Parent Zone

Lettuce Turnip the Beet – ideas to get kids or students interested in gardening (and healthy eating)!

Friday August 12, 2016 | Posted in Biology, Chores, Gardening, Picky Eating

As a parent of a busy 2.5 yr-old boy, I’m becoming a very skilled negotiator and field commander for the typical terrible two battle grounds. (And I’m loving the challenge!)

The latest battle ground is picky eating. He wasn’t a picky eater when he was in the pureed food stage – except for mushed avocado- he was having no part of it…

william and avocado

Photo: William showing *slight* disdain at the spoonful of mushed avocado…

But it seemed like almost overnight, he went from a free-spirited eater to Commander No-To-Everything! I’m not sure what changed, whether it was his palate or just his opinion. I suspect what transpired was the developmental stage known as “Growing Independence”. I felt as though every meal time was a scientific experiment with randomized trials and bizarre outcomes: will he like peanut butter today – maybe not, it’s Tuesday; will the pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce be thrown on the floor – perhaps, it has green flecks in it; will he eat roasted sweet potatoes like he wolfed down yesterday – likely no, since his flannel pajamas are in the laundry, and so on.

One thing I noticed though, is that his opinions about certain foods changed depending on whether we were indoors at the dinner table, or outdoors exploring our vegetable gardens. Instead of not wanting to try things, I had to be careful of my son wanting to put everything into his mouth. But you have to watch little kids in the garden, since some parts of common vegetables we grow are actually poisonous, like the leaves of tomato and potato plants. Regardless, I embraced this new found “yes-ness”, and during the season when fruits and vegetables are ready to harvest, I take my son out to “explore” the garden as much as possible and stuff him full of snap peas, raspberries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, and whatever else he readily agrees to consume.

william gardening 4

Photo: “Look, Mom – I grew a strawberry!”

I think the reason why my son is keen to eat what we find in the garden, is because he was involved in every step of gardening (or at least a passive observer) along the way, and he understands what resulted from all the hard work (from building boxes for raised beds, filling them with soil, sewing seeds, watering and weeding) is the food we eat.


Photo: Haha, we’re growing a toddler! William enjoyed helping install the raised beds.

We’ve only been gardening for a few years, but we have started small and are so happy that William has been involved every step of the way. When he is a little older, I’ll build him his own bed that he can “play around with”, and I think it will likely get him even more revved up about gardening.

Interest in gardening will likely differ by child, we are fortunate that William is very adventurous as well as helpful – two characteristics that lend themselves well to becoming involved in the gardening process. There are many other characteristics that will bode well for involving your child (or students) in gardening. It might take some trial and error to figure out what tasks get them interested.

William gardening1

Photo: Here’s William checking the herb box for new weeds.


Photo: William enjoyed washing the garlic bulbs after harvest. He loves using the garden hose – on everything!

Here is a list of suggestions for things that toddlers can help with:

  1. filling containers with soil
  2. sewing seeds
  3. painting garden labels (future blog will be devoted to this)
  4. watering plants
  5. pulling weeds
  6. washing dirty tools and containers
  7. washing berries and vegetables before taking them into the house
  8. helping to prepare food to eat (future blog coming up on this topic)

I usually go out every day to check our containers and beds, to pull weeds, and harvest anything that looks ready to be pulled which gives me inspiration for what to prepare for dinner that night. William loses interest after a little while, so I have set up a play station for him close to our garden so that he can entertain himself a little longer while I’m occupied, and I can still keep an eye on him.


Photo: If William loses interest in gardening while I’m still busy, I have some outdoor toys on hand that he can entertain himself with. He loves to use the paths between boxes as a road for his trucks.


Photo: We’ve also created a game of “hide the owl” – I move it into a new location when William isn’t there, and he loves to go into the garden to find the owl and move it to a new spot.

However you can do it – whether you are able to start a single vegetable or herb plant in a container (you can do it indoors too!), or tackle a raised bed or row garden, I strongly and happily recommend it for parenting or teaching. It’s a great way to get kids interested in learning more about where our food comes from, and being more interested in eating it after seeing all the work that goes into it. I also think it teaches everyone to be more respectful of our environment, someone once said “take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.”

If you have any additional ideas to inspire kids to get interested in or participate in gardening, we’d love to hear them. Contact us at

Happy Gardening!

Respectfully submitted by Katherine Jones, August 22, 2016