When I mention that we eat a dinner salad almost every night, M-F, I get furrowed brows and lots of hows? No one asks why, because most of us know, because most of us are looking for simple ways to get more vegetables into our day and into the bellies of our tiny humans. But how? I once heard a simple vegetable wisdom. It goes like this: If you want to get more vegetables into mealtimes, especially with kids, start with them. Fill up on them first.
So we did and we do. About a year or two ago, we started starting most meals with the vegetable, with a salad, like a first course. Courses sound fussy and fancy. I agree. But this dinner salad is neither of those things. In order to make it extra doable, to make it actually happen, I have a couple rules for myself: no chopping or grating. Just tossing and crumbling. Rules are just parameters for creating, for executing, for pulling off an idea. Figure out what yours are, where your tipping point is, and stay within those boundaries.
In branding, they say to create an expectation and meet it again and again and again. Dinnertime isn’t so different. With this rhythm, there’s a little less negotiating, a little less dread, and not as much complaining around vegetable-eating from the tiniest among us. Once we finish our salad, we move on to the rest of the meal, usually sitting on a hot pad off to my right, Kev’s left, which is something to look forward to, something to expect, if you’re 6.
Let’s break this down to doable.
How to Put a Dinner Salad on the Table Every Night
Main rule: Keep it super simple (KISS) when composing a dinner salad. It’s a side salad, meant to go on the side, not stand in as the main meal. Let it be that. To compose, stick to these 4 components: loose leaf greens, house dressing, crumbly cheese, and crunchy sprinkles.
LOOSE LEAF GREENS
Stock your favorite loose leaf salad greens. Think spring mix or arugula, greens that need no special preparation, chopping, or washing. (See below for storage tips.)
Make a homemade, house dressing at the start of the week (or month). Think like a restaurant here and have a house dressing recipe or two in your back pocket. I typically keep one homemade dressing around the house at a time. Our current dressing: Red Wine Vinaigrette. (See below for the recipe.)
Pick your favorite crumbly cheese for added texture and tang. Think Roth Flavor Ups™ Blue Cheese Crumbles, Roth Chèvre Goat Cheese, or another crumbly cheese (like feta) that can crumble under the weight of your fingers. Crumble on the whole salad or serve on the side. The beauty of using a crumbly cheese is that no grating is necessary. No extra dirty dishes. You can also crumble to taste preferences. We’re a house divided over here. Surprise, surprise. Kev is so happy about these single-serve cups. Now he can have his Blue Cheese on a daily basis at home. NOTE: The Flavor Ups™ come in a pack of 3 and stay fresh in the fridge for several weeks.
Top with nuts or seeds. Think something crunchy and salty. We spring for salted sunflower seeds almost every time. Keep your preferred crunchy sprinkles stocked in the pantry.
Anything extra is, well, extra. Add as time permits. Grate carrots, slice green onions, sprinkle with dried or thinly sliced fresh fruit to change things up, as the season permits, when the fridge has a little extra.
Dinner Salad Tools
I keep a couple trusty tools around to help pull this off, most notably the mixing bowls also used at salad shops. They’re lightweight, easy to wash, and store. I have 5 of the same size.
At the start of the week, make the vinaigrette in the large salad bowl. Add all the vinaigrette ingredients except for the olive oil. Whisk to combine. (NOTE: I like to use my microplane zester to finely mince the garlic in this recipe.) Add in the oil and whisk until emulsified, until the oil and vinegar have become one. Leave enough dressing in the bottom of the bowl for the salad that night, pouring off the rest in a jar. Store at room temperature for up to a month. Feel free to double or triple the recipe, making once a month.
To the salad bowl, add the greens, just enough for one sitting. Using salad tongs, gently toss to thoroughly coat the greens in the dressing. Taste, adding more as needed. Top with sunflower seeds, crumbly cheese, and a couple cracks of fresh pepper.
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Thanks for this tip. We’ve been doing these salads every night with dinner. My husband and I are loving it. My 4 year old has yet to get with the program, but, at least he sees his parents eating their greens.
It took Hal a while to come around to it, too. Weird thing, she eats it with her hands now (and we let her), and she does so without a grumble (most nights). Maybe there’s a little quirky thing that will turn him on to it one of these days!
Such simple words throughout this whole post, and yet they are packed with such wisdom. I am eagerly looking forward to the challenge of making myself adhere to your suggested guidelines. They are so good!
Did you know that there is nutritional wisdom in eating your vegetables first? (Like your salad before your fettuccine Alfredo?!) if you eat vegetables (aka fiber) before your carbs, you will have a lesser insulin response, and thus the glucose from the carbs will “hit” your system more slowly:)
I had no idea! All the more reason. Yes!!
I’m curious how you like your salt + pepper shakers/grinders — they’re beautiful, and I almost bought the same ones, but was scared off by poor reviews. Have you had any issues?
I love them! We’ve had them for a year, or maybe two now, and no issues!