Here at The Foodies we are all about helping you to increase your child’s acceptance of new foods by building up their familiarity with those foods away from the table. And one of those most fun ways to increase familiarity is by growing something.
There is something genuinely magic about watching something grow from a tiny seed into something many times its size, and then amazingly morphing into something you can eat. Children really get a kick out of handling the seeds, messing with the soil, and watering their plants. Watching the hopeful cheeky little shoots appear out of the soil is full of promise and potential. Growing food gives a child so many opportunities to think about a food and interact with it before there is even a suggestion of it being something they are expected to try to eat and they remember the feeling of making something grow long after the plant has been digested.
Spring is obviously a brilliant time to start growing and I’d love to inspire you to grow something with your kids this spring. But what if you’re totally lacking in confidence with gardening, or don’t have a garden, or don’t know where to start?
Why not try this very simple windowsill growing project that you can do all year around but is especially great in spring. You know those cute little curly pea shoots that you get in fancy salad bags? They look like salad but they taste a bit like peas and they’re cute and have weird curly shoots and they’re a lot of fun to pick right off the plant and eat. They cost a fortune in the shops, if you can even find them. But the best thing is that they are cheap to grow, super easy and almost impossible to get wrong.
Growing fancy windowsill pea shoots
You will need:
A recycled takeaway container, mushroom tub or ice cream tub with a few holes poked in the bottom.
A tray or plate to put underneath to catch any extra water.
A little bit of compost to fill your chosen container. You can get really small bags, or pinch some from a grow bag and use the rest to grow something else. Or you can just use some soil from the garden!
A packet of dried marrowfat peas from the supermarket (usually either in the tinned peas section or the wholefoods bit). You can use pea seed from a garden centre, but those seeds are made to produce healthy full size plants and tend to be a lot more expensive, and cheap dried peas will work just as well for pea shoots at about a fifth of the cost.
What to do:
Get your child to fill the container 3/4 of the way up with compost - This is great for practising motor skills. Many young children will try to pick it up with one hand like a claw. Show them how to use two hands like a cup and compare how much they can pick up in one go with two hands versus one.
Then add a layer of seeds. You can sow them quite close together - you could have anything from 20-50 seeds in an ice cream or mushroom tub. Because you’re just growing the beginnings of plants, you don’t need space to grow a whole plant for each seed, so they can be crammed in pretty close.
Your child can either place the seeds in one by one, using their finger and thumb as a pincer, and space them out carefully, or they can put in little handfuls and then spread them around gently with their fingertips. Either of these will help them practice their fine motor skills and their awareness of space and number, so whichever they are most enthusiastic about, go with it. If you want to add in a bit of maths skills, ask them to look at a little group of seeds at a time and tell you how many are in the group. Some will count out loud or use their fingers but if it’s a very small group sometimes your child will just know the number using a natural skill called subitising. Either way it’s a fun way to use number in a hands on activity.
When they have their seeds spaced all over the soil, they can add in some more soil or compost on top – about a centimetre deep, but it’s not important to measure. You just want the seeds to be covered up so it’s dark enough for them to know they are under the ground, they don’t want to squash them all down hard. They should press the soil down super gently like they are tucking the seeds in to bed.
Put your seeds on a tray in a light place and keep them watered. They will start to shoot in approx. 7-10 days. Once they start, they really get going fast! They are fun to draw while they are growing because of all the different shapes of leaf and tendril.
When the shoots are tall enough to snip and there are a few proper leaves and a few twirling tendrils they can practise their scissor skills snipping a few off at a time and munching them, or putting a few in a sandwich. They can talk about how they taste and whether they think they taste more like peas or more like lettuce. They don’t have to like the taste, they can just describe it. And if they don’t want to taste it at all they can just smell the shoots and describe how the different parts feel in their fingers or brushed against their cheek.
The shoots will manage a few cuts and then if you want to keep eating them you can start off some more about every 4-6 weeks so that the new ones are growing while the old ones are getting raggedy.
Are you going to try this cheap and fun activity on your window ledge?
Joanne Roach is the owner of The Foodies, whose mission is to help parents take the stress out of mealtimes by building children’s confidence with food away from the table. For more books, games and activities to build your child’s familiarity with foods, so they are more likely to accept them when they turn up on their plate., check out the ideas and seasonal food lists at www.thefoodies.org.