I can’t tell you how many times parents ask me, “How can I get my kids excited about salads?” You’re probably thinking, “Is it even possible to get your kids to eat salads, let alone get excited about eating them?” As a former veggie hater and the mother of a picky toddler and a testy teen, I can certainly relate to the woes of getting kids to eat anything “healthy.”
While we all know healthy eating and good nutrition is important for our growing kids, sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth the fight. If they don’t like something, they won’t eat it – it’s just that simple. Give ’em the nuggets and the mac ‘n’ cheese and be done with it, right?
Now, I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do know a thing or two about making healthy foods, especially vegetables, more fun and appealing to kiddos (and adults too). Believe it or not, it all starts with my salad making methods. That’s why they call me “That Salad Lady” (yes, the name was actually given to me by kids).
I can tell you that it is absolutely possible to get your kids to eat (and love) salads. Here, I’ve put together 10 tips and tricks, that I’ve personally used to get the kiddos totally excited when the salad bowl arrives.
Give Them a Reason
First and foremost, if you really want to get your kids to eat salads, you’ve got to give them a reason to. While quick and convenient, solely relying on bagged salads, likely won’t garner a whole lot of excitement. Honestly, would you get excited about that? Even if you do purchase bagged blends, it’s okay to venture outside the romaine, radish, carrot and cabbage. Just continue reading and you’ll find that there are tons of flavorful layers your kids will love!
Add Plenty of Color
As adults, we eat with our eyes. Kids are the same! Adding lots of bold and bright colors can make salads more visually appealing to kids. So don’t hesitate to load those bowls with red, orange, yellow, green and purple foods. In addition to their visual appeal, foods with brighter, deeper colors generally house the most nutrients. By building your kid’s salad bowls with more colors, you’re also encouraging them to eat more nutritionally diverse diets.
Create “Fun-Sized” Blends
Presenting ingredients in bite-sized form is an almost sure way to get your kids to eat salads – and with excitement! I’ve applied this tactic on small and big kids alike. From bite-sized peppers and broccoli to cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots, it’s just something about miniature food that makes it more appealing. Many have told me it feels more like they’re eating a “fun-sized” snack rather than a salad. It’s also another “visually appealing” way to present salads to kids.
Quick Hack: Our Ultimate Salad Bowl is a great example of a fun-sized salad blend. Kids love to eat this rich and flavorful salad in mason jars. Give it a shot!
Try Out Different Textures
Like adults, kids gravitate towards certain food textures. Foods that are crispy and crunchy, or soft and juicy tend to be especially appealing. Watch your kid’s eating patterns to get a feel for their texture preferences – if you have older kids, just ask them. From there, incorporate those textures into your salad making. Try ingredients like cucumber, snapped peas and apples for crispy, crunch, or tomatoes, blueberries and butternut squash for a softer, juicier mouthfeel.
Make Them Sweet
Kids love sweets! If you’re trying to get your kids to eat salads, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding natural sweeteners to the bowl. Honey makes a great sweetener, as it contains a good amount of antioxidants. Experiment with dressings like our honey-mustard blend or sweet balsamic vinaigrette. You can even take a stab at our honey-glazed nuts recipe. When in doubt, add fruit layers like berries, apples, oranges, pears and dried fruits for sweetness.
Don’t Forget the Protein
Protein is for everyone – this includes kids. As kids often fall short on protein, salads are a great way to get more of it into their diets. Protein also brings more flavor and variety to the bowl. Bite-sized chicken breast cubes, meatballs, white cheeses (shredded mozzarella and parmesan), chopped hard-boiled egg and bacon sprinkles are among the many options I’ve found to be kid-approved. I’ve also used edamame, mixed beans and flavored quinoa for meatless blends.
Bring in Some Favorites
There’s good reason why kid’s menus are full of chicken tenders and nuggets, mac & cheese and spaghetti. This is the stuff most kids like (or have been conditioned to like). If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em by occasionally adding some of these favorites to the salad bowl. As throwing in a few chicken tenders or some pasta delivers those familiar flavors kids love, they’re more likely to get excited about their salad. Remember, your goal is to get them to eat the salad itself.
Quick Hack: If you have a taco fan (what kid doesn’t love tacos?), try our Taco Salad Bowl, which can easily be adapted for vegetarian eaters.
Let Them Participate
If you’re really trying to get your kids excited about salads (and eating vegetables in general), let them contribute to the process of meal planning and meal prep. This can include anything from choosing recipes and picking out the produce, to washing, peeling and/or chopping vegetables (if they’re old enough to handle a knife). When kids participate in the process, out of mere curiosity, they’ll want to see it through – that means taste-testing the finished product!
Experiment with Dressing
Sometimes the only way to get your kids to eat salads is to smother them with dressing. That’s okay. Just make sure you’re adding quality salad dressing to the bowl. I suggest making your own and experimenting with different flavors (sweet, salty, sour and savory). Try some of ours! Making dressing is also a great way to get some participation from the kids. My oldest is always in charge of running the food processor and taste-tasting until we perfect our dressing blends.
Quick Hack: If making dressing isn’t an option, find a good store-bought dressing your kids absolutely LOVE so they’ll always look forward to salad time.
Load Up the Bowls
Kids generally prefer lots of choices on their plates so don’t be shy about adding plenty of ingredients to their bowl. This is a great way to mask the bitterness of certain vegetables like broccoli and kale. With smaller kids, I usually make figurative designs with salad layers (making smiley faces with berries and cherry tomatoes or arranging beans in the shape of a heart). You can also make rainbows or stripes as we do with our Kale Cobb Salad. Your options are endless!
Every Bowl is an Opportunity
There’s no denying that every salad bowl is an opportunity for you to get more whole foods into your kid’s diet, especially vegetables. In fact, by eating one good-sized salad every day, your kids can easily meet their daily vegetable needs. Though many factors impact kids’ willingness to eat salads (and other healthy foods), a lot of it starts with us, not them. We have to meet them where they are.
As a healthy living coach, I’ve worked with kids (and adults) who were among the pickiest (and most resistant) of eaters. Knowing I couldn’t coerce them into trying new foods, I simply met them where they were. While I emphasized the importance of eating certain foods, I always exposed them to a lot of different options until we found foods, they were actually willing to try.
If we want our kids to get excited about salads, it starts with their own willingness to try different layers and not us trying to persuade them to do it. But we have to offer those different layers for them to try (learn how to add salad layers without a recipe).
I know, I know, this is much easier said than done. You get home from work. You’re tired. You’re hungry. The last thing you want to do is become That Salad Lady (or “Gentleman”). Even as That Salad Lady, I can relate. Luckily, this isn’t something you have to do every day. Even occasionally going that extra mile can go a very long way. We have to lead by example. If we’re not excited about the salads we make, we can’t expect them to be.