One great way to encourage children to explore new ingredients is to grow them! With the help of their father in the garden and their mother in the kitchen, author Camilla Mann‘s young sons love planting, picking and cooking!
I always wished I could garden, but my thumb is decidedly black. When I went to college, someone gave me a plant for my dorm room, assuring me that “It practically takes care of itself. No one can kill it.” Well, it didn’t (take of itself) and I did (kill it). I have since tried to grow various plants to no avail.
But when I had kids, I wanted them to realize that food doesn’t just appear in the grocery store wrapped in cellophane. Especially for fruits and vegetables, I wanted them to understand that those grow in the ground. Thankfully my husband has a green thumb and our boys have always enjoyed getting in the dirt with him.
Sometimes we buy seeds at the store. Sometimes they save seeds from a fruit or vegetable that we have purchased and enjoyed. And sometimes they buy seedlings or sprouts at the farmers’ market. But it’s always a food that they chose.
There is something rewarding about picking and eating food you have grown yourself. Fruits and vegetables taste better when they are freshly picked. And when you’ve sprouted them from seeds, tended to them, and watered them, kids are more likely to eat them – with pride and excitement – as it’s a culmination of their own efforts. I remember one year we grew pumpkins. D, my Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf would come home from school each day and check on them, watering the plants when needed, and petting the pumpkins. “Hi, Pie. Hello, Soup,” he would greet them. He had named them with whatever dish he wanted me to make with them when they were full-grown.
Through several different houses – some with ample yard space and some with only room for a few planter boxes and terracotta pots – my boys have always found a way to grow edibles. Right now, we have a prolific Meyer lemon tree, blueberries, and almost every herb you can imagine and some you probably have never imagined. I had no idea there was such a thing as blue basil. But we have it growing in our yard. The Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf tells me it’s from Africa and he happily snips leaves and blossoms for me whenever I ask.
Through our Cooking Around the World project that we kicked off several years ago and our little garden, we’ve incorporated things we’ve grown with culinary traditions from around the world. We love making ceviche with our lemons. Ceviche is a simple dish, popular in the coastal areas of Latin America, in which seafood is “cooked” by the acid in lemons or limes. It’s so easy, but it requires incredibly fresh ingredients. So, whatever our fishmonger deems the freshest that day is what we use; I’ve used scallops, sole, but the boys loved our Prawn Ceviche. Kuku Sabzi, a Persian frittata made with fresh herbs, is also a family favorite and uses whatever herbs the boys decide need thinning that day.
Gardening with your kids is a great way to get them to try new foods. If your yard is small, or you don’t have a yard at all, think about plants that you can grow in pots. Lots of plants will thrive on a patio, balcony, or even a windowsill. And you can get creative with your containers. I recently saw a strawberry fountain made from an old enamel kitchen colander. How fun!
Also many schools are now incorporating gardens into their spaces. If your child’s school has a garden, consider volunteering there and talking to the kids about the foods they are growing. It’s an opportunity to talk about eating seasonally as well.
Khachapuri is a traditional cheese-filled bread from Georgia though it’s popular in almost all of the post-Soviet states. It’s sold as a street food in Armenia and it’s served as a breakfast bread throughout Israel. While I have made it for breakfast, I prefer to serve it for dinner – outside in the garden – just steps away from the herbs that we’re eating.
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon organic granulated sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 3-1/2 cups flour (I usually blend all-purpose and white whole wheat)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup fresh herbs, minced (for the bread pictured, I used a mixture of parsley, mint, thyme, and oregano) + more for sprinkling
- 2 cups shaved Parmesan cheese
- 6 chicken eggs or 4 duck eggs
- fleur de sel
- butter for rubbing on the bread
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let bloom until creamy, approximately 10 minutes.
- Stir in flour, herbs, and oil.
- Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
- Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.
- Press dough - with floured fingers - onto baking stone into an elongated oval shape.
- Twist the ends to form a boat shape and sprinkle cheese into the bottom of the boat.
- Place in the oven and bake for 12 to 14 minutes .
- Carefully pull the stone out of the oven.
- Press the cheese down with a spoon to create more of a hollow.
- Then crack eggs into the boats. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.
- Return to oven until egg white is slightly set, between 8 to 10 minutes for large eggs.
- To serve, rub bread with butter and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serve immediately.
What’s growing in your garden and how did you get your children involved in planting, picking and cooking? Tell me, have you heard of blue basil?