by Marygrace Taylor
Hooray! Spring is here, and fresh, vibrant produce is finally cropping up in the garden and at the farmer’s market. If you’re like me, you’ve spent months waiting for a taste of peas, asparagus, or anything other than dreary winter root vegetables. And while I’m willing to bet your kids don’t feel the same way (for now!), changing their minds about fresh produce isn’t an impossible feat. Here, my four favorite—and foolproof—ways to get kids excited about their fruits and vegetables.
Get them involved
Your kid’ll be way more enthusiastic about that bunch of broccoli if he gets to pick it out and cook it himself. Whether you’re harvesting from the garden or shopping the farmer’s market, you can make gathering produce more fun by turning it into a scavenger hunt. Have your child seek out fruits and veggies in certain colors or sizes, like long green sticks (asparagus) or little blue spheres (blueberries). Afterwards, leaf through a kid-friendly cookbook with your little one to find a yummy-looking recipe that he can help you make.
Point out the benefits—but make them exciting!
Tell a little kid that carrots are good for her because they contain eye health-promoting beta carotene, and her eyes will likely glaze over. Tell her carrots are good for her because they can help her have Super Vision, and there’s a nice chance she’ll start choosing the orange veggie over other, less healthful snacks that don’t have any magic powers.
Make it look fun
It’s no surprise that a platter of steamed kale probably won’t get your child excited, but kid food doesn’t have to be all macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers. Cut veggie sandwiches into interesting shapes, arrange salad vegetables in rainbow order on the plate instead of tossing everything together, or arrange your pizza toppings in the shape of a smiley face. You could even turn a pile of grapes and cheese into a campfire, veggie spring rolls into a caterpillar, or a chocolate-covered pear into a cute little penguin!
Serve healthy food when they’re hungry
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? A small plate of whole grain crackers and a cheese stick is a healthy snack choice—but if eaten an hour before dinner, it’ll wipe out your kid’s appetite for veggies (or anything else!) at dinner. When your child asks for a snack, offer fresh fruit or vegetables like sliced apple with almond butter or celery sticks with hummus. If she’s not interested, she probably isn’t all that hungry, and can wait until her next meal to eat. By then, she will be hungry—and more willing to gobble up the side of sautéed zucchini on her plate.
Marygrace Taylor is the staff writer and recipe developer for KIWI Magazine. She lives and cooks in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog, Charlie.
As a child, I remember Grandpa saying that tomatoes don’t like to get their feet cold. He was patient and would never set plants out before June. By then, there was not a chill in the air, even at night. My parents rarely started tomatoes inside, and claimed their volunteer ‘German Pink’ tomatoes came up and outgrew those plants anyway. No one ever heard of soil thermometers. They relied on common sense and experience. Just as mothers would not let their children go out in the winter without a coat, Mother Nature knew when it was safe for her little sprouts to be above ground.
Today, I witness this orchestrated plan for all the self-seeding annuals each spring at Heritage Farm. Seeds dropped in the fall, reliably self-sow and weave their way through my garden at just the right time and place. Grandpa Ott’s morning glory and other self- seeding annuals bide their time until conditions are perfect, never getting themselves frozen. Violas appear early and profusely once the coast is clear. Love-in-a-mist and ‘Radio’ calendula sprout like weeds. I can always expect later appearances from borage, dill, verbenas, vining petunias, night-scented tobacco, and kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate.
Unfortunately, I can’t claim to be as responsible as Mother Nature. As I’m looking at empty raised beds in the display garden feeling the strong heat from the May sun, I am convinced freezing temperatures are a thing of the past. The plan begins innocently with setting out a few eggplants and tomatoes, then thinking marigolds and purple basil would make a good-looking border combination—bam—before I know it, my garden is on its way. But inevitably there is another frost, and some morning my plants will have turned into clumps of withered stems with brown burnt leaves. Blooming in the path nearby, however, are bright little pansies that took care of themselves looking up at me with smug, cheerful smiles. What these little pansies knew was it’s not the air temperature, but the soil temperature that makes it safe. The ground that time of the year is always cooler than the air temperature, making it ideal for violas but not for tender annuals.
But really, how often is the soil temperature a topic of conversation. Gardeners want to talk about the fun stuff, like the latest gardening tool, growing tomatoes upside down, or a new greenhouse. It is easy to forget about the basics, like soil temperature.
Ironically, as I am writing this, outside my window a Seed Savers Exchange staff person is walking by carrying a flat of bright green tomato plants—a beautiful sight. We have been sending tomato and pepper transplants out to gardeners since March. No wonder it is tempting to forget about the warmth of the soil, when transplants are readily available.
But this year I will not be fooled by that first warm day. I will instead take my cues from Mother Nature.
Photo: Diane Ott Whealy
Photo of Diane: Jim Richardson