parenting

Gardening: Turning Your Garden Harvest into Playtime

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The family that gardens together, harvests together in more ways than one. Performing a community task strengthens relationships. Picking the fruits of their labor gives kids a sense of accomplishment. And they’ll be proud to serve “their” veggies at the table.

You’ve likely planted fruits and veggies you knew your children would enjoy eating. But picking them is half the fun, so don’t let your child miss out on this important gardening step.

Kids and Carrots

The author's kids picking carrots from the garden

How to Turn Your Garden Harvest Into Playtime

Schedule Your Harvest Day(s)

Make an event of picking your veggies by setting up a family Harvest Day. Because fruits and vegetables will develop at different rates and hopefully will continue producing during the season, you’ll probably need more than one of these.

Nearly all summer veggies should stop flowering by mid- to late-summer, so you’ll just be waiting for the fruits to develop. Mark Harvest Day(s) on a calendar in the kitchen or other conspicuous spot. Let your child prepare for the day during the week: gather containers, garden tools, and make sure everyone has a sturdy pair of gloves.

Have the Right Containers Available

Last-minute shuffling is frustrating. Don’t wait; have freezer bags and jars available. If you’ll be pickling any of your veggies, have a brine recipe ready and make sure you have the ingredients. Snap-tight containers will work well for vegetables you plan on eating within the next one to three days.

Set everything out in order before beginning your harvest. This way the foods can go directly from the garden to the sink for a rinsing, then into their appropriate spots.

Make a Game of It

Kids can make a game of almost anything. Encourage that—you’ll add creativity to your list of benefits of home gardening. Have a measuring tape available and let kids know there will be a prize for fattest carrot, longest cucumber, or most oddly shaped veggie.

Tell them to take their time; don’t allow them to dive into the vegetables carelessly. Have your kids go in groups, each picking one veggie at a time.

If you want, have prizes available. Stickers, temporary tattoos, and party favors are all fun. At my house, we find we don’t really need prizes. Our kids just love the lighthearted competition. And they love seeing what comes out of the ground in all its many shapes, sizes, and colors.

Choose Recipes Together

Once you have an exact yield, you can start choosing recipes. Let your child help you with this. We find this perhaps the most fun part of the harvesting process. The children get to see and taste the fruits of their labor, literally. It’s immensely satisfying to little gardeners to make something yummy out of foods they’ve grown themselves.

Invite Guests to Lunch or Dinner

Let your kids show off their talents by having a dinner for friends. Serve your garden foods in delicious recipes. If you really want to make an event of it, make up a little menu in a document. Add fresh food clipart, flowers, or whatever imagery your children would like. List each home-garden dish. Print and put beside each place setting at the table.

If you grow flowers, too, have your kids run out and snip off some pretty ones to display in a vase at the table.

Plan Next Year’s Garden

Now that you’ve gone through one gardening cycle, you know what’s hard to grow, what’s easy, what’s tasty, and which veggies your kids aren’t so crazy about. Plan next year’s garden according to what worked for your family this year. If you live in a temperate region, you can plant a winter garden as well. Colder areas can grow some veggies in winter, too (for example, cabbage and turnips).

Have fun with this experience—your children will get so much out of it on Harvest Day and every time they take a bite of their special harvest.

Do you have a garden? How do you involve your kids in the harvest?

Chris has a small organic garden plot in his backyard, though his cucumbers have overgrown most of everything (oops!). His kids (three and six) planted carrots in the spring, and have been eating the "vegetables" of their labor for the last month, with a lot left to go! They also love cucumbers, so these last few months have seen a blessed increase of vegetable servings at the dinner table! In about two weeks, they will all together harvest everything that's left—with lots of creative names for the oddly shaped vegetables they find! Chris is a stay-at-home Dad and owns a kid's party theme site.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.
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Chris's eldest daughter (5) knows that the word "Hawaii" equals a fun, sunny destination, even if she's not quite sure where it is. With the hot weather this summer and a couple tiki torches haunting his garage from last year, it's definitely time for another luau party. You can visit Chris on his Facebook page - drop by and say aloha!

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