Fruit and veg don’t just pack a vibrant, delicious punch – they’ve also been scientifically proven to make you happier. Which makes getting your tots to love the good stuff a total imperative for parents.
And what could be more exciting for a curious child than seeing first-hand how seeds and seedlings are transformed into strapping plants, thanks to the magic of earth, sun and watering? And then there’s the reward of being able to eat the fruits of their labour – a sun-warmed cherry tomato or glistening strawberry picked fresh from the garden and popped straight into little mouths.
Your children will be filled with a sense of pride when they can can say “I grew that”. A trip to the supermarket for a plastic punnet of fruit doesn’t hold quite such allure – and it’s important children grow up knowing where their food comes from.
Shockingly, research by the British Nutrition Foundation found that a third of primary pupils think cheese comes from plants and one in 10 says tomatoes grow underground. An awareness of your food’s origins is a vital step in encouraging lifelong healthy eating.
You don’t need acres of garden or an allotment to grow your own. Many of the easiest fruit and veg can be grown in a pot or grow bag on a balcony or sunny window sill. But digging and watering alongside your children, outside in the fresh air and sunshine is a definite bonus to gardening together.
It’s well worth giving your child their own pots or small garden bed (in the sun, so they’re not set up for failure!) to encourage a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Many garden centres and supermarkets sell little grower kits of gloves, a mini fork and spade, plus a watering can. You could also help them make a sign for their mini plot mounted on a cane, while children learning to read and write will love carefully writing out the plant markers of newly sown seeds.
Top tips for child-friendly fruit and veg growing
Choose plants that are easy to sow – big seeds that chubby little fingers can handle easily and that can be sown in situ, so you don’t have the faff of transplanting.
Pick plants that germinate and grow quickly and can sustain short attention spans and reward a curious child with a perceivable difference every day. Think of those mustard and cress seeds shooting up from damp tissue when you were at school.
You can fast forward past the seed stage and buy small plug plants to grow on, like tomato plants.
It’s best to plant fruit and veg that gives you a crop quickly - and will continue cropping, the more you pick.
Choose plants that require minimum maintenance other than watering and picking.
Give your child a small water can with a gentle spray, to avoid plants getting a deluge from over-zealous watering.
To start with, choose fruit and veg that your child already likes or you’re confident you can encourage them to enjoy.
Food you can eat straight from the plant like tomatoes and peas are always a hit.
When plants are a disappointment, like misshapen carrots due to carrot fly or split tomatoes because of haphazard watering, explain to your child why the plant failed to thrive and make a new plan.
Don’t be a control freak. Part of the joy of gardening is getting muddy hands and feet.
7 easy fruit and veg to grow with children
Easy-peasy to grow up a trellis or row of canes with pretty flowers followed by delicious peas, popped fresh from the pod. They’ll grow all summer long. Just keep picking.
A sweet treat that children love. Peeking under the leaves to see if the berries have ripened becomes a daily treasure hunt. If you have runners coming off the parent plant, you can peg them down to produce new plants – a family of fresh new strawberry plants! Your child will also love laying out a bed of straw bought from a pet shop under developing fruit to keep them warm and dry.
Children love their crunchy flavour and mini turnip look and they grow quickly, ready to harvest in less than a month. They’re a great starter vegetable as they’re so easy to grow. If you plant a new batch of seeds every week, you could have them all summer long.
Tomatoes are perfect for container growing and just three plants will produce a bumper crop. They need regular watering and love a six weekly tomato feed. Once there are enough tomato flowers, pinch out the side shoots so all the plant’s energy goes into making a delicious crop.
A pot next to the back door with basil, parsley, thyme and coriander looks lovely – and makes your home-grown food even more delicious. If your child loves pasta and tomato sauce, you’ve got the makings of a delicious serving with basil and thyme leaves to add to your home-grown tomatoes.
6. Cut-and-come-again salad
Does what is says on the packet! They’re ready to pick after just three weeks, and grow back again, the more you cut. Tiny leaves pack a taste punch and they grow so quickly they’ll keep your child’s interest. This is definitely the way to get them excited about eating salad.
These are a really fun crop to grow. Plant potatoes in the ground or in a potato bag or a large pot only part filled with compost. When the green shoots begin to appear above the soil, simply ‘earth them up’ (cue handfuls of earth and messiness) by covering them with more compost and repeat every time your child spots some green pointing out. When the foliage starts to yellow and die back, the fun part is rummaging around in the soil to collect your own home grown potatoes. It’s just like digging for treasure.