When I was a kid, my family had a garden. I’m not talking about one raised bed with a few herbs and veggies. No, I’m talking about a ginormous, year-round producing plot of land. The climate in Northern California is great for growing all kinds of tasty stuff (hello, orange trees in the backyard), and my mother is an advocate for a healthy, organic lifestyle.
Looking back, I can recognize that having a huge garden with amazing produce was pretty awesome; but at the time, all I could see were beds thick with weeds, potatoes needing to be dug, a stinky compost pile needing to be turned.
Now that I myself am a mom hoping to raise healthy little people, I’m grateful for the experience. Several studies have shown that gardening with kids (being outside in the dirt, connecting with the natural world) encourages patience, healthy eating, and a sense of community, all of which leads kids to eat more fruits and vegetables…and actually enjoy them!
I’ve seen this relationship between gardening and enjoying healthy food firsthand. My kids are six and two, and like other little ones, they LOVE mac ‘n’ cheese and ice cream and goldfish and just about anything else that comes out of a package—but they also love broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes. My husband and I have planted a garden every year of my daughter’s life so far (except the first summer we moved to Texas and I was seven months pregnant—yeah, it wasn’t gonna happen!), so I know from experience that when the kids are in the backyard, digging away or looking for new blooms, these are the experiences bringing them a little closer to enjoying a healthy lifestyle.
Do they eat their greens every night without complaining?
But, when it comes from our little garden, do I get less whining?
Looking to start your own little patch? Great, because even buying one pot and one plant will help teach your kids the important lesson of where food comes from. Read on to check out the steps I took to help my family start gardening (okay, maybe just a few weeks’ worth of broccoli and fresh herbs…but it’s a start!) for ourselves.
1. Get Pint-Sized Gear
A pint-sized set of gloves, spade, and watering can? Yes, please! Your kids will really feel like they can dig in when tools are exactly the right size. Springtime is a great opportunity to pick out a shiny new set, like this one from Amazon.
2. Let the Kids Pick the Plants
By letting kids select the vegetables, they’ll be more connected to the bounty. It’s a lot of fun to watch “your” tomato plant bear fruit. Psst! It’s also exciting to watch seeds pop up and become plants, if starting on a smaller scale is more your thing.
3. Plant Veggies as a Team
Once the plants have been selected, it takes a team effort to get them in the ground and thriving. Have dad till the soil, mom can add the compost and fertilizer, and the kids can dig the hole and put the veggies in place. Not only does gardening give everyone something to talk about (read: family communication!) for months to come, but it’s also a healthy activity that gets all bodies moving.
4. Assign Garden Chores
Even the tiniest plot requires work. Regular watering, weeding, watching for snails and other insects (except bug-eating spiders!), and gathering ripe produce are all small tasks your kids can easily accomplish without supervision. Having responsibilities after the garden is planted will instill a sense of community and teamwork that’s also fun!
5. Read About Gardening
There are a ton of adorable gardening books to enjoy. Check out a few from your local library or buy and add to your own growing family collection. A few of our favorites include Sophie’s Squash, Miss Rumphius, Plant a Kiss, and The Carrot Seed.
Do you like to garden with the kids? Share a favorite experience in a comment below.
All images by Gabby Cullen