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Kids Eat What They Grow

Getting kids involved in produce production and selection can encourage healthy, more adventurous eating.



Children gather food for family dinners at Grogg's Garden.

I loved going to the grocery store with my mom when I was little. Not only would she let me buy a piece of chocolate at the checkout, she also let me pick anything from the produce section.

She was usually just looking for apples, potatoes or carrots. But I was drawn to the fruits and vegetables I wasn’t used to seeing in our kitchen. Kumquats, chayote squash, star fruit – I put them in the produce bag, tied it with a twist-tie and couldn’t wait to get home to dissect and taste.

I try to do the same with my kids. For them, food tastes better when it’s their idea to try it. When it’s my idea to try something new, like bok choy, they hold their noses. But when they make the discovery at the grocery store or farmers market, they’re excited to give it a try.

It’s one of the reasons Carla Grogg was inspired to create a family version of the farm-to-table dinners at Grogg’s Green Barn. Until August, the dinners have been a chance for adults to walk the gardens with a glass of wine before sitting down to dinner prepared by Chef Matt Owen at the Reserve at Grogg’s.

But Aug. 4 and 5, kids will have a run of the gardens, getting a chance to roam with their parents to see the beehives, gather eggs and harvest some of the vegetables for their own dinner. Then families will sit down at communal tables for a dinner of food primarily from the gardens at Grogg’s.

I talked to Carla, mother of Isaac, 5; Eva, 10 and Nicklaus, 16, about the dinners and how she’s incorporated her passion for organic gardening and eating into the lives of her kids.

Q: Do you think letting kids be part of growing/cooking food makes them more open to trying new foods?

Carla: Absolutely! For anything in life, a hands-on approach makes you get out of your comfort zone and have a real experience. Kids are naturally curious and unafraid to try something new – this creates an opportunity to have so much fun in the gardens…planting, harvesting and then tasting these foods that you might not naturally buy at the grocery store!

I have had many kids tell me, “I don’t like the store tomatoes, but these are really sweet and yummy!” Or combining things like fresh peaches off the tree and local honey over vanilla ice-cream, YUM! The kids literally wanted seconds and thirds.

Q: How did you get the idea to open the farm-to-table dinners to families?

Carla: Our dinners are geared to a nice evening out for adults; however, we had several factors help us decide to host a weekend for family.

• We have young children ourselves and know the importance of a family friendly space when we go out to eat.

• Part of our mission for the garden center is to educate and show the little ones the fun in growing your own veggies and fruits. It is so important that we get our hands dirty, and taking care of something like a tomato plant helps extend that energy into caring for ourselves and others. Our lady chickens are such a hit with the kids. They can’t get enough of petting them and gathering eggs from the coop.

• How often do kids get the opportunity to laugh, run and lead the adults in a dinner? We will very much expect our young guests to mind their manners and wash their hands after being in the garden before dinner; however, boredom will not be an issue with this meal. We will include them from beginning to end and our hope is that they will be creative, thankful and discover tastes they never knew they might like.

Q: Why was it important for you to include kids in your programs?

Carla: Simple, they are the future generation! We want them to lead one day, and through the garden center, I have the opportunity to help them discover what has become almost foreign. Not many families try to grow their own food anymore. We can be creative through art and journaling and teach leadership, like earning Girl Scout badges, and most importantly teach kids to be caring. Technology can quickly steal our minds and give us a false sense of authentic living. We know as adults the world can be a struggle. The patience, perseverance and mindfulness that is connected with gardening can create lifelong happiness.

 

Recipes

This recipe is just as good with little Roma or even cherry tomatoes, which kids often prefer. For a little sweeter filling, try crushed cornflakes instead of breadcrumbs.

Stuffed Tomatoes

  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 4 teaspoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water (or more as needed)

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice each tomato in half. Remove the stem. Gently squeeze each tomato half into a bowl to remove some of the juice and seeds. Put the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Add the spices, Parmesan cheese and oil. Mix well, slowly adding the tomato juice and seeds. Add water, if necessary, to moisten. Use a spoon to press the crumb mixture into the tomato halves.

Lightly oil or spray a baking pan. Place the tomatoes in the pan, with the cut side up. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until crumbs are browned and the tomatoes are soft. 

 

If your garden is full of zucchini, give this recipe, adapted from the Running with Spoons blog, a try. It’s a fun way to show vegetable skeptics just how delicious veggies can be.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or substitute half the amount with whole-wheat flour)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (squeeze out excess moisture with paper towel)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper liners in a standard-size muffin pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until they become slightly frothy before whisking in the yogurt, brown sugar or maple syrup, granulated sugar, applesauce and vanilla. Mix until well combined before folding in the grated zucchini.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling until they’re about 3/4 of the way full. Top with additional chocolate chips, if desired.

Bake for 17-19 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

 

My kids like making (and eating) this recipe. If your kids are old enough, let them practice their knife skills by chopping the vegetables, and feel free to substitute whatever veggies you have in your fridge – or in your garden. This one is great to put in lunch boxes.

Chicken Pasta Salad

Makes 2 servings

  • 1/4 cup penne or bowtie pasta
  • 1/2 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, chopped
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cook the pasta in lightly salted boiling water according to the instructions on the package. Steam the broccoli florets for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.

Put the chicken, corn, tomatoes and scallions into a bowl together with the drained pasta and the broccoli, and toss with the dressing.

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