At wit’s end trying to cajole your picky eater into eating healthy, good-for-them foods? Do we have a pre-dinner trick for you!
First, you must answer this question. When is the best time to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Answer: Anytime they are hungry! You can use this insight in your mission to improve your picky eater’s habits. A hungry child (or adult for that matter!) is more open to trying new foods, so take advantage of those hunger pains and put something healthy on their plate before the main course is served.
Before sitting down for the family dinner, try starting with salad as an appetizer. As the kids are mulling around asking over and over again if dinner’s ready yet (I can hear them now!), you can put a crisp salad in front of them and actually have them eat it. You may want to call it an “appetizer” instead of just “salad”, as that term holds special allure to kids!
Now that you’ve gone to your local farmer’s market (see Healthy Habit #8: Eat Local and In Season) and are well stocked with fresh, in-season goodies, you are ready to begin.
First, start with romaine lettuce. Cut it into manageable bite-sized pieces for small mouths. Do not bother buying iceberg lettuce, as it has questionable nutritional value compared to its greener counterparts. Do not use spring mix either, as most kids tend to not appreciate the variety of tastes and textures. You can and should mix in a little spinach, as once it’s finally chopped and mixed in with the romaine your kids will look at it as lettuce, which for many kids is less offensive a vegetable than spinach!
Second, dice up some kid-favorite toppings to mix-in. Feature as many ingredients in your salad as you have in inventory. Switch it up every time so it’s never quite the same…that will keep the kids guessing as to all the different flavors they taste in every bite. It’s always nice to include some crunchy foods, some soft, and some chewy foods so every bite is a surprise. It’s also a great way to expose them to new veggies and fruits they may not have had before…you may want to wait to share the exact ingredients until AFTER they’ve finished!
Some of our favorite salad add-ins include:
- Carrots - shredded
- Broccoli – chopped fine
- Cranberries or raisins - dried fruit is nutritionally similar to fresh
- Fruit – apples, grapes, strawberries are popular choices
- Edamame – shelled of course, great for protein!
- Whole wheat croutons – a perennial kid favorite
The ideal dinner starts with salad. It’s a great way to put something healthy on the table before the main meal is ready (gives you time to keep the kids occupied while you finish up the main course and sides!). Eating a salad first means you’re more likely to eat less of the main course. It’s also a sneaky way you can increase your child’s daily fruit and vegetable consumption. If your kids aren’t salad eaters yet, you can start with veggies or fruits and dip. That will get them used to the idea of eating a healthy appetizer before their main meal.
To prevent your everyday salad “appetizer” from getting stale, here are some ideas to keep it fresh and exciting:
(1) MAKE A CHOPPED SALAD
Make a “Chopped Salad” by chopping all the ingredients together in a large bowl with the dressing. This is perfect for kids because it ensures every bite includes bite-sized portions. It’s also quite a production in the kitchen because the sound of actually chopping up the salad makes quite a commotion and stirs their curiosity!
(2) MAKE A GARBAGE SALAD
To make your salad more like a meal, you can always include proteins such as diced meats (great idea for chicken, fish or steak leftovers!), edamame, hard boiled eggs, or tuna. In fact, you could make it a real “Garbage Salad” and include all sorts of leftovers. The ingredients are then all mixed together so it is almost impossible to pick out any offenders (we want to avoid this kind of picky eater behavior anyway!).
(3) MIX UP YOUR DRESSINGS
Although dressings add fats and calories, they also add flavor to salads which is key to making sure your kids love it. Of course you can buy all-natural dressing from the store and in some cases, it is easier to do that. There are also tons of easy recipes for delicious, full-flavored dressings that your kids might enjoy even more than the bottled versions. We also enjoy mixing different recipes to keep it different. Some of our favorite 5-ingredients-or-less dressing recipes include:
- Basic vinaigrette - lemon, olive oil, sea salt
- Egg-less Caesar – lemon, garlic, Dijon mustard, anchovy paste
- Yogurt ranch – buttermilk, yogurt, dill, garlic, sea salt
- Sweet vinaigrette – Dijon mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar, dill, extra virgin olive oil