Get kids into veggies

Mitch Mariani

For some South Valley families, it can be a daily struggle to convince children to eat vegetables. But what if I were to tell you there may be a surefire way to not only influence a child to eat vegetables, but also have them excited about it? This week, I share a method that will have your picky, anti-veggie child actually looking forward to eating them.
I enjoyed vegetables as a child, but there may be a unique reason why I liked them. As you may know, I grew up around agriculture and was exposed to many fruits and vegetables. I was also fortunate for the opportunity to explore my Aunt Pat and Uncle Pete’s vegetable garden. It wasn’t unheard of for my sister and me to go grazing in the garden and pick string beans and tomatoes. The raw, sweet little treasures we found in the garden were eaten in seconds.
I believe my exposure to vegetables—watching them grow and picking them—is why I enjoy vegetables. Growing a garden and having your child involved may serve as a method to convert him or her—or a finicky adult—into an excited veggie lover too.
The simples and easiest way to start is by growing lettuce. Using the right seeds and growing method, planting to harvest can be about 40 days. Children and adults will enjoy watching the lettuce grow and will be gratified by the short growing time.
My favorite seed brand for this method is Renee’s Garden Seeds. The company sells a variety of seeds including “Cut and Come Again,” “Cutting Mix” and “Mesclun,” and seed packs are blended for flavor, color and texture. Children will like the mellow flavors of the “Cut and Come Again” mix while more mature palates will appreciate the complexity of the “Paris Market Mix” and the “Italian Misticanza.” Seeds are sold at Johnson Garden Center in Morgan Hill and Orchard Supply Hardware in Gilroy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find Hollister stores that carry the brand.
Planting instructions are included on the seed pack or you can watch instructional videos at reneesgarden.com. I use three inexpensive, shallow storage containers to plant the seeds and stagger the planting time to one storage container every other week. This way, lettuce continues to grow as it is harvested. Each container crop will yield three to four cuttings. Don’t forget to drill holes in the containers for drainage. The lids may be used to catch the draining water. Children will enjoy filing the containers with garden soil, sowing the seeds and watering them.
Supplement the lettuce with other homegrown items, such as cherry tomatoes or small globe tomatoes, such as “Early Girl.” Renee’s Garden Seeds carrots, such as the “Baby Babette” and the very cute “Round Romeo” are also a nice addition. If you do not have the room or ability to plant directly in the soil, tomatoes do well in 10 gallon buckets and carrot varieties are well suited for container gardening too.
Even though children may prefer a ranch-style dressing on their homegrown salad, these types of lettuce varieties are best suited for a classic light vinaigrette. For your own custom blend, experiment with different vinegars and oils along with flavorful add-ins.
Classic 3-to-1 Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small shallot, finely minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Step 1: In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, until well combined. Whisk the mixture while slowly streaming the olive oil to form an emulsion, then taste to adjust the balance of salt and pepper. Dress the prepared salad with a small amount of vinaigrette and toss, adding more if needed.
Mitch L. Mariani II is a self-taught amateur chef. Reach him at [email protected]

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