Originally printed in the Greenwood Daily Journal: Spice of Life. April 30, 2011
Several years ago I had begun to dread mealtimes. I had tried everything, and yet all my efforts to feed my family were being undermined by a very powerful force: vegetables. Dinnertime was reduced to constant pushing and pulling with me forever begging my oldest son to eat this and try that. He always protested unhappily and came out the winner every time.
Instead of laughing and having a good time around the dinner table, I was irritated and stressed out. I had read too many books about childhood nutrition and as a result I was constantly worried he wasn’t going to thrive unless he gulped down his allotted servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Then one day we were at a market in Bloomington and I was making a salad at the self serve salad bar. Intrigued my son asked if he too could fill a box and “make his own dinner”. Afraid I would jinx it I heartily agreed. He snatched up a pair of tongs and successfully added over 6 dollars worth of fruits and vegetables to his container. Now in normal circumstances I would have stopped him but I just watched in awe as he snapped on his lid with satisfaction and sat down to decide what he wanted to try first.
He did find a few new items that day to add to the very short list of things that he ate at the time and I was too encouraged to rock the boat. On the way home I asked him what made him decided that was the day to step out of his comfort zone and add some color to his plate, so to speak. He plainly and quite literally told me that it was the dressings. So many choices, more than I had in my refrigerator door. He was excited by the choices.
An idea sparked that day and I went home and got to work. There were a few clear winners that day so little by little I began incorporating these crunchy new items into his diet. When he was in second grade he wrote a short story about himself in which he described his favorite food as: carrots. Still, to this day he prefers carrots and dip to most things offered. He has refined his dressing preferences now and has 3 trusty standbys that he goes to. Ranch, blue cheese and Catalina.
I still have to be vigilant about nudging him to try new things but I rarely utter that dreaded phrase anymore. Sometimes my kids go with the flow at mealtimes and sometimes I have to be a little more clever at hiding what they won’t try while offering up what they will. Thus making for happier mealtimes.
Since becoming a mother, I have discovered that being a parent is largely about being challenged all of the time. Whether you work outside of the home or stay at home with your children, parenting is just plain difficult, and mealtimes are often an unpleasant pressure point. All we want to do is make simple, fast, nutritious meals that our kids will actually eat. But after just one experience of watching our child turn their nose up at our best efforts or refuse to eat we just want to give up. Who has that kind of time, or food, to waste?
At least once a week I try to make a big, hearty salad for dinner. Last week Meijer had strawberries on a fabulous sale so I bought a ton of them. I used some, froze the rest. I made strawberry cake, compote and a nice big salad. This is definitely the last in my “1001 Meals Made Out of Strawberries” series!
I don’t have a whole lot to say about the salad other than it was tasty, filling and we ate every bit. The thing about salad for dinner is that it doesn’t have to be boring. Make a bed of greens that you and your diners like and set out toppings that you know they will want. It doesn’t have to be fancy, at all. Use what you have on hand or what is in season or on sale.
I am just a little proud of the fact that my kids LOVE salad night and have come to count on it. I try to have some fresh greens tossed in vinegar and oil with most meals. This week we are eating a lot of spinach. Last week it was arugula, see no rhyme or reason. Just whatever sounds good!
Some of you may want to know what I dress my greens in that my kids will eat. Someone I know asked me last summer why I would ever make my own dressing when there are so many good bottled ones out there. She did have a point, there are a few that I do like and sometimes buy. My 2 points are: 1. I often forget to buy salad fixings AND dressing in the same trip and 2. I have NEVER bought a pre-made dressing that tastes the way mine do and I guess I just prefer mine.
Having salad for dinner doesn’t have to be a chore. Pick what sounds good and just do it. Make your dressing in an old Ball jar, like I do. That way you can shake it all up and refrigerate the leftovers.
My basic measurements for a simple dressing is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or acid (citrus juice). Give it a little taste before you serve it. Don’t worry if it tastes a little salty. Remember, this will coat the salad not be eaten a spoonful at one time.
Don’t drown your salad, a little goes a long way. Always better to add more later if you need to.
Strawberry and Grilled Chicken Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Layer the following in a large dish
2 Romaine hearts, washed and chopped
slivered almonds, 1 handful
chicken, cooked and shredded (I used leftovers from the night before)
strawberries (or whatever berry you want) several hand fulls, washed and sliced
In a clear jar or shaker add the following:
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, large pinch of sea/kosher salt, fresh pepper, juice of 1 orange or lemon, a little zest from that orange or lemon, 1/2 tsp sugar or honey. I also added just a little bit of minced fresh basil. I always add a bit of fresh herbs if I have them on hand and I just happened to have a few basil leaves to use.
Shake and use.
** another variation is instead of juice use 2 Tb of balsamic and 1 tsp of Dijon mustard.
Blue Cheese Dressing
This dressing is super easy and once you have tried it you may never want to buy the store bought bottled dressing again!
Add the following ingredients to a clean, empty glass or plastic container with a tight fitting lid
1/2 C blue cheese
3 TB buttermilk
3 TB light sour cream
2 TB light mayonnaise
2 TSP white wine vinegar
1/4 TSP sugar
1/8 TSP garlic powder
salt/pepper to taste
Tighten the lid and shake. This can be refrigerated for 2 weeks! I like to double this recipe to have on hand as it goes well with fresh cut up veggies for my kids after school snacks!