Whenever we post about favorite salad toppings we get questions about how/when kids can eat salads, too – this post is very long overdue!
The biggest issue with salad is the safety of the greens. If we give a toddler soft leafy greens before they have a good rotary chew pattern established and a lot of teeth they may just swallow it whole. Lettuce leaves may be soft, but they do require lots of great chewing with teeth to break down (unlike many other foods that can be chewed successfully with gums).
Here are some simple guidelines:
- 6+ months – start with soft salad toppings like a tomato strip/wedge, avocado strip/wedge and cooked carrot. Our Infant Course will help you learn to safely serve these foods to babies 6+ months!
- 14-16+ months – continue to offer the soft salad toppings. If serving carrot raw you can shred it, but we don’t recommend whole uncooked carrot until age 4 as it’s a choking hazard. Offer crunchy lettuce like romaine cut near the stem in shredded pieces (see image below) with a dressing/dip like olive oil, ranch or vinaigrette. Crunchy lettuce helps your child feel the texture in their mouth, and a tart, vinegar-based dressing may awaken their taste buds. You can also experiment with lettuce wraps at this age.
- 18+ months (or once they’re successfully chewing the individual lettuce shreds) – assembled salad with shredded crunchy lettuce and soft salad toppings + dressing.
- 2.5+ years – Judy recommends waiting until about 2.5 or when your child has a full set of teeth to most effectively chew large leafy greens like spinach or spring mix.
A few additional tips:
- Model eating salad if you want your child to eventually eat it too!
- We don’t recommend salad as the only part of their meal, as salads can be overwhelming for new eaters. Many toddlers simply won’t eat them for a long time – that’s OK! Baby steps. Offer it as a small side as they learn to eat it and become comfortable with it.
- Some preferred dressing goes a long way for kids (and adults) when learning to eat salads! We love Primal Kitchen ranch; choose an olive- or avocado-oil based dressing when possible, but sometimes any preferred dressing makes all the difference!