If you are a parent of small children, you may be familiar with this dinnertime scenario: you serve a balanced meal with a salad only to watch your kids carefully ignore the colorful bowl of goodness and dive straight into the meatballs with mashed potatoes. And although I know that it is necessary to give children the freedom to choose what they want of the foods offered at a meal, sometimes I cannot help wondering if there is a way to present foods in a way that is more attractive for them.

So one evening the idea of a salad bar as a first course or appetizer was born. I intentionally did not serve it together with other foods I prepared for dinner because:

1/ I was inspired by the example of my husband’s family in Spain where a salad is always served as a first course and children eat it without complaints.

2/ The kids were hungry on that particular evening and the dinner was not ready yet, so I decided to take advantage of their appetite.

3/ Salad bar takes a lot of space on a dinner table so it is more convenient to serve it separately from the main meal which is also presented family-style in our house.

Salad bar_small

Here is how to serve a salad bar that your kids will love:

1/Serve a variety of salad ingredients in bowls with a dressing on a side. Many kids prefer separate ingredients to a mixture of foods that may be intimidating for less adventurous eaters. Besides, they love using serving tools and a salad bar is a great opportunity to practice those skills even if you do not serve meals family-style yet.

2/Allow your kids to pick and choose the foods and amounts they want. And I really mean this. “A little bit of everything” does not apply here if you want your kids to learn to enjoy salads. They will eventually know which proportions are right from watching you eating yours. In the meanwhile, they need time to explore and experiment with separate ingredients first.

3/Do not pressure them to eat certain vegetables and do not restrict them if all they want to eat is raisins. They will eventually branch out to other foods if they do not feel forced to try them. Make sure there is at least one ingredient that they like. This way, even if this is the only thing they eat, they will still feel successful at eating their “salad”.

Since this little experiment, my kids are eating salads. Of course, their combos may not look exactly like what I have on my plate, but they keep learning to like a variety of flavors and textures of raw and cooked vegetables. My 7-year-old recently discovered that she really likes spinach dipped in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and my 4-year-old found out that avocados and cranberries taste great together.

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On some days they eat a lot and on others, they eat a little. And their favorite ingredients also vary from one day to another, with a few more or less consistent “winners”.

I found out that it is very important to take a step back and allow my children to independently explore the options available at the salad bar. They feel proud and empowered when they try a new food only if they did it on their own accord, without pressure.

 Some foods that make great salad bar ingredients:

– spinach, spring greens, or any salad leaves chopped in bite-size pieces

– fruit like apples, pears, and clementines

– nuts and seeds

– avocados

– grated carrots or beets

– chopped peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers

– raisins, chopped dates

– cooked chickpeas or beans

For a more filling salad that can be served as a lunch or a light dinner for the whole family, add pieces of chicken, ham, boiled egg, cooked pasta or rice.