this guy. If it even sort of kind of looks mushy, he doesn’t want any part of it. This kid won’t even eat pasta — including mac and cheese. But, salad? No problem. Just put the right dressing on it, and he’ll eat it right up.
Now that I’ve been through three kids, I’ve begun to notice a few trends in what works and what doesn’t. Here are a few tips to help you turn your little ones into salad eaters, too.
Start with something they really like.
In my family, this usually involves fruit. The first salad that my kids really embraced was this: chopped apples with about a teaspoon of finely chopped spinach lightly coated with poppy seed dressing.
What do your children really like? Maybe it’s a fruit like apples or grapes, or maybe it’s a chicken nugget. Whatever it is, make the main ingredient one you know they enjoy.
We all know those children who can spot a single speck of green buried in their dinner and will throw a temper tantrum over it. I have one friend whose preschooler commenced a hunger strike over some minced sage she’d put in a meatloaf. But most of these children gladly ate the vegetable purees their moms gave them as babies just a few years before. What happened?
It is amazing how set in their ways children can become when they are in their toddler years. Ask anyone who’s ever had to potty train a kid how difficult it can be to change the habits of a child! So what are we to do? Start young. Don’t let them go for any length of time without seeing colorful food on their plates.
Finely chopped, please!
The younger the child is, the more aware we have to be of how many teeth they have. Lettuce is not easy to chew when you don’t have any molars, and texture is often a bigger deal to young children than flavor.
The solution? A little bit of finely chopped greens sprinkled as a garnish on top of a favored food. Kale, spinach, swiss chard, basil, parsley — be creative and find out what your children like. Whatever it is, keep the greens coming!
A secondary benefit to finely chopping is that it’s more difficult to pick around. Especially with some salad dressing that makes the green bits stick to the main ingredient, even the most dedicated cherry picker is bound to consume at least a little green.
Know when to hold your ground.
Every child is different, and some are more stubborn than others. Sometimes a child really and truly might not like the food you’ve placed in front of them. Other times, they may just prefer Goldfish, and if they think they can manipulate the situation, they’ll refuse to eat until you give them what they really want.
I never cease to be impressed with the creativity my children show in trying to figure out how to get what they want. In the end, no one knows your children like you do. If a child is trying to manipulate the situation just to ask for candy later, I tend to hold my ground. On the other hand, if the food really is repulsive to them, I’ve found that it can be more hurtful than helpful to force it down.
Salads are wonderful foods. They can involve a huge diversity of foods, but tend to be mostly vegetable, which makes them an integral part of a healthy diet. They also tend to be easy to prepare in advance and a great way to use up leftovers.
The sooner children learn how delicious they can be, the better.
Kathryn Arthur blurs the lines between farmer and chef. She is currently working to establish a sustainable farm in central Virginia and loves to write about her research in agriculture and nutrition as well as her daily adventures in the kitchen.