We're all big salad eaters in my home … except for one of my sons. He would turn his nose up at any colorful creation I tossed together—until I realized the right tactic. I knew that he adored mangoes, so I considered his preference to craft the bridge between his plate and the salad bowl. I prepared a separate dish for him: a few chopped lettuce leaves topped with a whole, diced mango. While the rest of the family ate salad, he had his own special appetizer. This practice was repeated on other nights, except the lettuce-to-mango ratio increased regularly. Other ingredients were gradually added, and today, my 6-foot, 4-inch young man is making his own fruit and veggie medleys.
It's not just kids that shun salads. Adults often opt for less nutrient-rich, calorie-laden appetizers and miss out on these satisfying dishes. Whether served as a side or a main, here are some helpful hints to get you psyched for salads:
• Add grilled fruit for a pop of color and a little twist. My kid's favorites are mangoes, pineapples, and watermelon. "Mangoes are a superfruit—bursting with antioxidants and over 20 different vitamins and minerals," says registered dietitian Tara Gidus, a nutrition consultant in Orlando. Sliced thin and grilled, they taste like fruit fries!
• Create a makeshift salad bar in your house, allowing your kids to choose their favorite ingredients. This helps prevent the wholesale avoidance of salad because of one disliked item. This is also your chance to expose them to variety! Start by giving everyone a foundation of mixed leafy greens, then encourage them to create a rainbow of flavor, using red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow peppers, green lettuce, blueberries, purple grapes, and figs.
• Try planting a fruit or veggie with your child and watch together as it grows. He'll be likelier to eat fruits and veggies that he raised from the start. You don't need a space the size of the White House lawn to create a garden, either. Even planting a few window-box herbs can help kids learn to appreciate these delicious gifts from the earth.
• Think outside the bowl. Try adding unique ingredients like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, pasta, shredded carrots, potatoes, pickles, or anything else your family might like. Here's a chance to combine frozen (peas), canned (beets), and fresh (tomatoes) ingredients you might have on hand.
• Make your salad home to leftovers. Last night's barbecue chicken or yesterday's grilled salmon can pair perfectly with a bed of spinach and citrus fruit.
• Try warming up your salads. Serve your greens slightly wilted, adding warm chicken slices, grilled veggies, and a warm dressing. The dressing can be served on the side after the ingredients are combined. I like to whisk together a blend of grainy mustard, creamy horseradish sauce, a thick balsamic vinegar, and tangy lemon juice, which I heat up slightly.
Don't assume that ordering a salad earns you a brownie. Some salads weigh in at over 1,000 calories, so take individual components into consideration, because they add up quickly. However, when chosen wisely, a veggie dish can help take the edge off of hunger and help you feel satisfied, combating the desire to binge on higher-calorie, less nutritious foods. Salads can also be a carrier of important nutrients we tend to skimp on. Studies show many of us lack calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamin D, all of which could be addressed by topping a salad with shredded cheese, mango, almonds, and grilled salmon, respectively.
If you didn't have a salad today—there's still time to toss one together. What are your favorite picks from the salad bar?
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.