As a registered dietitian, Stacey Antine has witnessed the benefits and the importance of garden time as a family.
"We are raising a generation of kids that are eating out of packages with a lot of artificial ingredients that have captured their taste buds," says the founder of HealthBarn USA. "The garden is a wonderful place for kids to reclaim their taste buds for fresh natural foods — and they love it."
Gardening with your kids also provides unique educational opportunities.
"Besides providing a hands-on way for kids to learn and understand the life cycles of plants, growing veggies provides kids with a great way to connect with our agrarian past," says gardening expert Craig Jenkins-Sutton of Topiarius Urban Garden.
Here are some great vegetable seeds to sprout with your kids that will grow their imaginations and love for gardening.
Kids like peas because they're small, sweet and soft, but adults will love that they're packed with nutrients. According to HealthBarn USA, peas are super-easy to grow. Pea seeds can be grown in planters or sown directly in the ground. Peas are also fun for young kids to explore because they're grown in pods and are shelled before they're eaten. Be sure to give peas a nice sunny spot in your yard, but one that's protected from high winds. Try this pasta and pea recipe that your child will love.
Each spring, executive chef Justin Everett, his wife and three young boys plant tomatoes — an easy addition to any garden (though, technically, tomatoes are a fruit) and one that can produce many tasty products when harvested. "It's always a great bonding experience, and the boys are eager to help with tending the garden," he says. Tomatoes love sun, so make sure you plant them where they will get at least a good 10 hours of light. Here's how to make fresh tomato sauce from your bounty — perfect for a Friday-night pizza with the family.
For kids who are eager to see quick results, this underground veggie is a must-have addition to any parent's gardening list. "The fastest seed-to-harvest veggie is going to be the radish, often being able to plant at the start of the month and harvested by the end," Jenkins-Sutton says. Make sure you pull the radishes from the ground as soon as the roots mature — otherwise, radishes that grow for too long may crack and become tough.
Good starter seeds for kids are mixed salad seeds and mesclun seeds. "They are planted like grass, the salad grows like grass and when it is ready, you simply pluck it out of the earth," says Lidia Bastianich, author of the children's book Lidia's Family Kitchen: Nonna's Birthday Surprise. Great news for those who can't wait to start gardening — the seeds of most greens will begin to grow at temps as low as 40 degrees. So start digging as soon as soil has thawed.
Pumpkins have a natural magic element to them that automatically draws kids to this fall vegetable. Plus, the vegetable keeps on giving even after it has been harvested, producing delicious pumpkin seeds that can be roasted to perfection. Try out these three recipes. Pumpkins need sun — and a lot of it — so choose a location that is protected from frost and can enjoy that morning and afternoon sun.
Plants that easily show the whole growing cycle are some of Bastianich's favorites. With eggplant, children notice there is a flower before the actual vegetable begins to grow, providing a good opportunity to spend some time talking about the growth cycle, she says. For the best odds of success, begin growing seeds inside and don't transfer outdoors until night temps are consistently in the 60s.
Because it's beneficial for children to see how different types of garden plants grow, Bastianich recommends growing carrots. "I plant carrot seeds so the children know that vegetables also grow underground, and it gives me an opportunity to explain a root system," she says. Here's a fun tip: Did you know carrots can come in several different colors, including white, yellow and even purple?
If your kids like hunting for treasure, they'll love growing potatoes. Although they grow underground, potatoes need well-drained soil to grow. Did you know that 46.7 billion pounds of potatoes were produced in 2012? Here are some other fun facts from the National Potato Council you can share with your kids as you explore gardening potatoes.
Bell peppers are delicious, healthy vegetables, and are grown much as tomatoes are, according to the West Virginia University Extension Service. Their crunchy texture and sweet taste is also a favorite among kids, making this a winner in your garden. Although peppers are tropical, hot temperatures can actually damage the plants. If you live in a state where summer temps exceed 90 degrees F, plan your garden so taller plants can provide shade for the peppers during the hottest parts of the day.
"Every garden needs an herb section, which I also start from small plants bought at the nursery," Bastianich says. "With some basil and the tomatoes, the kids learn that it is easy to make a fun salad dish, all out of the garden." While mint is a favorite among herb growers, beware. Make sure you plant it in its own pot. Otherwise, it will take over the other herbs — and everything around it.
What are some of your favorite veggies to grow with your kids? Tell us in the comment section below.
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