Salad.  It’s one of the most emotionally charged foods (or dishes) out there. Parents tell me all the time how they wish their kids would eat it. The problem is, they don’t really believe their kids ever will.

Of course there are children who do eat salad. Everyone knows at least one.  But deep down, don’t you believe those kids are anomalies, little freaks of nature? But they’re not.

Getting kids to eat salad isn’t terribly different than getting them to eat anything else; it’s mostly a function of exposure.  The more children see, touch, smell, get to know salad, the more likely they are to eat it.

Still, it’s clear that there is something special about salad because even many kids who eat a pretty wide range of vegetables refuse to eat it.

And lots of parents seem to assess their culinary competence, and their children’s nutritional health, on the basis of their kids’ salad eating skills.  What’s a parent to do?

There are five facets to getting kids to eat salad.  Implement them all and your little tyke will tuck into this dish before you know it.

1) Increase Exposure.  Give your kids salad every day.  I know this seems like a lot, but you’re trying to make salad, and salad-eating, seem normal. It’s best to give your children salad when others are also eating it (for the modeling effect) but if you don’t eat with your toddler on a regular basis, serve salad as often as you can.  In fact, start thinking of salad like breakfast.  You provide it every day, but you change the ingredients on a regular basis.

2) Eliminate the Competition.  When it comes to salad-eating, you need to pick the best timing and offer your kids salad when there are no competing foods.  Salad simply can’t win when it’s up against better selections. Consider salad as a first course, as snack (done properly it is great finger-food) or even as the appetizer, dished up while you’re cooking dinner.

3) Keep Serving Sizes Small: Give your kids a teeny amount of salad so that success seems easy to them.  After all, many children who think you want them to eat a whole plate won’t even try a single bite. One tablespoon is a good amount to start with.  Work up to about 1/4 or 1/3 a cup after your kids are experienced salad-eaters.

4) Switch It Up: Be sure to rotate what you put in the salad; don’t make it just greens.  And think about changing the dressing.  Not only will this teach your children the true nature of salad – that it’s a kind of dish, not a predetermined selection of ingredients – but mixing it up also will avert their claim to not like it. (How can they know if they don’t like it if they’ve never seen a salad quite like this before?)  In addition, don’t put some of everything from the salad onto your children’s plate. Pick and choose the items you think they’ll like most – tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.  Knowing they haven’t gotten the whole salad makes kids feel their taste preferences are being respected and that will make them more likely to eat what they’ve been given.

5) Stay Silent: Don’t talk about the salad.  Don’t put any pressure on your child to eat it.  And don’t say anything other than “OK” if your child doesn’t eat it.  Simply remove the salad at the end of that course and move on to the meal.  Over time your child will eat the salad. I promise.

When it comes to getting kids to eat salad, you’ve got to think long term.  

Unless you have been blessed with the rare breed of child — humanus saladicus –  who takes to salad at first sighting, you’ve got to build salad into your child’s structure of eating, make it expected, make it a habit.  Oh yeah, and consider giving salad The Look!. It will really help a lot.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~