I cried a lot in those first few years of motherhood. Virtually every day, and at every meal. It was hard trying to feed a little girl who was tiny (not on the growth chart kind of “tiny”) yet wouldn’t eat. There were many sad tears shed when she would hold food in her mouth for-e-ver.
Or when I would make something I KNEW she would like, only to have her push it away.
Or when I had to chase her around with a spoon.
But any parent with a “picky eater” knows there are happy tears too!
There are three distinct moments when I can recall wanting to cry, and shed tears of joy (for a change!).
(1) When Sienna ate meat (sausage) - a whole one - after struggling to get her to take a bite for ages. That was a few years ago, and now she eats and loves all meat. Even the gamier ones like lamb. I’m still shocked.
(2) When Sienna told me she was hungry. Our daughter had NEVER told us she was hungry, and didn’t have much of an appetite. I know now that much of that was a result of the negative associations she had with mealtimes/food (because anxiety –> leads to increased adrenaline –> which leads to a decrease in appetite). The day she asked for food and said those four magical words “I am hung-y mommy” was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. Keith was home and we both looked at each other in utter disbelief. That’s when I knew we were doing all the right things at meals to help her develop a better relationship with food. [I talk more about those in this FREE Webinar].
(3) And just a few weeks ago, when Sienna ate a salad. I almost died! Virtually every parent wants to celebrate when their child eats a vegetable. But a bowl of mixed veggies takes that celebration to the next level. Am I right?
She was sitting at the kitchen counter with her friend and Naomi and I placed supper in front of them. They each scooped their own sweet potatoes and chicken nuggets, but no one opted for the arugula salad. Except Sienna.
When she asked “Mommy can I have some of this?” it took every ounce of me not to show my excitement (or cry) given it wasn’t even a kid-friendly salad! I nonchalantly said “sure” and she scooped some greens on her plate, then ate one leaf, and eventually the whole scoop. After dinner, she came back and asked to have the leftover (and soggy?!) salad for her bedtime snack. Again, another nonchalant “sure” from me (while having a party inside).
After she went to bed I almost cracked a bottle of champagne (I don’t even really like champagne but it seemed appropriate!).
Instead I decided to write this post and give you hope (and a few great ideas for making a kid-friendly salad!).
First you must know that salads are HARD for a few reasons:
- Greens are tough to chew (and honestly don’t taste that good in comparison to other veggies or foods)
- Mixed foods are a no-no for many kids, especially mixed veggies!
- They require different sensory/motor skills - to manage the lettuce, tomatoes, and other ingredients. There’s a lot going on in some salads.
But don’t let that discourage you!
Here’s what you can do to help your child show some interest in salad. At least a kid-friendly salad.
How to Make a Kid-Friendly Salad (and Picky Eater Friendly)
Make a salad with ONE ingredient
Offering too many in one bowl will set off alarm bells. Instead JUST chop cup cucumber, or just tomato, or just carrots. Ideally it’s one of the veggies they do like to eat. Then toss it with dressing. If they only eat fruit, make it a fruit salad. There are no rules when it comes to salad….especially with fussier eaters.
Choose a tasty dressing
It’s kind of simple when it comes to kids. If it doesn’t taste good, they won’t eat it. So the dressing matters big time! It’s the first thing they taste - not the veggies themselves.
Sadly, I’m not the most creative when it comes to making yummy dressings. So if you’re like me, don’t feel guilty about buying a bottle of pre-made dressing. There are quality ones out there with non-hydrogenated oils, sugars, etc. I like this one. The perk is that I’m more likely to eat more salads too (because it’s quicker to use a bottled version vs. making my own).
But when I do make dressing, this is our go-to:
- Apple cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 tbsp)
- Olive oil (1 tbsp)
- Dijon mustard (1 tbsp)
- Honey or maple syrup (1 tsp) - I only add sometimes but the sweetness helps!
Skip the lettuce (for now)
I know I’m gushing because Sienna ate a leafy arugula salad. But we didn’t go from no salad to this. She’s been eating chopped salads for a few months or longer so the transition to one with leaves was easier. For now, start with crunchy veggies only. Or even better their favourite veggies or other foods (doesn’t just have to be veggies!). See below.
Don’t call it a “salad”
Some where down the line, kids made the connection that salads are mom and dad foods. So if we say we’re having “salad” they will ahve preconceived notions about that food and that they won’t like it. Instead call it a “crunchy bowl”, or a “rainbow bowl”, or something else relatable and fun.
Do a MYO Salad.
If you’ve seen my Free Webinar on how to raise kids to be healthy eaters, you know that control is one reasons why kids are picky (don’t worry, I share the other reasons in the webinar). After 12 to 18 months of age, children want to feel independent. That’s why they do better with Make Your Own Tacos and Pizzas. They get to choose what’s going on and in their food.
Try the same logic with salads. Put at least 3 bowls on the table with different items (chopped) they can put in their bowl.
- Cherry tomatoes
- Celery root / celeriac
- Bell peppers
- Romaine lettuce (the ribs are best)
- Dried cranberries
- Roasted chickpeas
- Chopped chicken (ideally free-range)
- Hard boiled egg (ideally free-range)
- Smoked salmon
- Canned salmon or tuna (preferably sustainably caught fish like this)
The ideas are endless! We just need to get out of the “salad” mentality and look at other kid-faves that they can toss together.
We have our chopped salad at least once a week, just varying the ingredients (romaine, peppers, cucumber, tomato, and avocado are the staples). The girls now love it and we as a family eat more salad because of it. This chopped salad is also likely the reason Sienna is now an arugula salad lover. Someone pinch me!
Did I miss any other ideas for kid-friendly salads? Please share below!