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Don’t Call It ‘Salad’

I love early summer! Warm days and cool nights. It’s either because we live in Central New York or because I’m part feline, but I love to linger a little longer when the sun is shining, extending the days into evening on the deck. And one of the best parts of summer in our region is our fresh produce. But like many of you, often the last thing I want to do is cook when the weather is warm.

That’s why I love a great summer salad! However, trying to get your kids to eat a salad without fussing can be a challenge—until you start thinking like a kid. Kids love finger foods. They like things they can dip. Think how much they enjoy nuggets. So, now that we’re in their heads, we can see how a salad turns them off. The food is “touching” and all mixed together.

The trick is to choose your summer veggies and then make them special. I use cookie cutters on the cucumbers. Slice them fairly thin and make sure to use English cucumbers, which are virtually seedless. Then, hand them to the kids and have them punch out shapes. Fun food is food they will eat. And if I have them in the kitchen helping me, they’re not only more likely to eat whatever we create, they are proud of our creations. They’ll tell others what they’ve made and attempt to get them to “try” it too. It’s amazing how quickly you can turn around those picky eaters if you include them in the preparations.

My little ones like baby carrots, so we started there. Of course, if you prefer full-size carrots, slice them into long, thin ribbons. Then we opened a jar of baby corn. Baby corn can be found fresh, frozen and jarred. (If using jarred, make sure you rinse well to reduce sodium.) Even though dark leafy veggies pack a bigger nutritional wallop, corn isn’t candy. Baby corn has plenty of vitamins B6, C, folate, potassium and fiber. Corn is what we chose for our deconstructed salad; you can choose whatever vegetables your kids enjoy. Celery is often a favorite.

Shelled edamame (soybeans) is something my kids enjoy. Just thaw, don’t cook. A half-cup serving of edamame has the same fiber content as four slices of whole wheat bread. Also, it’s filled with protein—11 grams for just 120 calories—and supplies 10 percent of a day’s recommended allowance of iron and vitamin C. If your kids don’t like edamame, what about substituting sweet peas? Fresh or frozen, both will work.

I put shelled walnuts on my salad plate. The perfect size for nibbling, walnuts are also high in protein and fats—the “good” fats, the omega 3s that both we and our children need in our diets. An ounce of walnuts (about nine pieces) has 18 grams of fat, plus four grams of protein, two of fiber and lots of antioxidants. In other words, they’re not just crunchy; they’re packed with the very things our little ones need to grow.

While kids love dipping, what they typically want to dip into is little more than fat or sugar. Ketchup is filled with so much sugar, it takes away from the benefits of the tomatoes. The dip our kids love (and—who am I kidding—I love) is filled with sour cream and saturated fats.

My version of a sugar- and fat-free dressing offers the same sweetness our kids love in ketchup without the sugar. My ranch dressing recipe uses low-fat sour cream, an olive oil-based mayonnaise and fat-free buttermilk.

Making your own salad dressing is really fast and simple, and it uses ingredients we typically have in our pantries. It also allows you to adjust the seasonings to your family’s tastes and reduce sodium and sugar. I mix my salad dressings in a Mason jar and then use it to store and pour. If you hand the jar to a kid, he or she becomes the mixologist and will want to try the concoction. I prefer not to think of this as deception or trickery, rather another tool in our box for tackling healthy eating. Don’t forget, you can try these strategies with “picky” adults too!

Click to view recipe.

Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren. Her healthy lifestyle show, The Sweet Life, is airing on public television stations nationwide.

Photo credit: Kyle Carr photo


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