cooking with kids

Back to School with Good Health

Kids love to be of help. No, really—they do! And if we grown-ups can just guide them (or corral them) in the right direction, why, in no time everyone will be full-fledged contributors to the backyard home garden.

Half the battle is to understand how a child thinks. If we can draw our plans in line with their minds, we’re good to go. But what motivates a kid to garden?

The power of possession. As any parent knows, many times the first word out of a young child’s mouth is “mine!” No surprise, there. Like adults, children have a natural desire to control the environment around them. While often this is an impulse that needs curbed, it should be absolutely encouraged when it comes to the garden.

“Here sweetheart, this section of the garden is all yours. You get to grow what you like to eat.”

And you can take care of it all by yourself. But you save this little tidbit of information for later. You don’t want to ruin their excitement with a list of things they’ll need to do, do you?

Of course not. That should be introduced in bits and pieces.

“Time to feed your plants.” The child sprinkles worm poop throughout their garden.

“Now they’re thirsty.” Hand them the colorful water can and watch them drench their babies but good.

“Oh no, grab that weed before it takes over your baby plant’s growing space!” In no time flat, they’ll yank that stray green out before your very eyes.

Impressive. But then again, kids enjoy being productive—when it’s something they care about. So nurture this instinct, then watch them grow and blossom right along with their very own vegetable garden. Or herbs. It doesn’t matter what they grow, only that they do. And once they become authorities on the subject, stand back—they’ll even help you with your plants!

And don’t worry about harvest. That’s an easy sell. Swimming for potatoes is tons of fun, kinda like digging for buried treasure. Searching for hidden carrots works the same. Twisting cobs is simple. And if you promise kids they can keep the husks for weaving baskets, tying knots, or crafting corn husk dolls, they’ll be totally in! Talk about fun, kids will even trade the business of shucking beans for the prize of a bowl-full of dried beans—they’re the secret ingredients for making maracas and rain sticks.

Once in the kitchen, kids can be of big help, too. Peeling carrots is a job my son loves to perform. He likes to prove he’s a “can do” sort of kid, if you know what I mean. And my daughter is amazing when it comes to slicing tomatoes and squash for blanching—perfect for that healthy weeknight dinner.

Better yet, make a breakfast smoothie using their garden favorites. With enough fruit to cover the color green, you can even squeeze a few veggies inside. I call it the “Berry Green Smoothie.” Simply combine blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, chia seed and a bit of water in a blender and mix well. Steam broccoli for ease of blending and add a dash of honey for those with a sweet tooth. It’s really quite good!

When a child makes the connection between growing fruits and vegetables and the ones they see on their plate and in their glass, you’ll have a full-fledge gardener-extraordinaire in your midst. Vegetables never tasted so good to a child as the ones they grew themselves. It’s a fact—and the perfect beginning to a healthy lifestyle. Healthy living, one fruit/veggie at a time!

Cooking with Kids

And I do mean cooking!  We were back in the kitchen this week, enjoying fresh potatoes, sweet onions and delectable rosemary–all from our garden.  In fact, the potatoes were harvested over the last several days, to the delight of all involved.  In fact, I’m not sure who was more excited, the lower elementary kids or the middle school students!

All learned how to swim for potatoes and agreed: it’s a lot like digging for buried treasure.  (Like I always say, having your own garden is way cool.)  It’s a dirty job, but definitely a fun one.

The younger crowd even found some the middle schoolers missed.  A feat that may not go unmentioned.  And what happens if we accidentally leave some in the ground?

Mother Nature will take care of them (hopefully reward us with an unexpected harvest come fall!).  That would be awesome, because if I’ve learned one thing from this school garden experience, it’s that we didn’t plant near enough to satisfy these kids.  From carrots to scallions, broccoli to strawberries, these kids were always ready for more.  A good thing, in my book!

With our baskets full and our bellies empty, we cooked up trays for sampling.  Throughout the afternoon, the kids floated on air, much like the scent of roasting vegetables and rosemary.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.  They were wiggling, giggling, holding their nose, pushing for a view–just as you’d expect when presented with the opportunity to learn how to prepare their very own vegetables!  It is exciting.  Nothing better than eating what you grew.

So as the adult in charge, I bumped up my tolerance level to “extremely patient” and off we went.  I showed them how to clean their potatoes, chop them into pieces, coat them with olive oil, tossing in some sweet onions and fresh garden rosemary.  Mmmmm….  We roasted them and devoured them, all in the space of one fun-filled hour in school.

Does it get any better?