If it’s green, they won’t eat it. Peas? Eek! Broccoli? Yuck! How do we make green the new yum? Have them grow their own! Here are 5 steps to get out kids excited about vegetables.
1. Take them shopping
Let your kids choose which vegetables they want to buy. You can offer them guidance as to which vegetables fit a particular meal they love, but ultimately, let them do the choosing. Local veggie stores are the best for this, but the produce section in your local supermarket will do just fine. There’s such an array of colours and shapes, you can’t help but be excited about them all. There are often strange vegetables that kids may never have seen before.
The fun thing is that they’ll often choose different vegetables from what you’d normally choose and you can then make a game of finding recipes with that produce. You’ll end up eating a much broader range of vegetables.
We always focus on finding the vegetables with seeds inside. Kids love harvesting the seeds and growing their own plants. After a while, they become experts as to what seeds are in the vegetable and whether they’ll be able to grow them.
2. Harvest the seeds
Let the kids open the vegetable (or fruit, for that matter) to see what kind of seeds are inside. Pumpkins are the perfect vegetable to start with. The seeds are big and easy to deal with, and they’re easy to clean under the tap. Experiment with different vegetables too. Most vegetables and fruits will grow very well from store-bought produce, except for the ones that are GMO. Aim for local or organically grown produce for the best results.
Remove the seeds from the vegetable with a spoon or by rubbing the flesh gently between your fingers. Rinse the seeds in a colander under the tap. For small seeds, you may need to use a sieve, sometimes lined with cheesecloth for the smallest seeds, like strawberries. Once they’re clean, lay them out to dry on a paper towel.
3. Plant the seeds
Once the seeds are dry, they’re ready to plant. If you’re not ready to plant the seeds, you can store them in a paper bag for at least a year. They may need protection from insects and mice; a plastic or metal container works well for this. For extra protection, add some silica packets to soak up any moisture that may be left.
Plant the seeds as deep as the seed is wide. For strawberry seeds, that means not covering them, just misting a few times a day with a spray bottle. Kids love misting them and it gives them a sense of responsibility to mist their seeds every day. For pumpkin seeds, it’s as deep as a centimeter or two, depending on the size of the seed.
Choose a well-draining potting mix or a seed raising mix if you’re growing in pots. You can plant them straight into the garden too. Pumpkins, for example, actually prefer being planted in the ground rather than a pot. Give your kids their own pots to look after, or their own patch in the garden. They’ll need to keep them watered, check for pests, and remove any weeds that grow too close.
Many seeds sprout in only a few days, which makes it a great activity for kids (we know they’re not particularly patient!). They should see a sprout in 4-6 days for a pumpkin, which makes it really exciting.
4. Harvest your own produce
If they’ve looked after their plant well, eventually it’s harvest time. My girls love “doing the rounds” every day. They know exactly where to find the strawberries, the raspberries, the cherry tomatoes. I’ll often ask them to bring me one of their lettuces for dinner and they’ll go out and choose the one they want me to use for dinner.
Lettuce, by the way, doesn’t have seeds “inside” as such, but you can let one plant go to seed. It goes bitter once it flowers and seeds, so don’t eat it. This one plant will give you 100s of seeds to harvest and replant, basically for free!
Giving kids lots of tasks to involve them in the whole process, from planting the seed to going out into the garden to find the ingredients you need for dinner. Offer lots of choices. Do you want to make tomato pasta tonight or basil pesto? Are there more raspberries in the garden or blueberries? What can we use them for?
5. Cook together
The final step is lots of fun, especially if your kids picked some weird and wonderful vegetables to grow. Sit down together and find recipes to use those vegetables. Ask them what they like the sound of, then cook it together. Let them cut it up and don’t forget to harvest the seeds so you can start the whole cycle all over again.
A Vegetable Garden for Free
You can grow a whole vegetable garden and orchard for practically nothing this way. Some of the easiest vegetables and fruits to start with:
- Melons of all types
- Pineapple. Buy these with the tops on! Twist the top off, cut the bottom leaves off, leave to dry for a day or so, then plant. It’ll grow a pineapple in 6-12 months.
- Choko. Leave in a dark place for a few weeks and a shoot will grow out of the fruit. It’s now ready to plant in the garden.
- Citrus fruits of all kinds, including lemons, mandarins, and oranges.
- Custard Apple. If you can get your hands on one fruit, you’ll get dozens of free seeds. They’re super easy to grow and although the tree needs a bit of space, kids love this fruit.
- Avocado. Make sure you don’t cut the seeds when you’re cutting the avocado open. Put the seed in water and it’ll split open and a shoot will appear. Once the shoot is around 10cm tall, plant it in a pot to grow bigger before planting it in the garden. A locally grown avocado is best for this, especially one you know has nice fruits.
- Parsley and lettuce. Buy one plant and let them go to seed. Sprinkle them around the garden or plant them in pots. You can keep them for a year when they’re fully dry too, ready for next year.
Letting kids take ownership of the whole food production process sparks their interest and they love the responsibility that comes with caring for a live plant. Enjoy the journey of discovering new vegetables and create a sense of excitement around it all!