My children were born in Burlington, Vermont where there is a well-established and organized local food movement. My husband and I loved visiting the year round farmers’ markets with the kids each Saturday. We’d meet the farmers and vendors of our favorite products. Over time we established relationships with local artisans and growers and felt more connected to the food on our table.
Local and responsible eating are values we hope to instill in our children. We try to engage them in their meals in a variety of ways from exposing them to markets to teaching them about food production in age appropriate ways. Although we’ve moved a lot in the past two years we’ve had fun with indoor gardens. They’re a great way to teach kids about responsible local eating and a nice excuse to have fresh herbs on hand.
Start a discussion with your kids about their favorite meals. Prepare a dish together and allow your child to select the ingredients when you visit the store. Use the meal as an opportunity to discuss how food grows. My kids often pick apart their food and when seeds are involved questions usually follow. I’m sure you’ve heard them before too. “If I eat this apple seed will an apple tree grow in my stomach?” “Quick! Let’s plant these watermelon seeds so we have more watermelon to eat tomorrow!”
Don’t worry about your green thumb, or lack thereof. There are plenty of options for every experience level. I’m not a gardener and hate bugs so outdoor gardening is out of the question for me until I overcome my irrational fear of grubs and whatever other disgusting things live under those beautiful gardens.
I created a simple countertop garden with my kids by starting seeds in napkins. We used small plastic cups and put one wet napkin in each. Then slide the seeds in so they’re caught between the napkin and side of the cup but aren’t touching the bottom of the cup. We chose cilantro and chives. My daughter loves cilantro on everything especially black beans and my son will tolerate chives sprinkled on a bagel with cream cheese. My son would run to check on his seeds every morning before breakfast. He was psyched when the seeds were ready to move to their pots.
We used old milk cartons as pots and discussed the importance of recycling and being kind to the environment. I filled the pots with soil and helped my son gently place the seedlings. We moved the pots to a windowsill and checked on them daily. I quickly learned that an added benefit of gardening with children is teaching them about the virtue of patience. My son learned that asking about the plants nonstop would not make them grow. They needed sun, water, and time. Once our little plants were ready we celebrated by sprinkling fresh herbs on our meals.
Our little garden wasn’t fancy but it taught my kids valuable lessons. It’s important to establish a personal connection when teaching children about respecting food and their environment. When we move into our new home I plan on starting another indoor garden with the kids and hope to maintain it so we always have fresh herbs in the house. They taste great and are a perfect way to get kids involved in the kitchen from start to finish.
How do you teach your kids about food sources and involve them in the kitchen?