In Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, everything you could see was edible. While that’s a child’s dream, letting them gorge on an endless supply of sweets is a parent’s nightmare. But what if you created a similar, but healthier concept in your own garden?
Fruit and vegies grown at home mean the kids can pick and eat straight from the plant and the nurturing process can even entice fussy little eaters into trying something new.
Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation program reaches 800 schools and 100,000 children across Australia with the philosophy that teaching children to grow, harvest, prepare and share their own fruit and vegetables has a positive impact on the food choices they make. The foundation has just made its resources available to kindergartens, preschools and childcare centres.
Foundation chief executive Ange Barry says having a home vegetable garden is not only a great way to introduce children to fresh, seasonal food but gardening is a wonderful way to get the family into some outdoor physical activity.
“There’s no need to grow a lot if space is tight, even a pot or two with vegetables or herbs will add freshness to meals,” Ms Barry tells Babyology. “Growing food at home allows the whole family to experience how delicious seasonal produce is and gathering together for a meal of home-grown food really helps bring your family together.”
Picky eaters can be enticed to eat fruit and veg if they’ve grown their own, which can have a huge impact on what they eat, Ms Barry says.
“When kids care for a patch, watch seeds germinate and seedlings grow, where they are encouraged to pluck and try whatever they like, they often nibble new things,” she says. “A part of this is that the vegetable becomes familiar – so it’s not threatening and the child has a chance to handle it, smell it, feel it, without even the slightest pressure to eat it.”
Ms Barry says another reason for getting fussy eaters growing is the pride children have when the little seeds they plant turn into something edible. “Pride and wonder are huge motivators,” she says.
So while businesses like Little Vegie Patch Co are cleverly making it easy for home gardeners with ready-to-go kits, there are inner-city community gardens where individuals can hire a plot if space at home is at a premium. Sydney has the Glebe Community Gardens and there’s Veg Out Community Gardens in St Kilda, Melbourne where families can have their own designated space to plant and grow what they choose.
“When designing a veggie garden for young children, a picking patch where the crops are edible straight from the plant is a great option,” says Ms Barry. “Plants for your picking patch will depend on your climate and the season.”
Ms Barry suggests planting quick-growing favourites including radishes, chives, nasturtiums, curly and flat-leaf parsley, mint, coriander, dill, fennel, lettuces of all sorts, snow peas, sugar snap peas, green peas and broad beans.
“These plants are entirely edible so children can eat a chive or nasturtium flower, the leaf of a broad bean, pea or radish plant anytime they want,” says Ms Barry. “You can also grow strawberries and cherry tomatoes in large pots, with the added advantage that you can move them around as needed.”