I grew up in a meat and potatoes kind of house. My brother and I even complained when our mom made us eat a few raw broccoli florets or carrot sticks with ranch.
Fast-forward a decade and some change, and one of my favorite foods is a sexy, nutrient-packed salad bowl. But honestly, it took me several years to learn to enjoy salad. It didn’t happen overnight!
Tips for Learning to Enjoy Salad
I’m living proof that it is possible to not only tolerate salads but to embrace them with open arms. Or mouth. Or… brain?
Taste buds are definitely part of the equations, but adapting to a new food is a surprisingly mental thing. The human relationship with food is complicated by culture, habits, and personal history, but it’s totally possible to make up your mind to change your relationship with food for the better. And yes, even to learn to enjoy salad!
Here are seven tips that have helped me to stop worrying and love the salad.
1. Stop Talking Yourself Out of It
For starters, you’re not going to have much success if every time you sit down to eat a salad, you’re thinking, “Ugh, a salad. I don’t like salad.” You’re setting yourself up for a miserable eating experience! In all likelihood, no one is making you eat a salad. You’re doing it for yourself. You might as well reframe the experience in more positive terms!
If you catch yourself thinking negatively, try saying, “This salad is going to be f*cking fabulous, and I’m going to feel fabulous after eating it.”
Worst case scenario, you don’t enjoy this particular salad. If that happens, don’t let yourself think, “I knew it! Salad sucks.” Instead choose to think, “I haven’t found a salad I love… yet!” Keep the possibility open for a kickass salad experience.
2. Sweeten the Deal!
Not going to lie, I have a massive sweet tooth.
Mostly it makes me stuff my face with chocolate. Buuuuut… Sometimes it helps a girl out! If you’re like me, sweetness may be the gateway flavor that leads you into the wonderful world of salads.
There’s a ton of ways to enjoy a sweet salad while still getting a hearty dose of leafy greens and other fruits and veggies. Look for recipes or menu items that include fruits, fruit-based vinaigrettes, or candied nuts if you’re not sure where to start. Here’s a list of ingredients that will all but magically transform your raw lettuce into candy:
- mandarin oranges
- sliced almonds
- candied pecans or walnuts
- red or orange bell pepper
- dried cranberries
- fruit-based vinaigrettes
- balsamic reduction
3. Meet Your Vegetables
I know this might seem gross, but hear me out. Take a moment to eat a piece of raw vegetable, plain. Just pop a piece of spinach, lettuce, cucumber, pepper, or whatever into your mouth and chew. Do your best to remove from your mind the idea that the taste is “bad”, and try to approach the veggie with an open mind and no expectations.
When you remove the forethought of “ew, lettuce” from your head, you might find that the taste of the plant is just that. It tastes like a plant. Not “bad”. Maybe not even “good”. But at least you’ll get to know the actual taste of the vegetables you’re eating instead of relying on abstract notions of “veggie = gross”. Allow yourself the possibility that the salad will be better than you expected.
4. Meat Your Vegetables!
Just because you’re eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to eat like a rabbit! Add a serving of cut chicken breast or even steak to your dish for a well-rounded flavor that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived.
5. Appreciate the Aesthetics
There’s a reason Instagram is flooded with gorgeous photos of salads – a fresh, colorful salad can be beautiful as a bouquet of ferns or a blooming cactus!
Take an extra moment to arrange your ingredients artfully. Have a little creative fun with it, and relish the act of creating something pretty and healthy. Add different colors and shapes to your salad to enhance your composition and nutrient profile, then go ahead: post a photo of your masterpiece! I won’t judge.
6. Try the Salad Bar
A big part of learning to enjoy salad is experimentation. Salad bars at restaurants are a perfect way to test different ingredients without committing to, say, a whole bunch of radishes, so skip the fries and check out what the salad bar has to offer. Load up your plate with what you know you like, and add a small bite of anything you’re not familiar with on the side. You may discover an interesting veggie that was never on your radar before!
7. Find What You Like and Eat That
Your goal is to expand your palate and learn to honestly enjoy salad, not to suffer. If you know you don’t like quinoa, don’t add it to your salad just because you’ve heard that it’s healthy. Same with arugula. And friggin’ tomatoes.
Whatever it is you don’t like, don’t feel obligated to add it just because someone said you should! Even if your first salads start out as lettuce, carrot shreds, croutons, and ranch dressing, that’s a start you can build on. Build a salad you love, eat, repeat. When you feel adventurous you can introduce new ingredients, but in the beginning focus on creating a salad you actually want to eat!
You totally have the power to change your relationship with food, one fresh ingredient at a time. Think of these tips as couples counseling for you and vegetables.
Which of these techniques are you going to try? Do you have any other tips for learning to enjoy salad?