If you’re struggling to get your children excited about the fruit and veg on their plate, try getting them involved in growing them.
It’s a great activity to get kids involved with; it’s hands on, inexpensive and brings elements of the garden inside on those long, rainy afternoons.
The short days and cold weather of the winter months can be challenging when you have young children to keep entertained. Vegetable growing is often thought of as a spring activity, but if you sow seeds inside, you can start off as early as January.
Watching vegetables grow from just a seed, mud and water is completely magical for children, and it connects them with food in an entirely new way. It’s amazing to see children pick produce from the garden, which you then serve up on their plates the very same day.
Growing vegetables can take some patience, so it’s good to start with a quick win. Growing cress is a fun way to get children started with growing food, especially if you do it in a creative way. Cress can be grown indoors at any time of the year, and best of all, you can see it sprouting within a few days.
Cress Egg Heads
What you need:
- Egg shells
- Cotton wool
- Cress seeds
- Pens for drawing
- Optional: glue, tissue paper, googly eyes etc.
Start by cleaning and drying the egg shells thoroughly, before using felt tip pens to draw faces on them. If you want to turn this part into a longer craft session, you can paint the shells with glue before covering them with tissue paper. Once this has dried, draw on faces with pens, or use googly eyes, and a pipe cleaner for a mouth etc. Get as creative as you like!
Next, wet some cotton wool balls, then squeeze out the excess water before placing them inside the egg shells. Sprinkle some cress seeds on top of the cotton wool, and place your egg heads on a window sill that gets plenty of sun.
Check your egg heads every day to make sure the cotton wool doesn't dry out, adding water when needed.
The seeds should germinate within a few days, and you can cut and eat the cress after a week.
Tip: You can use yoghurt pots instead of egg shells. This is a good option with very young children, as egg shells can be delicate.
Once your kids have seen the results of seed sowing, and are ready to try something new, you can grow all kinds of things. I found that carrot growing worked really well with my children. It’s relatively easy, and you can start off inside during the winter months.
The best way we’ve found to grow carrots is to use cardboard toilet roll inners. They save on waste and money, but also protect the carrots as they grow in the ground.
What you need:
- Cardboard toilet roll inners
- Potting compost
- Carrot seeds
- A deep tray / container
Place your toilet roll inners inside a deep tray or container, and fill them with potting compost, leaving about 1cm clear at the top. Add enough water to dampen the compost without making it too soggy. Place a couple of seeds on top of the compost in each toilet roll (in case one doesn’t take), and then add a thin layer of potting compost to fill the toilet roll tube to the top.
For best results, cover the entire tray with cling film or a transparent bag, and place on a sunny window sill. Keep checking the soil every few days, and water as necessary to make sure it stays damp.
After 6-8 weeks you can move the seedlings outside to acclimatise before planting them in the ground, or in a container. When you plant them out, leave the seedlings in the toilet roll tube, as this will help protect the carrots as they grow. The tubes also help the carrots to grow straight instead of wonky.
Growing cress heads and carrots are two simple, fun ways to get children involved in growing vegetables. You’ll be surprised at how much children enjoy being involved in projects like this. They love to check the vegetables each week, keep them watered, and then harvest them when they’re ready. Best of all, they’re much more willing to try eating a vegetable they’ve grown themselves, so hopefully you can all enjoy feasting on the results together.
Jo Murricane loves food and drink, and you can read all about her food investigations on her blog, jo-blogs.co.uk. Jo has two young children, and they grow veg and keep three chickens in their garden, in Leeds. Due to her passion for quality food and drink, Jo also became a founding member of Leeds Food and Drink Ltd, http://foodanddrinkleeds.co.uk/.