It's a Toss-Up: Serving Salad to Toddlers

09.08.10: Leo's 27th Month

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One of Leo’s playgroup buds, Dashiell, is renowned for his particularity around food—an inherited trait. When he welcomed a new baby brother, I offered to bring over a fried chicken dinner, and I emailed ahead to ask whether there were any veggies I could fix that the whole family would enjoy. “Are potatoes a veggie?” Dash’s mother replied, followed by “and Dashiell will eat salad.”

Come again? Your picky kid eats actual salad? So then why have I been serving Leo little side dishes of plain sliced cucumber and halved yellow grape tomatoes and calling it salad? What kind of a prejudice do I—who profess to encourage open-minded eating—have against the toddler palate?

Then again, I eat salad with woeful infrequency. Though often I think about my mother, who has produced a big, lovely tossed salad to serve with dinner EVERY night for I don’t know, 35 years? More? No matter how many vegetables she’s also serving, no matter if it’s only going to be her and my dad-who-dislikes-dressing, there is always a lovely salad going on over there. I am shamed by the slovenly salad ways I’ve fallen into. Around here, we make salad most often if it’s, um, all we’re having. Or if we have company (every 3rd blue moon).

I can do better. I need to, to bolster my self-esteem if nothing else. So last Monday, while people across this nation were celebrating Labor Day by taking it easy, and Aaron, Leo and I were reeling from Leo’s new 4:30 wake-up time and horrendous mood swings (molars anyone?), I decided to turn things around.

I announced that we make a big salad. Dashiell’s favorite! Then I made a big show of all the marvelous things you could add to a salad. Carrots! Cheese! Chickpeas! Slivers of salami! Avocado! And our friends the yellow tomatoes and cukes, of course. Tossed with lettuce and the simple balsamic dressing that Dash prefers, I served forth the salad and we all sat down and. Ate. Salad. True, Leo only consumed one piece of lettuce, and picked up each item and shouted “what’s that?!” before he ate it, but I was looking for a sense that all was right, and I found it over a big family salad.

So I did it again the next day. And the next. Some days, I add something so alluring—fresh mozzarella for instance—that Leo ignores everything else. Some days I let Leo toss the salad, and then I try to catch the flying bits as they escape the bowl. Some days I ask leading questions, like “do you like salad?” just to hear Leo utter the phrase “I like salad.” It hasn’t been an easy time around here, whether it’s teething, that terribleness of two-year-olds they warned us about, or who knows, but I’m consoling myself by turning over a new, healthy leaf in the kitchen, and taking lots of credit for the whole thing. Some weeks with a young child, you have to keep a narrow focus.

Recipe: Toddler-Approved Salad Suggestions

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Tableshe tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.

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