It is not a big surprise for anyone that many kids do not like salads. Not the typical mix of lettuce, veggies and dressing anyway. Since some of them would not even allow food to touch on their plate, mixed dishes like a salad become an especially hard sell for many kids.

Live and learn.

At the same time, learning to like new foods is a process, just like learning to walk, read or write. It does not stop when we grow up (I had to teach myself to like oysters and canned tuna in my twenties) but it seems especially challenging for children to learn to enjoy a less preferred or new food. Add to this the lack of nutrition education at schools and the ubiquitous junk food marketing and you get a perfect formula for raising a generation of picky eaters.

Experimental food science in the kitchen

The good news is that kids love experimenting. They love cooking and feeling appreciated for the effort they put into the process. They will also never miss a chance to openly critique the food that they tasted. And, ultimately, they want to be just like us, their parents, and to be able to eat and enjoy the same foods.

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My kids started craving a salad after I served it Smörgåsbord  style, aka a Salad Bar. Each time we put one together, I  try to include in it different vegetables with olive oil and some salt as a dressing.  But since variety is a key to eating well, why limit it to veggies? Experimenting with salad dressings is a fun way to break the routine in your salad making and introduce your children to new flavors, aromas and textures. And a sure way to incentivize them to taste your offerings is to give them an opportunity to “rate” them on a simple chart like the one below.

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But what happens if your kids do not like any of the options you prepared for the taste-test? Instead of taking it off the list and concluding that they “do not like it”, I suggest that you tell them that they need to try the food many more times in order to learn to like it.

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The idea for this taste test was born when we found a description of an  oily mixtures experiment in my 7 year old’s book. A couple of minutes of measuring, mixing and shaking resulted in a very simple vinaigrette and a basic understanding of the role of emulsifies in helping water and oils form a uniform mixture.

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This experimental vinaigrette turned out to be the next big discovery in my kids’ diet and a reason why a big bowl of raw veggies disappeared in front of my eyes within minutes that evening.

And the winner is…….

A few days later, we found ourselves in the kitchen again with a few recipes of salad dressing we wanted to prepare and some steamed green beans to sample them with. In about fifteen minutes we had one messy kitchen, two very happy kids and four bowls of delicious salad dressings to try.

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Here are the recipes of the dressings. You can adjust the amount of salt, pepper, lemon and vinegar to your taste. We certainly did. You can also just go out and buy a few bottles of salad dressing in your local supermarket. But making your own will give you and the kids an opportunity to smell, touch and bite all the ingredients and avoid a list of preservatives, thickeners and artificial colors.

Ginger miso dressing:

Adapted from New York Times recipe

  • 1/4 cup  grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons yellow miso
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • A handful of baby carrots or 2 medium regular carrots, roughly chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 inch long piece fresh ginger, cut into coins
  • Salt and pepper

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Orange salad dressing:

  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Blend all the ingredients in food processor until smooth.

Lemon mustard salad dressing:

  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper

Whisk all the ingredients in a bowl.

Raspberry salad dressing:

  • 1/4 cup  apple cider vunegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen, thawed
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Although my 4 year old was somewhat skeptical towards all salad dressings we prepared, both kids finally declared that the raspberry dressing was the winner. We used the leftovers with salad the same evening and it was a big hit. But does it mean that they will never see the other salad dressings we tasted that day? Of course not. It only means that there will be many more opportunities for them to taste and learn to like them.

I am curious, what is your kids’ favorite salad dressing?

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