HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/4/13) - I often hear parents complain about how their children won’t eat vegetables. To be honest, this baffles me. I grew up loving broccoli and cauliflower and would eat raw corn straight out of the field. I never entertained the thought that it was possible to dislike vegetables, let alone that my children would refuse to eat them. However, the idea that they are meant to be detested is so prevalent in our society we have an entire market devoted to hiding vegetables in food so that we can trick kids into eating them.
Everywhere I go, people seem to be amazed that my kids will eat green beans, artichokes, and yes, even brussel sprouts. I’ve racked my brain trying to understand the difference. Why do my kids beg for seconds and other kids turn their noses up? Is it possible to inherit vegetable-loving genes? Maybe we got lucky? Was it all that kale I ate while pregnant? Then I read a study that said that kids who spend time in the garden eat more vegetables and everything made perfect sense.
See, as children we are naturally neophobic of new foods. It is a tool that once kept our foraging ancestors alive. They had learned the hard way what plants were okay to eat and which should be avoided. Anything new was treated with a healthy skepticism before being ingested. So when your two year old refuses to eat her broccoli, it isn’t because she is being intentionally stubborn, but rather because her brain is in survival mode. However, the trick is how to go about getting them to eat it. The answer is not only simple, but is so effective that it is being implemented in various childcare settings all over the United States: grow your own food.
There’s something innately beautiful about eating something that you have grown yourself. This magic isn’t lost on children either. In fact, it has been my experience that children are enamored with the gardening process from start to finish. It is the equivalent of magic to them; to be able to put a tiny seed in the ground and watch it grow into a giant edible plant. There’s an overwhelming sense of pride that comes from making a meal with vegetables you’ve reared yourself. So, not only are you cultivating a new hobby, but your child’s self-esteem as well.
Including your children in the process makes a monumental difference. Take them to the local lawn and garden store or request a seed catalog online. If starting seeds sounds too overwhelming, most greenhouses will have an abundance of ready to plant vegetables and herbs to choose from. Allow them to make the decisions on what plants they will nurture. You can mark down on your calendar the days until harvest time and look up fun recipes you’d like to try. Making these choices on their own will bolster their investment in the meal itself. Discuss the importance of keeping the plants hydrated and the weeds out. Don’t get discouraged if you’ve never gardened before, because learning together with your child is part of the fun—just be sure to plant a few herbs that you can use right away if patience is not a strong suit.
There’s a giant misconception that gardening is pointless unless you happen to have a dozen extra acres lying around. In reality, a general lack of space has inspired some of the most unique planting arrangements out there. Rooftop gardens and vertical landscaping arose out of necessity of those large metropolitan areas with practically no workable ground. Container gardens and small, raised beds have become very popular in the past decade, and work quite effectively. Obviously, some plants require more room, but even vining plants like cucumbers, beans, winter squash and even melons can be trained to grow vertically.
If for some reason you are incapable of growing a few backyard crops, try visiting your local farmer’s market or consider purchasing your vegetables through a CSA. Engage your children beforehand by reading books on farm life and the importance of farming. The more connected a child feels to their food, the more alluring it will become. Involve your children in the meal planning in your home; talk about what you plan on purchasing and how you will use these ingredients into make dinner. In fact, just involving your children in the preparation of the meal itself can be enough to spark an interest.
This summer bring more to the dinner table by growing a few fresh vegetables and herbs in your backyard. You’ll find that by planting a few seeds you’ll nurture your child’s curiosity for nature while your broaden your weekly menu. All the energy that goes into tending that little seed will finally be rewarded with a bounty of fresh, and virtually free, produce. Even the staunchest of picky eaters will be far too curious not to at least give it a try.
Gardening Inspiration Books
Green Thumbs: A Kids Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening by Laurie Carlson
Kids Garden: The Anytime, Anyplace Guide to Sowing and Growing by Avery Hart and Paul Mantell
Project Garden: A Month-by-Month Guide to Planting, Growing, and Enjoying ALL Your Backyard Has to Offer by Stacy Tornio
Books for Children about Gardening/Farm Life
From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons
Zinnia's Flower Garden by Monica Wellington
Farming by Gail Gibbons
Thundercake by Patrica Polacco
Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle
Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering
First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew by Robbin Gourley
Chicken said “Cluck” by Judyann Grant
Sugg Street Post
Written by Cassie Pendergraff
Photos courtesy of Cassie Pendergraff