When spring has sprung, there’s no better time to get your green thumb on. While growing your own food may seem daunting (or impossible if you’re a city dweller), it’s not only doable, but surprisingly simple and satisfying! You don’t even need a yard. A balcony or even a windowsill will do! The best part? It’s totally toddler-and-kid-friendly. (Your lil’ gardener might even make a slimy slug friend like our co-founders, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. And if they do, try to keep your cool about it! Eeek!)
We know what you’re thinking: “Who has the time to grow a garden?!” Trust us, it only takes a bit of planning, tending, watering, and watching. Plus it’s one of the easier, more meaningful, and cheaper activities for your family to enjoy together. The best part? Science says it’s uber beneficial for your baby’s body, mind, and spirit (yours, too, by the way!). Need help getting started? Let us help you reap the rewards.
First up, here are 8 amazing reasons to grow food with kids:
#1 Supports Their Blossoming Brain.
Gardening is full of tasks that can strengthen your little sprout’s motor, literacy, and language development. Toddlers feel like such big kids when given the opportunity to pour water, crouch down, lift a (child-sized) gardening tool, pick a ripe strawberry, read the plant markers, or name the vegetables they see growing from the ground. While these might seem like insignificant actions, they’re a big deal to your baby, who makes important neural connections every time they play, move, or practice these skills.
#2 Encourages Adventurous Eating.
Littles are much more willing to taste the fruits of their labor when they’ve helped plant, grow, harvest, wash, and prepare them. Even if your wee one is a typical picky eater, give gardening a go! Try a few super low-key conversation starters like: “I wonder what color our bell peppers will be!” or “Look at the silly shape of this carrot.” or “Would you like to pick a tomato to taste?” If your kiddo still refuses to munch on something from the garden, don’t sweat it. Just continue modeling low-pressure and positive associations with food! They’re still gaining tons of benefits by being involved in the process.
#3 Teaches Respect for Mother Nature.
Gardens are great for the planet, and they might even turn your baby into an early environmentalist. As your budding horticulturalist learns the basics (like why plants need water and sunshine or how to care for the soil) they’ll foster a deep-rooted appreciation for nature and sustainability! Talk to your kid about how much packaging comes with fresh fruit and vegetables from the supermarket, not to mention the carbon footprint from food that's been transported over long distances, often from abroad. Growing your own saves on packaging and air miles so it's great for the environment.
For helpful teaching resources, check out Kids Gardening.
#4 Instills Responsibility, Patience, and Confidence.
Your baby is surrounded by technology, convenience, and plenty of instant-gratification. Gardening is not only an empowering life skill, it’s a lesson in some real down-to-earth values. Add daily gardening tasks (like watering or weeding) to their chore chart and help them document their plants’ growth through a gardening journal or some before/after photos. And when growing grief comes your way (sad seeds that never sprout or birds pecking at your fruit), remember that it’s helping your wee one build resilience and adaptability.
#5 Gives Them a Workout.
Who needs Phys Ed when there’s a garden to grow? Tending your rows is a full-body workout–no gym membership required! As you dig deep, you and your kid will bend, balance, squat, reach, twist, walk (and probably jump up and down as you celebrate your gardening victories!). Remember to stretch, wear your sunscreen, and take breaks as often as needed.
#6 Engages Their Senses.
There’s so much to touch, hear, smell, see, and (best of all!) taste in a garden. Sensory stimulation can deepen your baby’s neural pathways, helping them to form memories, retain information, and form a healthy curiosity of the world around them. One way to help your kiddo stop and smell the roses is to play a “scavenger hunt” gardening game. Ask them to point out something that smells good, something smooth, something green, something that tastes sweet, something wet, and something that chirps.
#7 Lets Dirt do its Very Good Work.
Turns out that playing in the dirt can contribute to a healthy microbiome. Soil contains loads of beneficial microbes and fungi that can ward off illness and boost gut health. Several studies show that children raised on farms experience less asthma, respiratory illness, and autoimmune conditions than those raised in urban areas. So the next time your kid wants to get their hands dirty (along with their feet, face, hair, and clothes), let ‘em! And while eating dirt is not exactly ideal, it may not be as harmful as you’d think. And don’t forget about the immune-boosting benefits of simply being outside in the sunshine!
#8 Relieves Stress and Anxiety.
Nature is THE BEST medicine, and growing food is a great motivator to get outside and veg. Research shows that gardening has an amazing effect on our mental health by decreasing the stress hormone, cortisol. Plus the American Journal of Health found that kiddos experience better focus and less symptoms of ADHD when they have access to an outdoor green space. Gardening FTW!
No yard? No problem! Whether you have plenty of outdoor space or barely a balcony, anyone can grow a garden! All it takes is a little creativity, sunlight, and kind words of encouragement (yep, research suggests that plants thrive when we talk and sing to them!).
Here are 10 tips for growing food with your kids:
#1 Toy Around with the Idea.
First things first: Get your little one interested and excited to garden! Incorporate toy gardening sets, pretend fruits and vegetables, and age-appropriate books about farming and cooking into their playthings. We love ChopChop Family’s Eatable Alphabet as a way to encourage healthy eating and nutrition education.
#2 Make Simple #GardenGoals.
You and your kid are about to put in time, effort, energy, and patience into your first garden. Up your chances for success by choosing some of the easier things to grow. Now isn’t the time to try your hand at an indoor pumpkin patch! Some beginner-friendly vegetables include carrots, radishes, potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, and lettuce.
#3 Plot It Out.
To build anticipation, build a menu of all the dishes you can create with the foods coming from your garden. If you’re planting basil, plan to use it on pizza, pasta, garlic bread or in hummus and salad dressing. Better yet, give your garden a theme and grow foods that play well together on the dinner table! Pizza garden, anyone? How about a salsa garden, pesto garden, or a veggie soup garden?
#4 Grow and Regrow Veggies.
Before you toss that green onion end, sprouted garlic bulb, or celery nub, did you know it’s possible to re-grow your food scraps? It’s a brilliant way to produce less waste and pique your kid’s interest. In most cases, you simply submerge the end of your veggie scrap in a shallow dish of water or soil, set it on a sunny ledge, and wait for the magic to happen (which can take anywhere from a week to a few months depending on what you’re working on!). Check out this video for some indoor gardening inspo!
#5 Create a Window Ledge Herb Garden.
Your kitchen, living room, dining room, or bedroom window sill can be a perfect place to start a year-round herb garden. Plants like basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, or chives are easy peasy to grow, plus they’re handy for all your culinary adventures. Choose a spot with plenty of light, select your containers (see tip #9 for a budget option), plant your seeds or re-pot an herb plant that’s already grown, and get ready for delicious dishes that cost less $$$ (Because store bought herbs are EXPENSIVE!).
#6 Build a Balcony Garden.
If you’ve got a *little* more space to work with, try growing food on your balcony! It’s really not much different than starting a garden in a backyard, and, depending on your space, you can get super creative with it! Here’s a helpful guide from Balcony Garden:
#7 Join a Community Garden.
Secret gardens are great and all, but if you’d prefer a garden party, then plug yourself into a local community garden! They’re typically plots of land in rural or urban neighborhoods that you can rent as a family or a group. If you’re not ready for the commitment of a backyard patch, you and your lil’ farmer can try your hand at growing on someone else’s land–plus you can swap tips and share your bounty with all the fellow gardeners you’ll meet. To locate a community garden in your area, use this map on the American Community Gardening Association’s website.
#8 Plant For Pennies.
For the frugal-minded family, growing food will certainly save you money at the grocery store. And, in most cases, you can start your garden for free (or close to it!). Try these tips:
- The Free Seed Project will send you a free starter pack of seeds, plus their website is filled with gardening resources galore!
- Scour Facebook Marketplace or send out a “seed SOS” on your neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Facebook page.
- Look for a local Seed Lending Library that’ll let you borrow from a selection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds to plant in your garden. When it’s time to harvest, you might be asked to collect some seeds to bring back to the library for the next round of gardeners to enjoy. A quick Google search can tell you if there’s one in your area. Or check out the Community Seed Network’s locator.
- Try re-growing your veggie scraps (check out tip #4). OR save and re-plant the seeds from your store bought bell peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries (to name a few)--here’s a guide.
- To get started on the cheap, visit a thrift or dollar store for your supplies.
#9 Upcycle Your Containers.
You don’t have to buy special planters for your vegetables and herbs. You probably have plenty of containers in your cupboards to get the job done. Repurpose mason, salsa, or pasta sauce jars and let your kid paint or decorate them for an extra flourish.
Here are a few steps to get growing:
- Fill your jar with 2 inches of rocks, gravel, or pebbles (even marbles could work!). This is essential for drainage since your glass jars don’t have any holes in the bottom.
- Fill your jar with a growing medium like potting mix. Be sure to leave about 2 inches of space between the potting mix and the rim of the jar.
- Add your seeds according to the package instructions. Or re-pot an existing herb or plant.
- Water and watch and wait!
#10 Dress It Up.
Let your kid create garden labels out of popsicle sticks, decorate rocks, or even craft a scarecrow out of art supplies. The more they can customize their plot, the more they’ll feel at home in the garden (and the more willing they’ll be to help out, try the food, and continue learning!).