A great guest post from Ken Myers about resolving that common mealtime problem: getting kids to eat more vegetables.
Getting your children to eat more vegetables can be a challenge. We know how much healthier we could all be if we ate more greens and less sugars. Unfortunately, children don’t tend to be that bothered about what’s good for them. Foods that are green in colour can’t possibly be nice; can they? I’ve found that my children are better at eating more vegetables if they grow the plants themselves. So this is what we did…
Small Indoor Vegetable Garden
As we wanted to start the garden immediately, we installed small covered plant shelving units in our house. These stand about five or six feet tall with various wire shelves for holding pots and containers. You can get started at any time, even in the middle of winter, as long as you provide ample light and keep the plants warm. As long as you have the basics for a plant covered, it can flourish in nearly any locale. You need:
- good quality lighting
- sustainable temperatures of 20-26C (70-80F) – depending on what you’re growing
- water monitoring
Plants are photosynthetic meaning that they will convert light into the energy they need to survive. In theory, any light source will sustain a plant. Sunlight is the most common as it’s the most intense. The more intense the light source, the better it is for the plant.
With an indoor garden you don’t want the plants to get too cold or too hot. Don’t put them near the windows as the cool temperatures could be harmful in the winter.
Monitoring the Water
You need to be careful with watering an indoor garden. Since the sunlight isn’t available to evaporate moisture it can collect onto the soil. If the temperature is warm and there is no airflow, it could begin to form mold.
Seeds are Cheap
I allowed each of my children to pick a few packets of seeds. I personally selected vegetables that were easy to reproduce such as bell peppers. I didn’t spend much at all. I was quite impressed with the vegetable selection of my children and pondered why they were so excited to eat fresh veggies when they wouldn’t even touch the ones we’d bought from the shops. Depending on the plant, you want to make sure you have enough room for growth. Watermelons and pumpkins usually require greater space due to the sheer size of the fruits, and because the plants vine outwards.
Once we started planting the seeds, I helped each child to use the Internet to research how to care for their plant. I’ve never seen my children so intent on learning and so keen to nurture something. It was like watching a mother tend to her own babies. Perhaps that is part of why children are more likely to eat food they’ve grown themselves. We printed each individual plant’s specifications and the children followed the suggestions to the letter.
Pointing Out the Irony
As the children grew ever excited to see vegetables begin to form on the plant, I didn’t point out the irony. This is an edible product that the children grew themselves and are proud of. If this is what it takes to get them to eat more greens, then I will happily buy seeds regularly. There are three main reasons why I keep quiet about the fact that they are eating greens:
1. It’s fresh vegetables that they actually want to eat
2. It’s an activity that keeps them occupied
3. It saves us money
Harvest our Vegetables
For children that hated the thought of eating vegetables, there is quite a bit of excitement when it comes to harvesting various edibles. As these foods are as organic as you can possibly get, I have no worries about what my children are consuming. There are no pesticides to wash off or growing chemicals used that could put my children in future danger. It brings a smile to your face when you see the children are so excited to harvest foods they grew themselves.
What We’ve Learned as a Family
Throughout our food growing experience, we’ve learned that ranch dressing can be used as a dip for just about any vegetable. I’ve learned that my children are far more likely to eat foods that they’ve grown with their own hands. Perhaps this has something to do with learning hands-on or the swelling of pride they get when the plant successfully produces food. In either case, my children found a great deal of enjoyment and nutrition by growing their own plants.
I have no doubt that my own participation plays a role in our gardening practices. It seems the more excited I get, the more excited the children become. Now we have the indoor gardening shelves, which I use for fresh herbs in cooking; and the children and I maintain larger plants outside. The kids are learning the value of fresh and nutritional foods being grown from home without spending money at the supermarket. Whether or not this knowledge follows them throughout their life remains to be seen. I am just glad they are eating vegetables now.
Ken Myers is a father of three and passionate about great childcare. Find out more about expert childcare by checking out @go_nannies on Twitter.