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Kids in the Garden

Kids in the Garden

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“Eat your veggies!” That common catchphrase grows old quickly, for parents who say it and the kiddos who hear it (or ignore it). Ready to give it a rest? Start by making a play date with your kids and some dirt, then plan and plant. In a few weeks, it’ll be time to pick and prep, and move the party into the kitchen.

Benefits reaped: Quality time together, better-tasting and pesticide-free veggies, major cost savings, and kids who are more open-minded to trying something healthy or new because they grew it themselves. Gardening and cooking go hand in hand. Take the time to plant the seeds for these lifetime skills.

IN THE GARDEN

There’s something special about watching your child experience what a homegrown tomato tastes like for the first time, or the snap of a fresh pea. Here’s how to turn your kids on to vegetable gardening:

LET THEM TAKE PART IN THE PLANNING

Before you sow a single seed, sit down with your kids (and a vegetable gardening catalog or app) and ask them what they want to grow. Make a list together or take things a step farther by having them help draw and color a simple garden plan.

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS

Some vegetables are easier and more fun to grow than others. Pea seeds are simple to sow, beans are fun to harvest, and pumpkins arrive just in time for Halloween. Herbs like basil, chives and mint are also good choices, as they usually just require watering and a lot of picking (which little hands are happy to do) to keep them producing.

CHOOSE VEGGIES WITH FUN NAMES

Plants with quirky, silly or laughable names are sure to up the fun factor where kids are involved. “Green Zebra” tomatoes not only sound and look cool, but they taste great, too. “Dragon Tongue” beans have awesome purple streaks and heirloom flavor. Named after beloved storybook characters, “Thumbelina” carrots, “Casper” eggplants, “Cinderella” pumpkins and “Tom Thumb” peas are great choices as well.

SWEETEN THE POT

Consider containers for dwarf (patio) varieties or plants with compact growth. Cherry tomatoes do especially well in pots, as do lettuce, eggplant, peppers and most herbs. Just make sure you place them in a spot where they get at least 6 hours of sun each day.

GIVE ’EM TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Half the fun for a kid is looking the part. Pint-size garden tools—trowels, watering cans, hand rakes, gloves—in bright colors or adorned with their favorite character can be found almost anywhere.

IN THE KITCHEN

Taking your homegrown harvest from plot to pot requires some basic knife-wielding skills. Start them young and keep them safe by getting your kids in on the action with these tips.

DEMONSTRATE YOUR TECHNIQUES

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When you’re preparing a meal, show them how you cut certain ingredients, such as onions, tomatoes and herbs. Introduce and explain to them the different cuts—chop, dice, mince, julienne or chiffonade, for example.

PRACTICE WITH PLASTIC

Put the sharp stainless steel aside for now and hand them an inexpensive disposable plastic knife. Let them get comfortable by holding it properly in their hand and encourage them to make a few simple cuts.

START WITH SIMPLE SUBJECTS

When they’re ready for the real thing, start them off with a small knife set with different blades, like the fun and colorful CHICAGO CUTLERY 4-PIECE PARING/UTILITY KNIFE SET, to teach them when smooth or serrated makes more sense. Begin with easy-to-cut items like soft blocks of cheese, cucumber, banana and soft baked goods, which are good choices for them to cut their teeth (or knife) on.

KEEP IT SAFE

Always have your kids cut on a cutting board, placing a damp paper towel or dishcloth under the board to keep it from slipping on the counter. Teach them safe practices like keeping the knife pointing down if walking from one area to another; passing it to someone on a counter with the handle facing the person receiving it; and storing knives safely in a knife block.

Growing a garden with your children is a powerful (and fun!) tool when it comes to encouraging them to eat what’s on their plates. And taking the time to share how to prepare them will also grow their love for good-for-you eats.

YOUR TURN: How do kids help you in your garden?