In hindsight, I perhaps should have started with this post because we are heading into the garden this week and where would we be without growing food first? Growing your own food is not only fun but it is also scientific and explorative. You can try to grow things that are a bit different from the norm too – purple carrots anyone?!
Allowing your child a space to grow things will definitely build their confidence and skills, but also grow their understanding of how plants need to be nurtured and looked after, in much the same way that we need to look after each other. It brings together their ability to care for something and also builds their knowledge of food. Taste, touch and smell are all so different when something comes fresh from the garden!
Eating vegetables straight from picking is a completely different experience; one that can change how children look at those foods. I will always remember going to visit relatives in Wales as a child. My Great-Aunt and Uncle lived on a farm in the hills and Uncle Ted would take me to his vegetable garden to pick peas, which we sneaked fresh from the pod – they were amazing! And quite different from the boiled version. Even today, I’d much rather eat any food we can grow in our little patch raw and fresh.*
With smaller children, start with quick growing plants to keep the enthusiasm going. Until they get the ‘bug’ for gardening, you may find they get bored of waiting, so things like cress that can be grown quickly without fuss and then eaten in a sandwich, are great! Make funky pots to grow it in using an old yoghurt pot or clean, empty egg shells like this:
Another idea is growing beansprouts. I used to grow these in my mum’s airing cupboard in the dark and warm. They are a bit of a science experiment and kids find it fascinating! Try googling how to grow them. There is a variety of websites and You Tube videos. I found this one, which is very clear: https://www.acouplecooks.com/home-grown-bean-sprouts/
The above are also a good starting point if you don’t have a garden, but don’t let that stop you moving on from these to growing small veggies. Anything small can be grown in pots on a windowsill or as an interesting and valuable alternative, why not grow herbs? An excellent learning tool, herbs give so much flavour and are great to taste and use in anything (they would be great topping for pizza!). Most herbs leave a scent on your hand when you touch them, another thing that interests children.
All these things create wonder and can trigger that “try it and see…” mentality in kids. If they grow their food, they are more likely to eat it. If you do have a garden, can you find a small square to dig a vegetable patch solely for your child? They can plant what they like, where they like, but they also must care for their patch – weed it, water it, check for snails and slugs… if you are a gardener, you know the list goes on!
A child who is completely immersed in this activity is one who will explore not only food but be more curious about other things too. They will grow in confidence as well as knowledge. They will take responsibility and they don’t have to be a certain age to do this either! Give it a go as soon as you think they are ready. If you need to support and model for a few weeks, then do, but gradually pull back to allow the mistakes to be made and problems to be solved.
Grow, grow, grow… and then share the joy of eating your own food in whatever creative way you want! And remember, the sooner you start, the better, but even older children can begin this journey, especially as it brings their awareness of food and nature to life – a great way to connect with themselves in the outdoors and move the focus away from other pressures in their lives. By gardening, we are introducing them to an activity that they can do whenever they need it, now and later in life. And if you have never tried gardening before, do it together and you’ll both reap the benefits!
So, what are you waiting for? At the very least, get yourself some cress seeds and make a start! Don’t forget to share your results here or on our Facebook page, so we can cheer you on as you grow your plants and your creative child! 🌱💚
*N.B. Do check that the food you grow can be eaten raw, you don’t want sickly tummies. I did find contradictory advice online, and many times it said about taste rather than danger, but notably aubergines and what I call “canned” beans – kidney, butter, etc. – should be avoided. In the UK, I would definitely struggle to even get these growing, but it’s worth noting in case you want to try!