Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Works for me Wednesday - Salad Bar Dinner

Who doesn't need to make their kids eat more vegetables? This is the newest weapon in my dinner-time arsenal. Everyone in my family will eat salad and rave about it when we have salad bar night, which we now have 2-3 times a week. I chop up some lettuce, leaving it right on my cutting board on my island and put out anything else I can find that could conceivably go in a salad. Everyone takes a plate and goes around the island assembling their own salad. (I put grilled meat and the croutons & dressing on the table.) It's a great way to use up leftovers, and an even better way to let everyone eat what they want for dinner without having to yell about not being a short order cook! Here are my best salad bar tips.

Topping Suggestions: I always include cukes, craisins, walnuts and shredded cheddar, but I have put out shredded cabbage, broccoli, peppers, strawberries, shredded carrot, croutons, sunflower seeds, blue or feta cheese, tabouli, chick peas, literally anything I have in the fridge. Think about what your kids like, and put it out there. See what happens. Leftover pasta and rice are very good in salad, hot or cold, and serving something sweet , like raisins and coconut make your kids feel like they are getting away with something. The key is thinking outside the box. I promise you, fruit and grains make a salad!

Slice up your meat: One of the side benefits of serving dinner this way is how much it has cut back on our meat consumption. Because I grill steak or chicken and then serve it sliced, we take only what we will eat from the serving platter. In fact, this has influenced how I serve meat for every meal. Where in the past I would grill 4 chicken breasts for my family of 5, now I grill 3 breasts, and I bet I can get down to 2 on nights where we have larger sides. The other night, I grilled a steak that was .70 of a pound and I had a few slices left on the serving plate after dinner! If it's too hot to grill, use leftover deli meat, or Easter ham or roasted chicken, or open a can of tuna!

Dressing: I put out a bunch of oil and vinegars (especially raspberry vinegar) and those spray dressings that kids love. Haven't tried the spray dressings? Let me repeat: Kids love them. They are the only exception to my blanket refusal to buy bottled salad dressing. You could certainly make your own and stick it in a spray bottle, but that doesn't work for my kids. And you know what? I don't care: they're EATING SALAD! My other dressing tip is to save your old spice jars to make quick, shaken dressings. I put a little squirt of mustard in the bottom, then do a basic 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio, then shake it up. And that little shaker top with the holes? Throw it back on there, it helps to slow down the dressing pour when kids (or clumsy adults) are doing it themselves. The reason I like the little spice jars is they only make enough dressing for a day or two. The dressing is fresh, it's whatever you're in the mood for that day, and it's gone quickly, so you can throw the whole greasy thing in the dishwasher rather than having to clean it off to put it away.

Other Applications: This topping bar is a great way to serve lots of foods. This is how we do Taco Night in our house (where I first figured out they liked the process as much as the tacos!) If you have a family that likes baked potatoes, this is a way to make a meal of it. I use the same approach with oatmeal. Put 5-6 chocolate chips on top of oatmeal and anyone will eat it!

Does anybody else have any topping bar insight? Leave a comment with your tips.

For more great Works for me Wednesday Tips, go to We are THAT Family.


{ L } said...

Oh! This is a super idea. I struggle with getting my kids to eat all the good stuff, so this idea is perfect. I am excited to try it. Thank you. I wrote about a sandwich bar today:

Thank you

kartho said...

{L}, we do sandwich bars all the time, too, but I see that yours is a PANINI bar! And you use it for company,what a great idea! So much nicer than just a boring deli platter, although you've given me ideas to jazz that up, too.

Anonymous said...

Salad bar, excellent idea. Love your tip on using old spice jar for dressing, great idea.

Your Frugal Friend, Niki said...

This is a terrific idea! We do a Chili Your Way night every now and again, with all kinds of toppings. Yum, yum yum!