Vegetable gardens are popping up more and more in our schools and communities, and for good reason. Gardening is an enjoyable way to expose children to different types of vegetables. Plus, the more children are involved in the growing and harvesting of healthy foods, the more likely they are to choose them at mealtime. There are many possibilities for growing your own healthy foods right at home, even in a small space. Ashley Cappel, a registered dietician for Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Health Lifestyles Center, shares some of her ideas.
Container gardening is easy and cheap, and you don’t need to buy fancy pots. Try old coffee canisters or hanging baskets – just make sure there are holes for water drainage. Larger containers usually work best and are easier to maintain. Look for a potting mix made for container vegetables, and try out these healthy favorites:
- Cherry tomatoes: High in the powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene, cherry tomatoes are perfect for little ones to pick and eat. Try combining fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella for a yummy side or snack treat.
- Snap peas: These sweet little pods like cool weather and are planted in the early spring. High in vitamin K important for bone health, snap peas can be served raw, with a dipping sauce or tossed into a healthy stir fry.
- Kale: Kale is a superfood that flourishes in the summer months. Give kale “chips” a try by tossing kale pieces in olive oil with salt and baking in the oven at 300° for 20 minutes, then enjoy watching your kids devour the crispy goodness.
Give fresh herbs a try too. Benefits of herbs range from boosting memory to fighting inflammation, and evidence suggests they play a significant role in our long-term health. Herbs require little maintenance to grow and can fit on a windowsill. Homegrown fresh herbs are much cheaper than those purchased at the grocery store and kids will learn how these little plants provide BIG flavor to our foods every day.
- Basil: Try adding to pizza or pasta of your choice. You can also toss with fresh watermelon for a twist.
- Cilantro: Cilantro pairs perfectly with Mexican dishes. Mix with chopped tomatoes and onions, salt, olive oil and vinegar for a healthy, homemade salsa.
- Dill: Sprinkle some dill onto grilled cheese sandwiches or add to potato salad for a fresh kick.