Let your toddler cultivate a fresh, lasting connection with food by growing something to eat. If you’ve ever stood in the sunshine nibbling warm, sweet snap peas directly off of a trellis, if you’ve ever picked a perfectly garnet strawberry from its fragile plant and had a gush of berry juice trickle down your chin, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that one powerful food experience can shift your entire relationship to food.
While toddlerhood is chock full of reasons why your child may be resisting your attempts at a well balanced diet, (such as budding independence, more developed skills at feeding himself, a slowing growth rate compared to infancy or the sudden influence of social settings), it also offers a prime opportunity for parents: you can cultivate a toddler’s natural curiosity about food by growing something edible.
Food is a fantastic teacher. The care and patience children need to plant, water, nurture and, well, wait is a wonderful counterpoint to the light speed of the pace of a typical toddler day (especially in a world where technology provides instant results). It can also be the perfect spark for conversations about what countries are generally known as the big producers of some of the ingredients. And perhaps most refreshingly, growing ignites curiosity and discovery- of topics ranging from science to nutrition, health, cooking, and eating, about the world around them, and their role in it.
Depending on the age of your child, gardening can be as simple as a chance to savor the outdoors, get dirty, and explore squishy things like worms, ladybugs and butterflies, or as complex as a devising a growing chart and designing the layout of a garden space. Even if it’s just picking up some seedlings at the grocery store and planting them in a clean reusable container with a few holes poked in the bottom (known as “container gardening”), you’ll soon realize the many benefits that start to bloom when you grow something together with your child.
Perhaps best of all, edible learning can also be a wonderful strategy to coax a picky eater to try new foods. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that while children participated in a garden-based nutrition program, they significantly increased their intake of fruits and vegetables, their range of vegetable preferences, and (even more importantly), expanded their willingness to try new things; children overwhelmingly rated trying new veggies as “fun and enjoyable” in this context- a “seed to table” eating experience may help encourage improved eating behaviors including regular consumption of fruits and vegetables for the long-term. Plus, research aside, kids just love dirt.
What are your favorite gardening stories to share with the Earth’s Best Family? We'd love to have you share them on our Facebook Page!
Whether a single pot, a windowsill, a planter on a terrace, a community garden or a full backyard plot, below are some tips to help you get started.
Ask a seasoned gardener in your area what is easy to grow (i.e. lettuce) versus what is more difficult to grow (i.e. tomatoes). Based on your level of experience and time commitment you envision, choose plants that will set your family up for success.
A pot of herbs featuring a mix of different flavors and smells can be a wonderful teaching opportunity for kids. These can be snipped fresh with child-proof scissors into salads, marinades, onto roast vegetables or grilled fish, or many (like oregano and rosemary) can be dried and stored in reusable glass jars (Earth’s Best infant food jars are perfect for this!).
Plants that grow quickly, like sunflowers, pumpkins or corn, are often fun for kids because they see immediate results. These plants also have large, brightly colored flowers, which delight kids as well.
Everyone can help-safe but fun tasks for little ones include digging, watering, deadheading flowers and harvesting. In addition to these jobs, older children can help with planting, weeding, and garden design.
A wide brimmed hat, sunblock and a pair of children’s gardening gloves helps keep them safe and comfortable.
Useful links for Moms:
USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.
The USDA’s interactive compass/map that shows you where you can find local food projects in your area.
School Gardening, Family Gardening, Grants for Community Gardens, and info just for kids.