Gardening is a great activity to do with kids, starting when they’re pretty young. Kids love to see things grow, whether you start from seeds or buy young plants at the garden center. But one of the best things about gardening with kids is growing foods that they can snack on.
Even kids who are reluctant to eat most vegetables at the table may find foods grown in their own garden interesting and tasty. Not always, but it’s always worth the try. Homegrown produce is generally much tastier than what you buy at the store, after all. Here are some basic tips to get things going.
Be Careful What You Use On Your Garden
Think about what you’re using as fertilizers or pesticides in your garden. You don’t want to worry about what residues your children may be eating, especially if they “forget” to wash something before eating it.
Set Eating Rules
Not everything grown in a garden is safe to eat, so the very first rule you need to discuss with your kids is what they can and cannot eat. For younger kids, make sure they ask for each thing, so that they don’t eat something unsafe by mistake. They’ll learn pretty quickly what they can eat, but young children are great for deciding to randomly try something they haven’t been told is okay.
Teach your kids to wash things before they eat them as necessary. At the very least, there’s probably dust on everything, not to mention microbes.
Avoid Dangerous Plants
Especially when your kids are little, try to avoid growing things you know aren’t safe to eat. It’s a big help if one of the kids decides to try something while you aren’t watching. Poison.org has a list of common poisonous and nonpoisonous plants you may have around. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a place to start.
Let Your Kids Have Their Own Garden
Give each child their own little space where they decide what to grow. You will probably need to help them decide what to grow, but give them some freedom too. Have them plant the seeds or young plants, and make them responsible for watering. Help them learn when things are ready to harvest. Let them get dirty.
Draw Up Plans
Especially as kids get older, take some time to draw up your garden plans with them. This can help them learn about planning as well as how maps are made. You can talk about how parts of the garden may change later in the season, as some things grow better in spring or summer, and others do better in the fall.
It can be a lot of fun to grow herbs for your kitchen, and your kids may learn to enjoy snacking on them. You will need to be very strict about snacking on these for two reasons. The first is that if your child loves a particular herb, they’re likely to kill it by eating too much of it. My kids are great for this one with basil and fennel. Mint is popular as well, but be aware that it may spread quickly.
The second reason is that eating herbs can make kids too comfortable with eating leaves, and they may mistake a leaf of something else for an herb, and eat something they shouldn’t. Teach them to ask before they take a leaf off any plant.
Berries of various sorts are a lot of fun to grow, but make sure you know how invasive a plant is before you put it in the ground. Some are really better to grow in pots so that you can keep them from spreading too far.
Make sure your kids know to only eat approved berries – you probably wouldn’t deliberately grow an unsafe one at home, but you don’t want them thinking all berries are safe to eat anywhere.
Strawberries can do well in pots, and that can be a good way to keep pests away from them. Bugs can be even faster than children to eat them, unfortunately! If you grow them in the ground, make sure you have enough plants that there’s a chance for some strawberries to be found by your kids before the bugs get them. We have a strawberry patch that pretty much just volunteered itself that does well.
We had a wonderful plum tree when I was growing up. It’s gone now, but it was so nice having its fruit available for so much of the summer.
Go for a variety of fruit trees if you have the space, and make sure they aren’t all producing at the same time. It’s much easier to deal with the quantity of fruit a tree can produce if you don’t have others producing heavily at the same time.
Teach your kids how to tell when the fruit is ripe and set rules about climbing in your fruit trees. Kids love to climb trees, but you don’t want them damaging a productive tree.
If you have the space for the vines, kids love watermelons, cantaloupe and such. These aren’t as easy for them to snack directly on, but once sliced up by a parent make for a nice, healthy treat. Melon vines need some room to grow, and aren’t really well suited to a very small garden, however. Some varieties can be grown on a trellis.
There are lots of vegetables that are easy to grow in a snacking garden, tomatoes, carrots, snap peas, green beans and bell peppers, for example. You can also take a look at vegetables that you can regrow from scraps, such as celery or lettuce.
It’s a lot of fun finding vegetables that your kids love to snack on. When mine were little, they’d beg for green beans from the garden as though it was candy. It was great. Admittedly, all my kids have an unusual fondness for vegetables that has made my life much easier, but it’s still fun to see.
You may need to plan your vegetables for snacking and kitchen use, especially with tomatoes. Grow some cherry tomato varieties for snacks, and larger ones for the kitchen.