As a psychologist and a mom, I regularly profess the cognitive and healthful benefits of cooking - over a tasty meal! A great gift for our children is to create healthy nurturing environments that promote learning, exploration and tasty eats. If you are like me, you want their daily lives to be educational, entertaining, fascinating.... and yummy!
Gardening can provide young children a new path to the kitchen leading them to new cooking skills and trying new foods. Groups like the Western Growers Foundation and the Early Sprouts Institute give educators and parents helpful advice about starting their plant patches. The mindful connection here is that “children who plant and harvest their own vegetables are more willing to taste and even like them,” (Morris, Briggs, & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2000).
One way to “cultivate” this idea is by growing ingredients! Don't worry parents; I am not asking you to till acres of soil or purchase manure by the ton. Perhaps, it may be as simple as creating small edible patches for your children to aid in tending. With Mother's Day imminent, planting can be a family event! Anyways, plants in soil last much longer than fresh cut flowers (with regular watering of course!).
Teachers also get in on the action as well, even if it isn’t their strong suit. Meagan Matos, Head Teacher of a preschool/kindergarten class at Our Montessori School in Yorktown Heights, New York, incorporates gardening in her classroom during the spring. She admits to not excelling at the task, but still, finds value in it for her young students. “I am not a master gardener. I just know not to over water or under water. Usually every other day or so and plenty of sunlight. We plant and hope for the best.”
If you aren’t “the best” below are some gardening recommendations from somebody in possession of two VERY brown thumbs and no prospect of a green one. Though I’ve mastered my kitchen as a cooking-academic-gourmand, I confess to potentially miserable failures if employed as Home Depot Gardening Associate.
From me to you – here are some kid-friendly recommendations to get the most out of growing kitchen edibles. Simply start small with what works in your family’s available time and gardening space.
Tips for Gardening with Kids
Select simple herbs. Most often used cooking herbs are basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, thyme, mint, and sage. Sage is great because it seems to repel bugs in our garden. Each can be potted or planted in the ground. (Word of advice: if you plant mint, you might want to put it in a separate container from the other herbs. Apartment Therapy cautions that it has a fast-growing root system, and so it has a tendency to spread out all over your garden and lawn.)
Select easy to care for vegetables. Simple veggies that work in the spring are lettuces followed by red peppers, cherry/grape tomatoes, peas and kale in later months. Kale works for our house because my child eats it by the bucketful. It’s her private salad bar. Seriously.
Try seed starter kits. Jiffy seed starting kits are a great way for your kids to get hands on in pre-ground planting. Simply water the peat packets, plant seeds, cover, and witness them spout. By following their guidelines, you can create plant starters without spending extra money for potted ones.
Get some gear and get dirty! By providing your child some child-sized gardening tools and gloves offers a sense of pride in that they have their own kid-sized equipment to accomplish any planting task.
Buy your kid a "harvest" basket. Collecting is just as important as planting. Place a small wicker basket or garden colander by your door to make looking and finding edibles a daily event.
Let them nibble at their leisure. If you kid wants to nibble on some mint or nom on a cherry tomato warmed by the summer sun – let them go for it! Nothing is more fun than children realizing food doesn’t always have to come from the house.
Remember, Mother's Day is Approaching! Buy mom plants and seeds the family can stick in the ground and enjoy long after grocery store bouquets have wilted!
Gardening with Kids if You're Short on Space
- No yard, grab clay pots! If you don’t have the space to set up a proper in-ground garden, make one out of pots, recycled containers or milk cartons. Carton2Garden offers some great classroom planting tips that can be used at home.
- Start an indoor herb garden. If you have a window in your house that gets full sunlight, you can still grow herbs in a tiny area (like milk cartons, glass jars or recycled soup cans). Back to the Roots sells great Garden-in a Can kits as well as indoor Mushroom Growing kits if you’d like to try a completely fool-proof option.
Gardening with your children can be beautifully tasty, and it’s an amazing way to encourage your half-pints to learn the process of growing food. And with these tips, even brown thumbed people (like myself) can help little ones develop into secure-with-a-shovel-bring-on-the-dirt gardening experts!
Happy Gardening Nomsters!
Reference: Morris, J., Briggs, M., & Zidenberg-Cherr, S. (2000). School-based gardens can teach kids healthier eating habits. California Agriculture, 54(5), 40-46.
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About the Author & Photographer
Jamie Krenn is a curriculum consultant and contributor to Nomster Chef. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology: Cognitive Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a very goofy mother who is unable to resist taco trucks and gooey mac & cheese. Jamie plays with her daughter, Emma each day until she (Jamie) is exhausted. Their snacks of preference are kale, baguettes, and crispy croissants.
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