Gardening with Kids – Encouraging New Foods

Children are not, by nature, adventurous eaters. Perhaps this goes back thousands and thousands of years to a time when little ones were thrown outside all day while Mama and Papa Neanderthal hunted and gathered, and it was best if Neanderthal Jr. didn’t put all the berries and leaves in his mouth lest they be poisonous. I completely made up that scenario, but I’m thinking there has to be some reason for the fact that modern American children seem so suspicious of most new fruits, vegetables and entrees set before them.

When I make new recipes anymore, at least one kid will wrinkle the nose and say, “Have we had this before?” Sometimes I lie. “Yes, I made it a few months ago and you LOVED it.” They don’t always fall for that.

The rule in our house is you must try one bite of everything before declaring you won’t eat it. Zachary and I aren’t Clean Plate Club founders; instead we encourage the kids to eat until they feel satisfied. Some new recipes are complete failures – the kids each take one bite of the new dish and declare it inedible., while I’m left feeling a bit deflated because I spent 30 minutes chopping and sauteing and my customers dissed my efforts.

Having a garden in the backyard has encouraged my kids to discover vegetables they otherwise might not have let pass their lips. A few years ago I had a garden for the first time. I have absolutely no knowledge of gardening and pretty much just let my friend pick out plants for me, then I watered them and hoped for the best. The kids ended up completely in love with fresh snap peas and green beans and would eat them right off the plants. Much like they will rave about recipes they choose for me to make, I think the ownership of the plants in our garden helps them see what a good thing they’ve helped create. With the pride of nurturing a seedling into a tall plant bursting with tomatoes or the amazement at pulling a carrot out of the earth, they are more inclined to really taste their food.

This year we got a late start on the garden. I wanted to build a new bed, which Zachary so patiently built for me, but it has yet to be filled with dirt and it’s already mid-June. I may yet try to put some tomato plants in it. A few weeks ago I planted seeds in the old 8’x8′ bed – I went for basil, cilantro, green onions, lettuce, spinach, honeydew (this one is new for me), radishes (also new), cucumber, carrots, broccoli and cabbage (new). The kids helped me pick rocks and mulch out of the soil, pull out some of the little bitty weeds that were growing, and Isla helped me plant the seeds in careful rows.

We all get so excited when the seedlings emerge. I even get a little giddy realizing I’m growing food we’ll eat, which says something about the distance we have from the sources of our food most of the time living in suburbia like we do. The kids find it fascinating, and they are excited to try the new produce. Even if they don’t find new favorites, I’m happy to give them that exposure and knowledge of seeing how some of the things they eat grow from the earth.

The above photos are from when some of the seedlings were just starting to peek out of the dirt. Since that day we’ve had torrential rains which washed away some of the soil and crushed some of my delicate baby plants, and the latest weather assault included 2-inch hail. I’m scared to go look and see what kind of damage it inflicted. Cross your fingers some things survived. If not, the kids will get a lesson in what happens when crazy weather destroys crops, though they won’t know what it’s like to rely on that for food.

Do you garden with your kids? What do you grow? How do they contribute? Has it made them try foods they otherwise wouldn’t touch with a ten foot fork?



  1. We do garden, though I’m not sure they will eat everything that comes out of it. They do like to eat carrots, peas and cucs straight off the vine or out of the dirt, but are still suspicious of any new addition. We have a rule about trying everything, so that if they are out at someone else’s house they never say “yuck!”.They try it, and if they don’t like it they can leave it, but it needs to be tried.


  1. […] a while back I posted photos of some of the seedlings in my late-planted garden. Hard to believe that was just over a month ago, because my garden is now positively teeming with […]

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