Plant, grow, eat: From the backyard to the lunchbox

Encouraging your kids to get into gardening can help top up their lunchbox – and develop a lifelong healthy habit.

There’s no denying that some kids these days are increasingly indoorsy, with no end of sedentary, screen-based pursuits to choose from. Still, whether you have a garden, a balcony, a nearby community garden or even just a sunny windowsill, encouraging your child to dabble in some gardening can plant the seed for a new hobby that they might come to love.

The perks of gardening

According to Planet Ark’s 2012 report Planting Trees: Just What the Doctor Ordered, there’s a growing body of research suggesting that childhood contact with nature is linked with health and wellbeing benefits, including reduced stress, increased confidence and self-esteem, reduced risk of obesity and possibly even improved academic performance.   
 
Teaching kids about gardening is also a fun, hands-on way to educate them about where their food comes from and the importance of healthy eating. “It [can also] help them understand about how real food is made; for instance, how you make pesto from scratch rather than just buying it in a jar,” says Sophie Thomson, garden consultant, author and mother of five. 
 
It can also help to entice notoriously fussy eaters to become more adventurous. “Kids often need to experience something numerous times before they’ll adopt it, so not just eating vegetables but being exposed to them by touching, smelling and tending them helps,” says Kobie Keenan, program manager at Nursery & Garden Industry Australia and mum of two. 
Mother and son in garden

Easy lunchbox foods for kids to grow

As a general rule, relatively fast-growing plants are more likely to keep young green thumbs interested, so stick to vegetables and herbs, as fruit tends to be a longer-term prospect. “One tip is to plant some crops in the first week, then plant more two weeks later so you’ll have them continually turning around,” says Keenan. “Even while kids are waiting for their plants to grow, they can still stay involved by doing things like testing the soil with a simple dropper test, mulching the garden, watering and checking for bugs.” 
 
 
Lettuce: “Repeat harvest lettuces are brilliant; you simply plonk them in the ground and pick the leaves you need for your sandwich that day,” says Thomson.
 
Cherry tomatoes: Small and sweet, cherry tomatoes are a hit with most kids and can be grown in pots if space is limited. “We always have a bowl of them in the kitchen for the kids to graze on,” says Thomson. 
 
Carrots: These are particularly fun for kids to harvest – it’s like pulling buried treasure out of the ground. “They also love all the different colours you can get with the heirloom varieties,” adds Keenan. You can grow them in a garden bed or even in a wine barrel.

Sprouting seeds: Mung beans and alfalfa make fresh, crunchy additions to a lunchbox, and can easily be grown in a kitchen seed sprouter, a jar, or even eggshells.
 
Snow peas: Sweet and crunchy, snow peas are a kid-friendly vegetable that little ones can happily nibble on. They are best grown if you have a garden, as they like full sun and a trellis or fence to grow alongside. 
 
Cucumbers: These salad staples reach maturity in about seven weeks, and can be grown along the ground or vertically. Go for the Lebanese variety, which are thin-skinned with a milder taste. 
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