As a Mum, I’ve found having a herb and vegetable garden is a great way to encourage my two children to try new foods. Whilst it’s not always a successful venture, I have one very fussy three year old, it does go a long way in getting them to interact with food outside of just sitting at the kitchen table for meals.
The secret to engaging children in a herb and vegetable garden is to involve them in the various steps, from buying, planting, watering, nurturing and harvesting. From this they gain a greater appreciation and respect for food and just excitement that they’ve been part of the process.
Weirdly, my children love herbs, coriander, basil, oregano, mint and thyme among their favourites. I introduced herbs very early on as part of my children’s food experience by mixing into puree and pasta sauces when they were only toddlers. My six year old is now getting to the stage I can tell her what herbs I need and she collects them by herself.
Children love to plant and pick herbs because they really are an assault on the senses, being aromatic and in many cases, interesting to touch. Aside from picking herbs to eat, my children love to use herbs to make ‘Potions’ and ‘Potpourri’ by crushing, cutting and tearing the plants to release their fragrances. I don’t view this ‘food play’ as wasteful, actually I encourage it and have noticed that my children tend to smell their food before they taste it. If it smells good you’ll give it a try…. Right?!
If you’ve never grown food before, herbs are a great place to start. They tend to be pretty hardy and don’t require too much love and care. Best of all they can be grown in a garden bed, pot, hanging basket or even directly into a bag of quality potting mix.
When planting your herbs, don’t cheap out, buy quality potting mix. I like to use Searles Herb & Vegetable Potting Mix when growing in a pot and 5IN1 Organic Plant Food (a composting product) when planting into a garden bed. Soil quality is the foundation of all gardening projects.
Here’s an idea…… why not encourage your toddler to play with cut herbs, they will love the smells, textures and tastes. Try sweeter herbs for this purpose, like sweet basil and mint, over sage and rosemary, which can be a little bitter.
I’ll admit that I’m not a fantastic vegetable gardener, I’m not out there every afternoon giving my garden a drink, if it doesn’t flourish on a little neglect, forget it. I have discovered two vegetables (actually one is technically a fruit) that I find easy to grow and my children love them.
I’m in truth, a little addicted to growing sweet potato, it’s a regular crop I have in the garden as not only is sweet potato delicious, it’s an adorable little ground-cover plant that has the most gorgeous little flowers. It takes months for sweet potato to mature ready for harvest, but you can be rewarded with sweet potato’s as big as your HEAD. My children love sweet potato harvest time, it’s always fun to go ‘digging for gold’. TIP: When planting sweet potato, use tubers purchased from a garden centre as replanting sweet potato from the fruit shop can introduce soil diseases into your garden.
Cherry tomatoes grow like weeds in my garden, it’s truly a vegetable plant that I can grow with little effort. The joy of cherry tomatoes is they are lots of fun to pick and in general are sweeter in flavour then other tomatoes. This makes them the perfect raw vegetable (well actually fruit) to introduce to a toddler, just cut them in half for easy handling. My daughter especially loves our cherry tomatoes, they regularly feature in her school lunch box.
Growing vegetables with your children doesn’t automatically turn them into veggie eating machines, my son if proof of that, but it does give them a broader spectrum of their understanding of food and over time it might just go from being that item left on the plate, to making it to their little mouth. Remember to make growing fun, start small (like one or two plant varieties at a time) and pick plants you know your going to use. Again, herbs are a great starting point, being low care and fast growing. Plus if you get creative you can use them in so many interesting ways.
Help mum’s suffering from PND!
A group of Independent Garden Centres throughout Australia have partnered with beyondblue to host a fundraising weekend on March 7th-8th 2015 called ‘Garden RELEAF’ gardenreleaf.com.au, to raise awareness of anxiety, depression and suicide in our local communities.
It’s a well documented fact that gardening and being out in nature can have positive affects on people suffering from anxiety and depression. So be part of the solution in March and visit your local participating outlet to assist with their fundraising efforts.
beyondblue coordinates a PND Awareness week every November.
Garden Food Written by Renee Gusa of About the Garden Magazine www.aboutthegarden.com.au, fun maker and not world’s best gardener, but Mother of two that recognises that gardening is a great educational tool.