Build-a-salad bar for kids and how my five-year-old made dinner

My Mother’s Day was lovely and relaxing, but the week leading up to it was a trying one, and my main support system, Danny, was traveling for work. We’ve all had those days as parents where we are pushed to the limits; I had a few in a row.

I managed to stay on top of the big things, but I failed miserably at a few of the little things. Emails went unanswered, school uniforms were re-worn without washing, and the hens, well, they had to scrounge a little more than usual.

Then there was the time my five year old Mateo made us dinner. What started out as another shortcoming of mine – failing to menu plan – turned into a proud moment for Mateo and a enormous blessing for me.

Kids in the kitchen on

This boy is always asking to help in the kitchen, and on this particular afternoon, I was working closely with Noah on a school project and was happy to have Mateo lend a hand. He started by peeling our eggs (I usually have a few cooked and stored in the refrigerator for quick lunches), and then moved on to shred the lettuce. Our goal was a chef’s salad for dinner.

From the dining room table, where I was occupied learning about the gasses and asteroids of Neptune, I instructed Mateo to peel and grate the carrots, which he tackled valiantly and only nibbled a few. I moved closer and observed as he chopped the celery every so slowly, followed by the cucumber, with increasing speed and confidence. He also set the table and fetched the Creamy Buttermilk Salad Dressing from the fridge.

Then he heaped lettuce on our plates (Clara likes greens too) and we sat down to build our salads and enjoy a meal together after a busy day. He was so proud, but not as proud as I was of him. I couldn’t have done it without his help.

Build-your-own salad on

Build-your-own Salad Bar for kids

Kids embrace what they create – even if it is a big ol’ pile of salad. When you let them pick and add their own toppings, you transfer some of the control over to them and kids love to make their own decisions.

By including them in the meal preparation, as I did with Mateo, you increase your odds of watching them dig into a big salad bowl for dinner. They take great pride in their work and genuinely love to serve others.

This meal is a great starter for children who want to help in the kitchen. Tasks like shredding lettuce and peeling eggs are basic, while grating and chopping are slightly more advanced. You can ensure a dressing is prepared in advance, but other than that, let your children run the show!

Build-your-own salad on

Adding our own salad toppings works well for my family as the children enjoy different vegetables than Danny and I. They go for celery and carrots over avocado and tomato, and one of them passes on vinaigrette. It’s fun for them to customize their own plates, and I know they will only take what they will eat.

Remember, you can add in any salad ingredients you enjoy – radishes, crumbled feta, grilled chicken, mushrooms, peppers – and switch in your favorite homemade salad dressing also. We enjoy our farm fresh eggs for protein, but grilled salmon or chicken would be fantastic also.

Build-your-own Salad Bar

5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Salads
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 143kcal
Author: Aimee


  • 2 Romaine lettuce hearts
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • any other favourite salad toppings
  • 1 recipe Buttermilk Dressing


  • Tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces and wash in cold water. Dry with a lettuce spinner.
  • Peel the eggs and rinse them under cold water to remove any bits of shell. Pat them dry with a tea towel.
  • Wash the tomato and cucumber. Peel the carrots.
  • With a large sturdy cutting board and a sharp knife, chop the salad toppings and place in individual bowls.
  • Serve lettuce and salad toppings with a vinaigrette on the table.


Calories: 143kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 186mg | Sodium: 89mg | Potassium: 440mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 6895IU | Vitamin C: 10.3mg | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 1.1mg


Do you enjoy a big salad for dinner? What are a few of your favorite toppings?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Awww, my heart melted when I read this post. Mateo is super sweet for being so keen to help around in the kitchen 🙂

    • He’s great! His nickname is ‘Snacks’ so I think he helps out so he can graze. That’s part of the reason, anyway. =)

  2. Such adorable boys! This is a fantastic way of teaching them to eat veggies too.

  3. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    5 stars
    Awww, Snacks! Such a good job. I’m proud of him too. Now I want to know, did he style the table? Because that would be hilarious and amazing at the same time.

  4. So cute and so good looking! I am so impressed!

  5. What a brilliant idea!! Definitely a great way to get the kids involved and get their creativity flowing!! A very healthy way too 🙂

  6. Build your own salad would definitely be a fun way to do salad!

  7. Aimee,
    What a great post! I love how helpful Snacks is in the kitchen, freeing you up to do more of “it” that you have to do when you’re flying solo. Your appreciation for him really shines in this post, and I bet Mateo felt super proud of himself and will remember that meal.
    My spouse just left for a ‘business trip’ (quotes are my sarcasm leaking through), and my summer plan while he’s away includes having the kids not only cook but do a lot more menu planning from our CSA farm share and pan scrubbing than they usually do.
    Thanks for a great easy solo parenting dinner idea!

  8. Lovely! I wonder if I can try that with my 19yo stepson? 😉

  9. I love this idea!

  10. Perfect! I’ll be using this with my H-banana and even the students at school. Thanks, Aimee!

  11. Wow! This is really sweet! Can’t wait to see what other creations the kids make!

  12. Great post! I absolutely agree that when kids take part in food preparation they are more likely to experiment and make healthy choices.

  13. oh, this is really cool!! I would love to do this with my kids- maybe it would get them eating salad!!

  14. So cute! And this made me crave salad something awful. Sometimes I wish I could just come over for dinner 😉

  15. Aimee, I love this post – particularly the pic of the two boys looking so intense about getting more veggies on their plates! Who would’ve thunk it!

    It reminds me of the day when I was struggling to get an article written and my two kids (ages 6 and 9) came in grumbling about something to eat. So I suggested they put something together themselves. An hour later we had several different dressings to try on our different veggie mixes. They had been busy experimenting and concocting salad dressings. It was really a turning point for them becoming inventive in the kitchen. And – as you point out – salads make a great starting point since there’s no cooking involved!

    BTW – we live on salad bars in the summer. I do a weekly Big Cook with lots of grilled meats, beans and rice cooked on the same fire pit. And then for the next few days I just put out fresh veggies, the cold meats, maybe some eggs and the rest is up to everyone else. EASY-No cook, no heat in the hot summer meals!

  16. I’m going solo this week as well, and you’re right, it’s hard. But the best meals have been when I let my three year old help. She loves it, I love it and she has a much more vested interest in the meal.

    Her favorite kitchen job is scraping carrots. I’m going to plan a salad for later this week, great idea!

    • Here’s wishing you a great week! Normally, it’s not too bad around here, but of course my main deadlines and meetings happen to coincide with when hubby is away. =)

  17. This is great, my 5 year old has been asking more and more to help in the kitchen and I think he’d really enjoy this.

    I do the solo parenting thing on weeknights and it’s sometimes difficult to think of meals that my son can help me with that we would both want to eat.

    • Hat’s off to you. Solo parenting is no joke. I love that your 5yo wants to get involved. Of course he wants to be where you are. =)

  18. I love that your little guy is so eager to help! Great build-your-own-salad idea!

  19. I wrote a post last week about kids who help cook, wondering if they are more likely to want to eat what they prepare. I think my answer is yes. 🙂 Makes my heart happy to see kids who want to help in the kitchen!

  20. I love this! So cute! I’ve never thought of making an “at home salad bar.” What a great idea! I might have to try this with my 28 year old husband. 🙂

  21. what a great idea. my son states he hates salad but if I have it out for tacos or something he always helps himself.

  22. Aw 🙂 He looks so proud of himself and the salad layout looks delicious!

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