Crunch a Color: Cooking with kids starts in the garden
Published Monday, April 1, 2013 7:06AM EDT Last Updated Monday, April 1, 2013 9:46AM EDT
Kids who grow their own food are more likely to eat those healthy foods. Add to that the theory that exposure to dirt, and the microorganisms found there, may strengthen our immune systems and reduce allergies and you've got a recipe for growing healthy kids. But as a busy parent, the thought of creating a kitchen garden and featuring seed to table meals each week can be overwhelming.
Jennifer Tyler Lee, a mom and the creator of Crunch a Color: The Healthy Eating Game, has a few simple tips to make it easy and fun to get your kids growing and eating their own healthy food. No green thumb required!
"The key is to start small." Jennifer suggests. "Even a few colorful planters in your kitchen window will do. You don't need to grow a restaurant grade kitchen garden to enjoy growing a meal with your kids."
Jennifer recommends focusing on the kitchen staples that are easy to grow like lettuce and herbs. "I am a terrible gardener, but there are a few simple crops, like basil and butter lettuce, that I can count on even when I neglect them for soccer practice and family vacations." Think about rounding out the colors on your plate as well. "The same principles that we use playing Crunch a Color at dinner can be applied in the garden. Plant your colors - red cherry tomatoes, green basil, yellow summer zucchini."
With spring on the horizon, make your goal to grow a meal and get your hands dirty working in the garden - planting, harvesting and cooking fresh herbs and vegetables. Aim for one "garden fresh" meal each week. Jennifer recommends:
Step 1: Grow Your Own. Dedicate a small patch of soil for a kitchen garden. Even an indoor planter box or colorful pots will do. Focus on the kitchen staples that are easy to grow like lettuce and herbs. Seeds, starter plants, whatever works for you. Just get into the act of digging in the dirt.
Step 2: Think Seed to Table. Feature one vegetable or herb from your kitchen garden on your dinner menu each week. Put the kids in charge of harvesting and preparing the dish.
Step 3: Shop Local. Visit your local farmers' market to round out your meals. Spending time outdoors is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and buying locally is good for the environment too.
"Dishes can be simple and easy. Clip a few sprigs of fresh thyme and add them to a homemade chicken soup, feature mint in your fresh lemonade, or blend up a batch of basil pesto," advises Tyler Lee. "Small steps are the key to big changes at your family table."
The downside? According to Jennifer, your kids may develop a preference for fresh picked, seasonal veggies. "Last summer we grew cucumbers in our garden and my daughter loved the taste of them. When I featured cucumber again on our family table a few weeks ago she retorted, 'I only eat cucumbers when they are fresh picked from the vine.' I laughed out loud and exclaimed, 'That's an excuse I'm happy to accept! How about some sweet potato?"
For fun and easy recipes that you can make with the veggies that you grow, check out Jennifer's nut-free basil pesto, tomato pops, butter lettuce wraps or garden pizza.
- Prep time: 10 minutes
- Cook time: 10 minutes
- Makes one medium pizza, about 8 slices
- Use whatever fresh veggies are growing in your garden.
- 2 large beets, steamed and chopped
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 bunch oregano
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Homemade tomato sauce
- Fresh pizza dough
- Harvest your vegetables. Use whatever is growing in your garden and add veggies from the local farmers' market if you need extra. Tomatoes, onions, beets, basil and oregano are some options.
- Spread the fresh pizza dough onto a baking sheet.
- Add olive oil and homemade tomato sauce as your base.
- Add the chopped veggies.
- Sprinkle lightly with shredded mozzarella.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are slightly browned.
Butter Lettuce Wraps
- Prep time: 5 minutes
- Cook time: 0 minutes
- Makes about 12 wraps
- 1 head, garden grown butter lettuce
- ¼ cup, sunflower butter
- Harvest your butter lettuce. Have fun getting your hands dirty!
- Wash the lettuce thoroughly with water. Give your hands a good wash, too, with soap and water (don't kill all the good bugs with super zapper hand sanitizer).
- Keeping the leaves intact, spread about a teaspoon of sunflower butter into each piece of lettuce.
- Wrap and enjoy!
- Then plant a new crop.