GUEST BLOG: Disliked Vegetables

I am very excited to share with you a wonderful guest post from one of the best allotment bloggers out there right now! Here Richard Chivers the author behind Sharpen Your Spades shares how to get your children interested in vegetables.

How to grow a child’s appetite for vegetables
There’s a battle that rages across the dinner tables of many family households between parents and children.
“Eat up your vegetables”
“I don’t like the green stuff”
While surfing the net recently, I discovered a number of News outlets and websites reporting on the findings of a survey regarding our vegetable eating habits. The results of the survey interested me and I wondered if they could be useful in the context of growing your own. I’m grateful to Mash Direct for providing me with the full data set.
Vegetable likes and dislikes
As a dad to a 6 year old, I’m very aware of the duel that occurs when parents want their children to eat more vegetables. We, parents, know the benefits of eating them but our children don’t necessarily care – even if you tell them their latest animated hero eats them!
One element of the data shows the types of vegetables children disliked. Before you look at the chart that follows, let’s play a game.
Here’s the list of vegetables provided in the survey. Which do you think ranked highest as the most disliked by children?

Have you made your decision?
If you thought that Christmas favourite, the sprout, would be the winner, then give yourself a pat on the back. Yes, it’s rather an easy one to answer isn’t it?
In fact, sprouts have topped the disliked vegetable lists for decades and if the findings of this recent survey are anything to go on, it isn’t losing the top spot any time soon. Maybe we can change that.

 child likes stats
The survey didn’t just examine children’s behaviour with vegetables. The parents were also asked for their likes and dislikes when it came to the vegetables they put on their plates.
I was curious if the data could tell me if there was a similarity between the dislikes of parents and those of their children. I suppose I was picking at the idea that the vegetables disliked by children are simply a reflection of their parents. It’s a fair assumption that children would mirror their parents in their tastes.

parent child stats

The data in this survey doesn’t necessarily suggest this is the case, although, there are similarities in the most disliked vegetables between both.
How to get children to eat a wider variety of vegetables?
My view is that a good start to get children to eat more veg is to set an example by eating more variety of fruit and vegetables yourself. I accept, some strong flavours such as cabbage, leeks and Brussel sprouts might not easily be to children’s taste, but by at least eating them yourself and serving up a wide variety of vegetables in a range of ways, there is the consistent opportunity for them to try.
However, you might have guessed, I have another option that, I believe, will engage and inspire children to eat more fruit and vegetables. It may even motivate them to save the world.
Get them to grow their own
My six-year-old daughter, Ava, has been a part of our allotment garden from the beginning.
I didn’t start out with an agenda to encourage her to fall in love with growing your own, although I hoped she would show some interest in an activity her daddy enjoyed. Lucky for me, she did. Even when all we had was a large plot of overgrown weeds.

Overgrown play
In our current circumstances, you can walk into a supermarket and pick up everything harvested, prepared and sealed in that awful, unnecessary waste of plastic wrap. The experience for children in sourcing our vegetables can be a ride in a trolley. I can see how this may create a disconnection between us and our food and I have no doubt our children experience this too.
I’m not advocating a boycott of this behaviour. Neither am I about to start banging a loud drum shouting screw the supermarkets and grow your own – I don’t (always) live in a dream world.
However, you don’t need an allotment or even a large space to grow some of your own fruit and vegetables and as well as a range of pleasures and benefits growing your own provides, it lets children see where their food comes from and feel a sense of investment in its journey to our plates. It also, I would hope, leads to a stronger appreciation of these vegetables and that they enjoy eating them too.
In the early stages of developing our allotment, Ava’s engagement came from a sense of play. This emerged from simply handing her bucket, a trowel and watering can and leaving her in the experience of her own imagination and the creative games she played on the plot.
This was a new place for her to explore and after a brief health and safety check, I let her get on with it. To her it was a jungle and she was on a mission to save her sister who happened to be a princess (Blame Disney!).

Engagement

As we spent time on the plot, she became more inquisitive in what I was doing. I began the process of explaining to her I was clearing away the weeds and this was exciting as we could grow our own vegetables in the space.  When it became time to plant, she was excited to be involved.

Potatoes

Make it colourful
A great way to increase children’s engagement with growing fruit and vegetables is to let them pick what to grow on the allotment. One of the benefits of growing your own is that away from the supermarkets, you will discover there is a fantastic number of varieties of all types of vegetables. Many are simple to grow at home.
It’s easier to start with the vegetables children already enjoy eating and increase the excitement around these with interesting varieties.
You could try purple potatoes or purple podded peas. If space is limited, both of these vegetables can be grown in containers in the garden which makes it easier for children to watch as they grow.
Take it a step further and pick varieties of their less-liked vegetables that offer exciting colour and shape. I’ve picked a few vegetables that Ava already actively enjoys on her dinner plate and added some that are further down the chain.

Potager purple cauliflower & homemade plant label.

A post shared by @darrenlakin2 on

I’m even taking on the challenge of children and Brussel sprouts by picking a purple variety. These not only provide wonderful colour, but have a mild taste and will be sweeter on their pallet. I think Ava will be excited to watch them grow.
Some to try:
Dwarf French bean ‘Sonesta’ provide yellow, stringless beans.
Cauliflower ‘di Sicilia violetto’ produces violet coloured curds which turn bright green when cooked.
Cauliflower Sunset produces curds of the palest gold with a superb flavour.
Rainbow carrots will brighten up any dinner plate and take 90 days from sowing to harvest.
Get them to cook it
If the growing of a wide variety of interesting vegetables gets the children hooked, don’t stop there. The next step is to cook them together. Ava says she doesn’t like onions, but after helping me to harvest them last summer, I asked her to pick her favourite one and we used it in the making of lasagne which we cooked together and included our home grown garlic too. Ava was engaged in the growing of a vegetable she didn’t feel she liked and when we added to a meal she really enjoys the connection was complete.

Cooking

Keeping them engaged
There are peaks and troughs with the moments on an allotment children find exciting. It helps to be creative when it comes to maintaining children’s enthusiasm in a kitchen garden between the interesting points of sowing, planting and harvesting. One great way that provides a benefit to the vegetable garden, the natural world as well as keeping kids keen is to create a small wildlife pond. Jane Merrick recently did just this on her allotment for her young daughter.

Screenshot_20170402-221118

Guest Author: Richard Chivers is an allotment blogger and “grow your own” enthusiast. He manages sharpenyourspades.com , where he writes about all manner of allotment gardening topics, as well as providing updates on his own family allotment, which he works on with his young daughter Ava. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Richard, really enjoyed reading the post. I wish my three were as engaged as your Ava! Unfortunately they find purple French beans even more disgusting rather than more interesting! But I did get one of them planting potatoes in a bag yesterday, and another to try home grown kale (quite liked it- surprising looking at the survey results) and I’ve also snuck in some baby leeks fried with pork chops – (they didn’t notice – is that good or bad?) so maybe there is still hope!
    Paul

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  2. Fascinating ‘vegetable dislike’ graph, tested the results on my children in reverse order and got the same results ‘yuck, yuck, maybe, maybe, like, like’ – I’ve found that getting my little ones to plant the vegetables definitely helps but only with eating more of what they already like 🙂 Potatoes are exciting to harvest “here’s one Dad, Dad here’s another one!” and shelling peas is one chore less for me that they seem to enjoy too.

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