One of the easiest ways to get your kids excited about eating and cooking with healthy food is to help them plant a kids vegetable garden. Here are some tips for planting and growing a kids’ vegetable garden, along with some of our favorite veggies (and fruits!) to grow.
CHOOSING THE LOCATION FOR A KIDS VEGETABLE GARDEN
Make sure you choose a location that gets plenty of sun, and is easy to water. It can be as simple as a patch of dirt in the backyard that is weeded regularly, or an edged strip of dirt along a sidewalk or patio, or a wooden raised bed. There are also a lot of vegetables that will do well in pots if you have a balcony but not a yard.
A raised bed is definitely the easiest to work in for adults, but toddlers and preschoolers really love playing in the dirt, so a patch in the ground might be more fun for them.
You also need to think about whether your child will use a watering can, a hose, or drip irrigation to water their veggies as you decide on the location.
HOW TO START THE VEGETABLES
The next decision is how to start the vegetables for your garden. For children in preschool and younger, time passes very slowly, so I recommend buying small starts at the store. Plus, if you’ve got young children, you probably don’t have as much time and energy to babysit seedlings anyway. I know I don’t!
For older kids, you can start with seeds planted in little seed containers. There are lots of ways to create little green houses for starting seeds indoors, and there are some seeds that grow really well planted straight into the garden
WHAT TO PLANT IN A KIDS VEGETABLE GARDEN
Choosing what to grow is one of the best parts of planting a kids vegetable garden.
Herbs are a must have in any kids vegetable garden. They can be snacked on from the first day your child plants the starts, and they are great for developing your child’s palate. They also smell absolutely wonderful, and kids love getting to sniff at their garden every day.
We have a top ten list of herbs to grow yourself if you’re not sure which ones to plant. My kids really like eating parsley, chives, green onions, basil, and mint right from the garden.
Radishes are really fun for kids because they grow super fast. We typically get our first spring radishes within four weeks of planting seeds in the ground. If you have pickle monsters like we do, you can teach your kids to make our quick pickle radishes.
It’s so exciting for kids to get to dig up underground veggies like carrots or potatoes. From our personal experience, carrots are a lot easier to grow than potatoes, but kids can also have a lot of fun growing potatoes in buckets.
Peas are another fast growing vegetable, and kids love eating them right off the vine. Make sure you get the sugar or snap peas which have the sweet pods you can eat. Different varieties will have different color flowers, and you can even eat the flowers and young tendrils and leaves!
Pole beans can be used to create a magical play space for kids as well as a source for snacking. Our friends’ daughters loved winding through rows of beans looking for the biggest ones.
Last year we had bush beans, and Corban loved to eat the beans but we just didn’t get that many. Pole beans produce a lot more, and grow about 8 feet tall like Jack’s beanstalk. We plan on building a bean teepee for our kids this year with pole beans and scarlett runner beans.
If you have the space, you must plant at least one zucchini plant. They produce like crazy, and kids love seeing how huge a zucchini can get. The zucchini flowers (aka squash blossoms) are edible and absolutely amazing filled with goat cheese!
If you’d like to try a tomato plant your kids vegetable garden, the Sun Gold variety is very sweet, and the little tomatoes are the perfect size for popping into hungry mouths on a hot summer day. Plus they produce like gangbusters! My son didn’t like tomatoes the first year, but last year he couldn’t eat them fast enough.
Small leaf lettuce can be great for introducing kids to eating salad. We like planting Bibb lettuce and then using scissors to harvest the leaves when they’re small.
You can also grow large heads of lettuce like Romaine. They’re really fun for kids to watch grow, and the leaves are great for lettuce cups or in place of bread for sandwiches and burgers.
Brussels sprouts are a funny looking plant with cute little cabbage-like heads up and down the stalk. They also do really well in colder weather, so we like to plant a few to harvest once all the summer veggies are gone. Corban happily ate sprouts right off the stalk last year, but we also really love them roasted with bacon.
Chard and kale are hardy and grow quickly. Plus your kiddo may surprise you by eating them right from the garden. You can use these greens in smoothies, frittatas, salads, soups, and sautees or stir fries.
If you want to grow a fall squash, try delicata which is a nice shape for kids to hold, and has a thin edible skin, making it easy to cook. We eat roasted delicata squash once a week in the fall!
DON’T FORGET THE FRUIT!
Although we’re talking about kids vegetable gardens, if you have the room you should definitely grow some fruit as well. We have grapes, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, apples, currants, and strawberries.
Each one ripens at different times so we spend all summer picking dessert together after dinner. It’s our kids’ favorite part of every day! You can even grow your berries in pots if you don’t have a yard.
AN EDIBLE PLANT YOU PROBABLY DON’T EVEN NOTICE
It can be hard for kids to wait for their garden to grow, but you most likely already have a spring harvest in your yard! The tender dandelion greens of spring are perfectly safe to eat. As they get bigger, they become bitter, but in the beginning of spring they’re perfect for dandelion greens potato salad.
SAFETY TIPS FOR YOUR KIDS VEGETABLE GARDEN
Make sure you know which vegetable plants have poisonous parts. Rhubarb is a really fun and pretty plant with edible stalks, but the leaves are poisonous. Lima beans are poisonous if eaten raw, as are kidney beans. While tomato leaves are often touted as poisonous, you’d have to eat at least a pound and half to feel any ill effects.
We choose not to have any plants with poisonous parts in our garden while the kids are little, and get our rhubarb from local farms instead.
Bees and spiders are part of a healthy garden. Teach your kids the important role they play in growing food, and let them know factually (rather than fearfully) about the possibility of bites and stings if they feel threatened, so that your kiddos will respect these busy creatures while playing, working, and snacking in the garden.
Stay away from chemicals so kids can eat right from the garden. We encourage spiders to help manage some garden pests, and use kid and pet safe Sluggo to deal with slugs.
MINI GARDENERS MAKE MINI CHEFS
While Larkin was too young to enjoy last years vegetable garden, we know she is going to love it this year. She’s already munching on chives, kale, and swiss chard leftover in our garden bed. She also really loves all the flowering fruit bushes we have, like the gorgeous currant behind her in the photo.
This is Corban at 16 months eating a soup with vegetables he helped pick from the garden. He got to choose which vegetables we used, and went with kale, carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini. I chopped them up and tossed them in chicken stock with some cooked ground turkey and rice. It was such a simple dinner and he loved that he grew and picked most of it himself!
Are you planting a kids vegetable garden this year? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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